We go behind the scenes with the screenwriters of the female sports comedy Golden Arm, Jenna Milly and Ann Marie Allison, to talk about the project origins, story inspirations, the necessary evil of rewriting, and more.
In June, the independent comedy feature Golden Arm announced that the film will be going into production this summer in Oklahoma and that Mary Holland (Robbie, Greener Grass, Happiest Season) and Betsy Sodaro (Disjointed, Animal Practice, Monsters University) are attached to star in the female buddy comedy about ladies arm wrestling. The premise focuses on a tough lady trucker who trains her girly best friend to compete in the National Ladies Arm Wrestling Championship. Director Maureen Bharoocha is set to helm the project. Bharoocha is best known for her work as a rising comedic director on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, in addition to her work that appeared on Lifetime.
Golden Arm uses humor to drive women’s empowerment themes. The project gained momentum when former Women in Film head Jane Fleming (#REALITYHIGH, The Frozen Ground) and Mark Ordesky (The Lord of the Rings trilogy) came on board to executive produce through their Court Five banner. They joined executive producer Russell Wayne Groves (Balls Out, Dealt, The Unicorn) and producer Geeta Bajaj of The Unicorn.
The film is the debut feature for writing team Ann Marie Allison and Jenna Milly, who are also executive producing. We're especially thrilled to share this writing team's success, as Jenna Milly was a contributor for Script for many years! Their journey should inspire you to keep at it, too!
In today’s Q&A we go behind the scenes to talk with the writers about the project origins, story inspirations, the necessary evil of rewriting, and more. Read on!
How did this project begin?
Ann Marie Allison: The idea for the movie grew out of a charity I started called the DC Lady Arm Wrestlers (a shout-out to Holly Rothrock, Susan Whitney and Andrea Kavanagh who were the co-founders with me!). We’d hold arm wrestling bouts in downtown DC to raise money for local charities. I’m really proud of the organization we built and the money that was raised, but what inspired me the most was the transformation of the women coming out to wrestle. The lawyers, teachers, and mothers who showed up at rehearsal would come to the bout dressed up as their arm wrestling alter-egos and ready to rumble! While Golden Arm is a hilarious buddy comedy, that story of transformation is at the heart of the movie.
Jenna Milly: When Ann Marie started her charity centered around ladies arm wrestling, I thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen! All these women from all different backgrounds banding together to raise money for those less fortunate. This was pre #MeToo era, but you could already feel the excitement these women had for pushing the status quo. And the world was just so fantastically colorful and cinematic, it seemed like the perfect landscape for creating story. I was like, we have to do a movie about this!
Today represents a new era for writers to create their own content. How did you decide to privately raise money for the film instead of a more traditional route to have the movie made?
Ann Marie: We wrote the first draft of the movie prior to the #MeToo movement, and the push in Hollywood for more inclusive storytelling. When we went out with the spec, we got a lot of producers telling us they loved the concept but that they didn’t think there was an audience for a female sports comedy. Jenna and I thought that there was – starting with us! So, one New Years after a few beverages we were like, screw it! Let’s do it ourselves! We had both made short films before, but taking on a feature was a steeper learning curve with a bigger financial risk. So, one of the first things we did was to seek out an experienced producer to help us get it off the ground – enter Russell Wayne Groves. There’s much to say about how awesome Russell has been throughout this process. He’s an astute business person, but also a really good guy that believed in the project and has pushed for us at every turn. Russell also connected us to Jane Fleming and Mark Ordesky, who came on to executive produce, and introduced us to our amazing producer, Geeta Bajaj. Geeta is already on the ground in Oklahoma for pre-prod pulling it all together. We've got a wonderful team in place to execute the film, and I couldn't be more grateful.
