Palmer is one of those films you watch and watch again, not because of the glitz and glamour - it's far from it. It's because of the connection to the characters and slice of life story. We have screenwriter Cheryl Guerriero to thank for that. Through her ten year journey to getting this movie made, she proves that perseverance, endurance, and talent are key components to making your passion project.
Cheryl Guerriero was born and raised in New Jersey by two dysfunctional loving parents and an older sister who once threw a pair of scissors at her head. Thankfully, her sister missed. Guerriero, an athlete since birth, went on to college where she became a National Lacrosse Champion. Upon graduating, her mother insisted she get a job at Prudential Life Insurance company and get married. Guerriero promptly moved to New York City and came out as a writer and a lesbian.
After Guerriero received her first check for writing, her parents got off her back about getting a real job.
In 2006, Guerriero received her first produced screenplay credit with National Lampoon’s Pledge This! Guerriero who was voted “funniest” in high school co-wrote the screenplay with another friend who had been voted “most likely to succeed.” Sadly, the movie was neither funny nor successful. As one kind reviewer noted, “Don’t even bother. It makes you stupid” and “My brain tried to strangle me.”
Guerriero continued on her way receiving various writing assignments and seeing her next original screenplay, Hunting Season, make it from the page to the screen. The second time proved to be a lot better than the first. Hunting Season, a mystery thriller, has aired on HBO/Cinemax, Lifetime and numerous TV channels around the globe.
Third time has proved to be the charm with Guerriero’s original screenplay Palmer. In 2016 Palmer made it onto the prestigious Hollywood Black List. In 2019, Palmer went into production with Academy Award Winner Fisher Stevens directing and Academy Award Nominee Justin Timberlake staring. Sydney Kimmel Global produced the picture and it will be released in 2021.
Guerriero stepped into the publishing world with her debut suspense novel Girl on Point. In 2019, Italian film producer Aurelio De Laurentiis snatched up the movie rights and hired Guerriero to adapt. It is currently slated to go into production in 2021.
After 12 years in prison, former high school football star Eddie Palmer returns home to put his life back together—and forms an unlikely bond with Sam, an outcast boy from a troubled home. But Eddie's past threatens to ruin his new life and family.
I had the utmost pleasure speaking with screenwriter Cheryl Guerriero, and diving into her writer's journey, her writing process, and I got a fun sneak peek behind the curtain about adapting her novel Girl On Point - back into a screenplay! It's a wild ride.
This interview has been edited for content and clarity.
Sadie Dean: You have quite the writing journey. You started out in the comedy world, writing a National Lampoon flick, starring Paris Hilton – cut to fifteen years later – you’ve written a beautifully crafted drama starring Academy Award Nominee Justin Timberlake. What motivated the transition from comedy to writing dramas?
Cheryl Guerriero: You know, I don’t even know if you could call it a comedy, because it wasn’t funny. [laughs] I mean, the bad reviews were funnier than that movie. God bless all involved. You know, I’ve always written dramas. It’s always been what I’ve gravitated to. I love dramas. I will say I was voted funniest in high school. Actually, I wrote that with my friend who was voted most likely to succeed. And the joke is that the movie was neither funny nor successful. [laughs] She’s doing better now.
Cheryl: Yeah, that was an experience. But that got me into the Writers Guild. And I’m proud of our script, but that was something these producers had read me and I pitched the take on it and what I would do, a treatment, and I got hired for that, based off my treatment.
I’ve always been writing dramas. Most of the movies that I watch, I love dramas, thrillers, sometimes action. And along the way, I’ve had other work optioned. Had another script made.
With Palmer, that was a spec. Obviously, it was an original script. And I just had, like with some of my other specs, it was an idea that I had based off men that I had been around, who had spent time in prison, and there’s one particular guy, I remember him telling me this story – these guys had gone to prison as a direct result from alcoholism and drug addiction - and this one particular guy was telling a story of how he gone to prison, got out, got sober, changed his life and he had just bought a home in Los Angeles, and this was like 2007, and I’m like, “how do you go from there to there?” And I’m just around these men, and I’m like, “I want to write a guy like these men that I’m meeting.”