Jenna: We had no other choice but to helm this project ourselves. In a sense, the Hollywood model, as Ann Marie said, wasn’t giving us the opportunities we wanted. We needed to make this movie. We needed to tell this story. And if we were going to have any chance at playing the long game in this town, we needed to create a path for ourselves to tell stories regardless of what the industry said about female sports comedies and whether they perform to a certain pre-determined formula that someone cooked up in a room somewhere. We love movies like A League of their Own and Bend it Like Beckham and Whip It, but when you think about it, there really aren’t that many films like this for women. That didn’t make sense to us. Because almost all the women we know have at some point or still do play sports. So, why aren’t there more stories about what it’s like to compete in those arenas? We knew deep down that there was an audience for this kind of film. And that’s what's so exciting about what’s happening now in Hollywood. The system is changing, and the industry is responding to women’s stories. We are so excited to ride this epic wave along with all the other amazing female content that’s being created right now.
What has the screenplay re-writing process been like as you went through the various stages of getting funding and attaching talent?
Ann Marie: Regarding the funding process, there were a few individuals who wanted to come in that suggested small rewrites to the script, and we took their notes in stride. However, most of the people who came in believed in the team and the current sales climate of looking for diverse content rather than giving detailed notes on the script. In terms of attaching talent, we’ve been really lucky. Working with our director, Maureen Bharoocha, has been incredibly positive. She’s very respectful of our writing process, but at the same time provides a new perspective that only helps us deepen the characters and the story. Mary and Betsy (who will play the leads) are two of the funniest women working in comedy, and their notes have rounded out the script with their unique comedic voices. I can’t wait to see them bring Melanie and Danny to life.
Jenna: Hemingway said it best, “The only kind of writing is rewriting.” I really believe this is true and try to lean into that process as much as possible. Every time Ann Marie and I look at a script — even if it’s just to look at one character’s dialog who might not have more than three scenes in the whole script — we can find a way to strengthen the building blocks whether it’s theme or arc or even jokes. Every time you look at a story, you come in with fresh eyes and new perspective and all the life you’ve experienced since the last time you picked up the draft. These are my favorite moments because I know we’re making the story better every time we do a pass.
Why do you consider this an important film touching on the topics and genres of both women’s stories as well as comedy?
Ann Marie: The film will show women in all shapes and sizes being strong, athletic, tender and funny humans. All the roles women take on day-to-day but aren’t always reflected on film. Just showing women in that light will be very gratifying.
Jenna: The writing is so fun and inspiring, but what I think is really important about this film is the fact that we’re executive producing our own content. It’s a big huge thank you to the women before us who produced their own content in a time when there weren’t that many female producers. Those who came before us like Kathleen Kennedy who has taken LucasFilms to new heights and Elizabeth Banks who started her own production company with her husband and produced mega hits like the Pitch Perfect trilogy and the groundbreaking show Shrill, and I even noticed that Jennifer Aniston executive produced her latest Netflix movie Murder Mystery. I was so thrilled when I saw that! It just makes me so happy! To show them that they have inspired us to follow their lead and to create content for women is important to me. You gotta catch the ball, you know?! And you’ve got to pass it, too. We decided early on that we would try to work with as many women as we could in front of and behind the camera on this project, and so far we have found an amazing pool of lady talent! #hirewomen
You have been dedicated to screenwriting for a long time. What is it like as you move now into the production phase of your film?
Ann Marie: It feels like a life-long dream coming true. If Oprah would let me near her couch, I’d be jumping on it.
Jenna: Haha! Agreed.
Do you have any advice for screenwriters trying to break through in comedy especially to make their own content?
Ann Marie: Go for it. There are so many avenues opening up to get your stories out there. The worst thing people can tell you is “no.” And you don’t have to listen to them — just keep pushing!
Jenna: It’s one thing to write, but an entirely different animal to produce your own content. My best piece of advice for people trying to make their own content is to make your pitch as good as your movie. If you can distill your idea down to a few words, you can elevator pitch it all the way to pre-production. To the investors, to the actors, to the crew you’re hiring, to the person doing craft services. If you’re making a movie, you need an army of people to get behind you and your story, so making that pitch as succinct as possible really helps!
What other projects are you working on?
Ann Marie: We just set up a comedy feature with Amazon Studios that we’re really excited to see move forward. We can’t say much more about it except that it will be serving up more fun lady comedy!
Jenna: We're currently writing that feature. It’s been such an amazing process. We love the freedom and space Amazon Studios has given us to create memorable characters who do outrageous things – our favorite kind of lady fun!