And I had a certain image of how they were. Like, very masculine, or athletes, or like how Justin looks, that’s how I always had him in my head. But I didn’t know where he would go or what the story would be. I honestly would be on hikes, “Is it an action movie?” or “Should he carry gun?” or “Should he save people?” I really had no idea. And then one day I was walking in Venice Beach, and I saw this little boy playing. And everything about him reminded me of myself when I was his age, except for I played with like Tonka trucks and green army men, and anything the boys were playing with, that was what I was playing with. And this little boy on the beach was playing with Barbie’s, and his mannerisms told me, I had the thought, “I wonder if his father knows he’s gay.” I’m gay, so I kept walking, and was just thinking, “You know you live in LA and NY and people kind of leave you alone and you can walk down the street holding your girlfriends hand,” and then the thought hit me, “what if this little boy who likes princesses’ and all this lived somewhere, where you know, you’re expected to play football, you’re expected to play sports and he just no interest or whatever, he wanted to be a princess, he’s a certain way.”
And that’s where the story, it just like, boom, and I knew the little boy would save the man and man would save the boy. And I always knew it was going to involve a drug addict mother, who was like absent, but loved her son and allowed him to be however he is. And that’s the good in her. And I knew that she would eventually give him away, because she knew she wasn’t winning her battle with drug addiction.
And Palmer for me was a guy, many guys I’ve met, who you know at one point in time, you’re the star football player, you’re like the king and then you, through a series of drugs and alcohol, you end up in a place where you never thought you would end up. Everything in this movie came from personal experiences. My sister and I were adopted as babies. And my feeling is my mom and dad are my mom and dad, they’re my parents. I don’t mean to be crude, but I don’t need to come out of a body part for you to be my mother. And I’ve always held that belief. That’s the way I feel about family. That’s obviously in there because he ends up adopting Sam. But for me, Palmer was someone who you know, people weren’t willing to give him a break and you have a little boy who is just innocent because I think kids are innocent, and the little boy is comfortable in his skin and Palmer’s not.
He never saw this coming. Palmer never in a million years would see that this would’ve happened, him getting out of prison, him working as a janitor. Then fighting falling in love as a father to this little boy.
I hope that answers your question [laughs]
Sadie: [laughs] That answers all of them.
Cheryl: I think for all involved, it was just passion. Like, I was passionate about it. I’ll tell you this, I didn’t have a manager at the time I wrote it. And I was in my first act, and a buddy of mine - I got jobs sometimes based off like a friend read me, he gave my script to a producer – and this friend of mine put me in touch with a manager who’s like, “What are you working on Cheryl? I hear good things about you.” And I was in my first act of Palmer, and I tell him this story and he’s like, “No! Don’t write that. Write something with a twist!” And he goes on to tell me about his client’s movie that’s opening that weekend, and he goes, “Do you see the twist?” And I say, “Yes, I see the twist.” And he gives me his email and is like, “Okay, send me a bunch of ideas.”
And I hung up the phone knowing two things, one, he was just simply not the manager for me, and two, there was no doubt that I was writing Palmer.
Sadie: Tell us about the 10-year plus journey of getting Palmer on to the page, to landing on the Black List in 2016 and then you’re going right into production in 2019. That whirlwind. It takes a while to get your projects made in this town. And the luck of having your passion project, a true passion project being made and recognized, I think is incredible.
Cheryl: I’ll say this, with that one, I don’t think it was luck. I think it was timing and it was perseverance. We had a false start, we were supposed to make it a year before and the money fell through. There was another actor, and I’m so glad it did, because I love Justin. I think that he did a phenomenal job and he was a great collaborator. Him and Fisher were incredible, I hope in the future to have those experiences. And I am on some other projects where it’s all about being collaborative.
Sadie: Can you give a glimpse into your collaboration with director Fisher Stevens?
Cheryl: Yeah! I met Fisher in 2016. I liked him immediately. Trust me, it had a journey. There were other directors involved that I worked with. It was like dating. It was completely like dating. And, failed marriages, or whatever it was, until I met Fisher [laughs]. I just immediately liked him. I immediately liked his take on how he saw it being very realistic. And I remember asking him about Sam, “How do you see Sam?” I was always very protective over Sam and how I see him and he goes, “You know, with Sam we don’t know. We don’t know if he’s this or this.” And I said, “Ok, perfect.” Because I know. I know for me, but I didn’t want him necessarily labeled. I wanted it to be like let you decide where you think Sam will end up, on the spectrum or wherever. But for this story’s purposes, this is what he likes and he’s comfortable with it.
With Palmer I knew, I didn’t want to change anything, let’s just enhance things. And sometimes in the first act there were things that were moving around – so we started working with one another, and I guess it was 2018 – so I guess in that time period, I’m trying to think who read it, but anyone someone read it, an actor read it in 2018 and he was going to do it and the money fell through. Someone who said they had the funds. Fisher had been working on another film with Ed Norton and someone who had come in on money that said, “You know what Fisher, I’m going to put money in yours.”
He’s out here, he’s from New York, and we went out to dinner with Charles Wessler who’s a producer on the film now, Charlie Corwin, producer on the film and at that time Charles Wessler had Greenbook. And I remember being there and Charlie Corwin said, “Don’t worry Cheryl. This happens all the time.” And they ended up bringing it to John Penotti over at Sidney Kimmel Entertainment and John Penotti is like, “Yeah, I want it. I want to make this.”
And then 2019 rolls around and the script was sent to Justin, it was sent to his manager who read it and then gave it to Justin…when Justin read the script he met with Fisher first and then we did a call with the three of us and we just talked and we got along, we were on the same page. And then we had another conversation about the story. And I think for Justin, as it is for me, because I had the experience with another actor, prior to Fisher – and I was with another manager – and this guy walked in the room and I said, “This guy does not see the movie the same.” He sees it like Palmer gets out of prison and he’s looking for revenge. And that is not Palmer. That wasn’t the experience with Justin. He saw it, he got it. We were all on the same page.
Then we did a table read in New York. And I remember as we’re doing the table read, I’m listening and thinking while listening, “I gotta change that and I gotta change that.” And after the table read me, Justin and Fisher talked about everything and the two things that I bumped on so did Justin. I love his instincts. And we talked about the ending. And then Justin came aboard, he was in the middle of his tour, a big ginormous tour, which I don’t understand how he can do all of that and do it very well.
So then, we started looking for the boy. And that was key. Ryder Allen I adore, I just love that kid. And there were a lot of kids we’re seeing. And we finally got to a point where Justin’s like, “I want to do a chemistry read with at least six kids.” And Ryder walked into the room and unanimously we’re just like, “We love this kid.”
Sadie: He’s great. He definitely emits that “old soul” in a kid’s body. He holds his own through the whole film.
Cheryl: Yes, he is. Very happy with the casting. It was always collaborative. When we were filming, we would rehearse before, so I would be there, Fisher would be there, and the actors in the scenes and mostly everything with Ryder because of his age and you only have a certain amount of time. There were changes. I’d get a call from Fisher – that bowling alley scene wasn’t originally a bowling alley scene, it was a fair and it was a gigantic country-like fair and that’s out because it’s a budget issue. It became a very small fair and then it became we’re going to shoot in a bowling alley. So, I’m like okay, I’ll write that scene in a bowling alley. Other little things, like when the Palmer character gets together with the Maggie character, how is that going to play out.
Sadie: How often, especially because I think it’s very rare that screenwriters are able to be on the set of their own movies or even welcomed on the set of their own movies and having any kind of control over the story – how often were you on set and writing in the moment and rewriting?
Cheryl: The entire time! And that’s just Fisher. That’s how he views it. At the end of the day, he gets the final word as much as I may be like, “Fisher, no!” He’s like, “Sorry, Cheryl. We’re cutting that.” And I like him so much, so even if I’m angry, I still like him. I was there the entire time. That just says a lot about Fisher. It says a lot about Justin. It says a lot about the producers who produced this. And Fisher just felt like, “We’re collaborating. I want you there.”
I don’t know any other writers who have a say in casting. He introduced me to all [of the] casting agents, “This is Cheryl the writer.” Even when he was editing it, “This is Cheryl the writer. I can’t get rid of her.” [laughs] But the joke is, it’s true. He couldn’t get rid of me, but I was always invited.
You also have to be careful of not taking advantage as well. With this kind of film, and look I think it was a benefit to all, to have the writer there, and because things sometimes change, we had to make something up, we scrapped something and do something different. That’s 100% because of Fisher Stevens and Justin and Charles Wessler and John Penotti and Charlie Corwin.
Sadie: It’s a solid team. The passion behind it definitely comes through on-screen. Going into the writing part of it, I had the great pleasure of reading your screenplay, that was put up on Deadline.
Cheryl: Oh! Did you find any typos? [laughs]
Sadie: No! [laughs]
Cheryl: How was it? [laughs]
Sadie: Honestly, it read like it could be a playbook for craft and structure and character development because it hits and lands on the page so well.
Cheryl: [laughs] Thank you!
Sadie: Obviously, not everything will make it into the movie.
Cheryl: Oh, no.
Sadie: But there is a lot of great character development. On page 30, and I don’t know what version this script is, but there’s a line of dialogue from your character Maggie that really stood out to me…
Cheryl: Oh, I know which line…
Sadie: “Sam knows exactly who he is. It’s everyone else that has the problem.” That line is a chef’s kiss. Now everything has come together and now we’re on that trajectory for Palmer and for Sam.
Cheryl: That’s a heartbreaker that line didn’t make it in. I’ll be honest, here’s the thing, when I watch the film, and I know there’s things that aren’t in there, some things I don’t miss, but it’s weird that I miss that line. I think what happened is in having it viewed prior to locking, I think some people felt, because there were other things that Sam says, “Is this a boy or girl?” And he’s wearing a dress. And I think people felt like it’s too heavy handed. And so, things started to come out, but I feel like that is something that should’ve stayed in. And I really like that line.
Sadie: It’s a great line.
Cheryl: Every time the script was read, every time it was read, people would point out that line. And look, maybe they’ll cut it again and it’ll get back in there. It’s funny you should say that because I do miss that line.
Sadie: The ending, at least in the version that I read, it’s a little more extended than what it obviously is now, how did you guys come to that agreement that this is how you’re going to wrap things up for Eddie and Sam?
Cheryl: So, in the version you read, correct me if I’m wrong, he does get arrested right?
Cheryl: And he goes to the pawnshop and gets a guitar?
Sadie: Yes, which is another thing that I really liked and was like, “Damn, that is also not in the movie!”
Cheryl: It was shot! Look, maybe there will be another version [laughs]. When I watch the film, I don’t necessarily miss it. Here’s the thing, the ending was different than what Justin had read. He said, “You know guys, I really think Palmer should be arrested.” Now there was another version of the script where Palmer was arrested, but it wasn’t there. They were telling us, “Cut, cut, cut.” And Fisher and I were like OK, we’re going to write him in jail. He said, “Cheryl, don’t worry about it. I’ll deal with the suits.” So, I wrote it where he gets arrested and Sam runs after him and then that moment with Coles.
There were so many different versions. I had one version where Palmer and Sam roll up to a house and it’s Maggie’s house and you see that they’re living with her. And that came out. I’m glad it did because it was too wrapped in a bow. And then there’s one version where you don’t really know if he and Maggie are going to end up together. And the version I think you might’ve read is that they’re in the house with Maggie cleaning it up and she leaves and says, “I’ll see you two later.”
Things that changed is like Maggie wasn’t there. Like, they walk out of school and we did a bit with the cellphone, you know, “Did you get one yet?” And you see him on his phone. I think some of that was added in ADR, when Sam and Palmer are walking into school and he says something about Ms. Maggie with the broccoli. I’m like, “I didn’t write that!” [laughs]
There was more with Sibs in the script and when he gives Palmer the keys, for me that was a real moment, because he’s basically saying, “I trust you and you did a good job.”
Cheryl: So that’s still in there. There was a little bit more with Shelly and a moment before she gives him away. We did shoot that and that did end up getting taken out. But I always knew Palmer and Sam were going to end up together, and with Maggie it was either going to be kind of vague or we knew that they’re back together. Because they are back together, they’re a family.
Sadie: Yeah, they’ve made a little unit. Back to the Shelly character played by Juno Temple, is actually a very sympathetic character. Through this whole piece, you want to be so mad at this woman for all of the emotional turmoil and trauma she’s put Sam through – but her owning up to her sickness and finally being able to let go and be selfless for her son’s own sake, is very delicately handled. Definitely one of the high emotional points of the story. You mentioned you knew where she was going, that was her trajectory.
Cheryl: Yeah, and I said to Fisher, “I better cry.” I was always very protective of that scene. There were other scenes that I was incredibly protective of like a mama bear. You always have to be open to ideas. And I’m always open to ideas of, “Is this better? Can we make this work?” There were certain things she needed to say. And it always remained there.
I said to Fisher, “I better cry in this scene.” Because she is struggling, not because she doesn’t love him, and Palmer is a good man. That was always in there, because I felt like this was very important for her to say all of this. It may have been constructed a little different on how she entered and what they’re doing, but it was always, “Do you think that I’m a bad mother?” That was always like that, because she feels guilty, and Palmer has his own issues with having been abandoned by his own mother but he’s not going to say anything.
For me, it was really important. I’ve had experience with people that I loved that have died of drug addiction. They did not win the battle. And for my sister and myself, I say the birth person, my sister’s birth person, it’s not a mother, it’s my thing, but they were a drug addict and they did die. So, for me, I’ve just felt that you’re able to give people a chance to have family who otherwise wouldn’t have that and for me, what I loved about Shelly is yeah, she abandons him, she takes off and this is part of the drug addiction, people like go on benders and they disappear. And then the re-appear. She always had the old lady to look after her son. Shelly doesn’t know if she’s going to make it or not. If she’s being honest with herself she knows she may die. And for her son, as painful as it is, is better off with Palmer than with her.
Sadie: I really liked the handling of all three of those characters, where you could obviously go very tropey, by making Eddie very angry and mean, and he’s actually very soft-spoken and well-spoken and he’s intelligent. He’s owning up to what he’s done in the past and to make it better. Shelly could be the crazy, screaming druggie living next door. She’s really just a human being that has a sickness. With the kids, being smarter or wiser at times than the adults.
Cheryl: Yeah. Thank you, I appreciate that. That was always, always important for me for things to be subtle and that you know that Sam is a little thief. You don’t know what’s not going to make it in, but thank you for saying that, because it was always important for me to just be subtle. Someone that’s a drug addict, you hate the disease but love the person.
With Palmer, I probably relate more Palmer than I can to Sam, and just how he feels and you know, humbling. When he says, “Where am I supposed to get a job if I can’t get one sweeping a floor?” It’s a reality too. It was important for me, because my experience with kids sometimes is that they’re just so innocent and loving and it’s the adults that are just so judgmental and could be crueler.
Sadie: It makes it relatable. Anyone from any walk of life can relate to these characters at any point of the story. And I believe that all comes down to the writing, to the direction and the acting.
Out of curiosity, I read in the trades that the top of the month that AppleTV+ had the ‘most-watched weekend’ ever with the premiere of Palmer. How did that news land with you, in making history out of the gate with your first “Hollywood” movie?
Cheryl: Thank you! I’ve had two other films get made, the first as I’ve mentioned didn’t do for my career as I had hoped. I was in the theater and some guy yelled out, “This movie fucking sucks!” I look back now, and wear it as a badge of honor. I find it humorous. The second one that got made, I got paid, and I’m very grateful it got made. I have a couple of babies and Palmer was my biggest baby. It was such a team effort; it was incredibly gratifying. It was unexpected. My phone started blowing up. A friend works in marketing at Universal and he’s like, “Congrats!” and then I’m texting Fisher and Justin, “Ah! This is pretty cool!” We’re all very happy. More so with the response. It’s just been amazing...and I love reading the messages, “Thank you so much, my son or my daughter or my husband or this person got out of prison or jail or they’re kid is being picked on or their son is wearing dresses,” and just all of this. That has always been my hope that the people would respond to this. The twist for me, back to that manager, was that it was a good story. My hope is that other people would feel the same way.
And what has been gratifying, especially because it took so long, is that people are feeling the same way. I mean look, some people may not like it, but the majority, the masses obviously are liking it. There are people who are tuning in again and again and again.
Also everyone involved in it, I’m happy for all of us. For Fisher, for Justin, for Ryder, for all of the actors, were just so good in it and it really was a labor of love. It wasn’t like anyone was getting a big paycheck. I just found out that the numbers did really well again for the second weekend in a row. It’s just very gratifying. We were like a family and it’s really nice to be sharing it together.
Sadie: To take it back to the writing side, I’m sure our readers would like to know this as well. What’s your writing routine like? Do you have one?
Cheryl: I’ve been procrastinating. [laughs]
Sadie: So, you’re a real writer! [laughs]
Cheryl: [laughing] I’m a morning writer. So, I need it to be quiet. I’m not someone who can write at Starbucks. I don’t want to hear you breathing, you know. I don’t listen to music. And I’m someone that like, once I know the story, I get into it. It’s like a painting. I don’t really outline until I get to my second act. But I’m a morning writer. So, I’ll have coffee, when I’m not procrastinating [laughs] I’ll sit down and get into it.
Then I might go for a hike in-between or a walk. So, I’ll go for a hike at Runyon or somewhere and then I’ll go back and either keep writing or I’ll re-read. And I’ll do that too. I’m kind of a page one person before I move on. That’s what I did with Palmer, but pretty much with anything I write, I want to make sure I have the first act down. It’s like a painting. I’ll keep re-reading it and see how it feels - this doesn’t feel right or this feels right. And then I’ll move onto my second act. That’s probably when I’ll start to outline because it just gets a bit trickier.
Once in a while, I’m like obsessive, I’ll be like, just go to bed, but instead, I’ll just pick up the pages and read it again. And then I’m so exhausted, I’m like, “You really need to put it down so that you have a fresh pair of eyes.” And that’s another thing too. Once I get to a point like I have to put it down so that I have a fresh pair of eyes because what I loved the night before I might not love the next morning or vice-versa.
Sadie: Do you have a circle of trusted friends that you share with?
Cheryl: I torture them. [laughs]
I do. I have readers that I trust that aren’t going to be just like, “Oh, it’s good!” I can’t, if you’re just going to read it and say it’s good, no, you got to let me know, “How’s the dialogue? How’s the characters?” This and that. I do have my people that I go to before usually before I send it to my manager or hand something in, because it’s a commitment reading and it takes time, so I want to make sure that I make the best use of their time.
Sadie: And now you’re repped by Markus Goerg at Heroes and Villains.
Cheryl: Yeah, I love Markus. I was with another management company before him for a while with Palmer. They had taken Palmer and they didn’t send it all out, but they gave it to one producer who I loved, I think the guy is super smart and he and his partner optioned it. So, they had it for about a year in a half and couldn’t really get anything going with it. It was just hard. And then I got it back. I love my former managers, but they weren’t sending it out around town. I’m like, “Guys, this should be going out.” You know, it’s like a relationship. But long story short, I just needed a change and wasn’t happy with the non-action. So, I met Markus through a friend that is a chiropractor. She’s his chiropractor, my chiropractor. And he read it and he goes, “You made me cry three times.” And I’m like, “He gets me.” And I met him. Markus is very likable.
Sadie: He’s a very funny guy.
Cheryl: He cracks me up! But not only is he funny, I generally really like him. Same with Fisher and Justin. I generally really like these guys. He works hard, you know. He goes, “How come this hasn’t been sent all around town? How come people haven’t voted on it for the Black List?” I felt the same way. Sure enough, he’s a hard-working guy, and he sent it out. And it did end up getting voted on and got on the Black List.
That’s why I say it wasn’t luck. I think certain things like beating cancer is luck. I know in this industry people say, “You just need your lucky break,” and all that, but I truly believe it’s patience, it’s perseverance and obviously you know, you have to have talent. I do think it’s those three things. And I did not know it was going to take this long, I had no idea. I always had a gut feeling that this would get made, and along my journey, I’d meet people saying, “I see this getting made, it’s going to take five years.” Well, you were wrong. It took twice as long. [laughs] That’s my feeling, but Markus works hard. It’s like Tom Brady. He just won another Super Bowl, because he works hard. [laughs] I love that they won, on a side note.
Sadie: What are you currently watching or reading?
Cheryl: What am I watching, aside from Palmer, there are other movies that I love. Promising Young Woman, I’ve watched that several times. I just think it’s fantastic. I think Carey Mulligan is fantastic. I think everything about that film is fantastic. My two favorite films are Palmer and Promising Young Woman. [laughs]
I’ve been watching some other movies for research purposes. And I do that when I’m about to write something, it helps to inspire. I loved Sound of Metal – that’s a great movie. I’ve watched that a couple of times too. If I like a movie, I will watch it several times. Cherry was another one that I really liked. One Night in Miami I saw and I liked. I love Regina King too. I keep watching Promising Young Woman, Sound of Metal, and Palmer over and over again. [laughs]
Sadie: That’s a really great lineup! [laughs]
Cheryl: That’s what I keep doing, I like them. [laughs]
Sadie: With time permitting, you wrote a novel Girl on Point, and now you’re adapting it. What is that process like? Are there benefits to adapting your own work? Is it an easy transition or is it really painstakingly…
Cheryl: Sorry, I wanted to jump out the window. [laughs] So many times. Here’s the thing with that. I originally wrote that as a screenplay, different name, it was originally a screenplay. That got optioned five times. And it didn’t get made. I may be exaggerating; it may have been four.
Sadie: Five is a good round-up.
Cheryl: Yeah. It was five. It sounds better. [laughs] And finally – it’s always when I’m at Runyon – Markus called me when I was at Runyon, and that’s when he told me, and I’m at Runyon again, that’s where these ideas come from. I’m at Runyon and I bump into the producer who last had the option on it. Good guy, he was going to direct it. And we say “hi” and we talk and then he’s on his way and I go on my way and I’m like, “God, he couldn’t get it made.” And I had just read an article a screenwriter who wrote something into a book and then it got made, because she got frustrated with it almost getting made. And I’m just going to say it, I’m someone who prays. I do pray. I don’t pray like, “Santa Claus make this happen,” but I pray for guidance – direct me, my thinking, wherever you want me to be, who do you want me to work with – I leave it up to the universe or you can call it God, whatever. And all of the sudden it hit me. I need to write this as a novel. Out of all the screenplays I had written, that’s one that just lent itself to being a novel.
So, I started reading similar books like The Outsiders or whatever, books like Hunger Games, whatever it was that I felt like, let me see how I want to write it. And then I started writing it into a book. There was one day I was sitting looking at a paragraph for like, three days. And finally, I leave and go to the grocery store and I bump into a guy who is a novelist that I knew and I’m like, “Eric, Eric, Eric, I’ve got to talk to you! Is this normal? I want to kill myself. Maybe I should quit trying to write this” And he goes, “No, no, no, that’s completely normal.” And eventually, I moved past it and got to other paragraphs.
I don’t know if I’ll do it again…no that’s not true, I did do it again. I’m like a glutton. Like when the pandemic hit, there was another book. So, I finished it and my former managers sent it to someone at William Morris. It sat on that agent's desk for like a month until some other agent literally walked by and started reading it. And then they emailed my manager asking if I was represented, “I like this book, I want to send it out.” So, I met her in New York. I felt like this was kind of easy, you don’t want me to revise it or do anything? So, she sends it out. Only eight places, they pass. She’s like, “I don’t know what to do.” And I’m like, “Eight places? Let me know when you’ve sent it out to a hundred.” You know. Or fifty! And so, I get it back, and my cousin who’s an author, I said, “Can you read it?” He said, “Cheryl, this wasn’t ready to go out.” I kind of felt that too. So, he went through and edited it for me. And then I got it solid, sent it out without an agent.
There were a couple of offers to publish, and I went with one that I’m so very happy I did. It’s a small indie-publisher, but I learned so much about that world. There was another author who started out there and now she’s a New York Times bestseller. But anyway, with Markus he said, “I want you to write a TV pilot.” So, I gave him a bunch of ideas, they liked the one based off my book. I knew they would. He takes it, gives it to one person to read. They really liked it. And then he sends the book or whatever and then I meet them, they’ve read the pilot. They said, “I know you’re going to be disappointed but we want to make it into a movie.” And I say, “I’m not disappointed, I wanted it to be a movie. I just wrote it to have a TV spec.” Long story short, they then hired me to write it back into a screenplay. I have so many drafts of that, so many drafts of that. So finally, I did my first draft and we got back together.
The next draft I did for them is more actiony than my book. I was very faithful to my book at first, and then it became, you know, it kind of went outside. But I’m happy with that. I actually like that it’s like a lot more action.
Sadie: What a journey! Starting as a script, to a book, back again. [laughs]
Cheryl: Yeah! The endurance. I’m exhausted talking about it. I don’t even know how I finished that book. I think it was on the tail end, I say this, I had an assistant job and I was fired, and I’m like “Thank you god,” it’s like sucking my everlasting soul. I took my little severance check and you know, it’s just weird how things happen like that. Then this producer was like, “I’m going to buy this other script.” And I’m like, OK. I had time and I wrote it.
Sadie: That’s awesome. Your endurance, like you said. [laughs]
Cheryl: I know, I need naps now. That’s why I’m procrastinating. I need a nap! [laughs]
Sadie: Cheryl, thank you for your time today. Congratulations on Palmer and wishing you all the best with your upcoming projects! Excited to see what else comes out of you, and hopefully see your work on the big screen whenever that is. Until then, I’ll keep subscribing to streaming services.
Cheryl: [laughs] Hey, it’s not bad. At least people are seeing it. This was a pleasure. I love Script Magazine! I’ve always wanted to be interviewed for Script Magazine. And here we are. Thank you.
'Palmer' is now streaming on Apple TV+