Callie Khouri Director of Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood
Screenwriter Callie Khouri makes her directorial debut with the literary adaptation of Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood starring Sandra Bullock, Ellen Burstyn, and Ashley Judd. After achieving fame for the Academy Award winning screenplay Thelma and Louise, she inadvertently dropped off Hollywood radar while trying to set several directorial deals finished. She has made a grand entrance into the field with Ya Ya Sisterhood and DVDTalk had the chance to talk with her about the challenges she faced in bringing the story to the screen and the attitude that Hollywood has toward women, both in the audience and on the screen.
Why did you decide to make this your directorial debut?
A lot of what made me choose it was they were going to let me do it. (Laughter) I have been trying to direct since Thelma and Louise. I wrote Thelma and Louise with the hopes of directing it and unfortunately that horrible hack Ridley Scott (laughter), obviously it was the best possible thing that could have happened and I’m so happy with the way it turned out, but if I had known it was going to take another ten years to get someone to let me direct a picture, I might have thought about it twice. At the time I didn’t think about it twice, I was just praising God for letting someone like him come along and fall in love with it as much as I did. I was the best of times and the worst of times, I guess. Listen to the response...
Evidently this wasn’t the first picture you wanted to direct, had you been pursuing projects since then?
Yeah, I had. I had a couple of deals at various places to write and direct, but I never found anything. The thing I was trying to direct, we’re still trying to get made. The first time someone said you’re the right director for this; we’re still trying to get that made. It’s set up at Disney, but I don’t count a single chicken before it’s roasted and set up on the plate. A lot of people had said yes to me, but the projects themselves never quite came all the way together. This one, this is a movie they were going to make and they wanted me to rewrite the script. If we could attract a cast with that script, they would let me direct it. Fortunately, we attracted cast. Listen to the response...
Do you think writing the script made it easier?
Absolutely. For me, when I write, I see every single second of it. There are some writers that don’t really do it that way. I’ve had friends of mine say “I don’t see how you see it, everything’s through Vaseline for me.” I see it in such sharp relief, I can’t even tell you. So much so, it can drive you crazy when you watch someone else’s version of your work, even if you like it. In any case I was really fortunate. It was a great challenge because of all the people playing the same person, because of all the time periods. I knew I was going to have my hands full for the first time and I really wanted that. Listen to the response...
You mentioned the cast, were you actively involved in the casting?
Of course. One of the most fortunate things that ever happened to me was that Ellen Burstyn, who I’ve worshiped and adored all my whole life, was the first person I wanted. I hoped that the studio would agree and would want someone like her. They did and were totally supportive. I met with her and had big plans on how I was going to talk her into it, my whole rap planned out. We sat together and she said she just loved it and would love to do it. I was so grateful and from that point on it just fell together. The hardest thing was I really wanted Ashley, first of all because of her resemblance. When you see pictures of Ellen at Ashley’s age, the resemblance is remarkable. Listen to the response...
It was really important to me to get her. She’s from the South and we’re both from Kentucky. I knew she would know who this character was and I really felt this was a great part for her. All she wanted to do was to take time off. She wanted to get married. I told her, “just this one last one Ashley, I swear to God you won’t regret it.” She said yes.
The same thing with Sandy Bullock. She had been working on Murder By Numbers and she had done Miss Congeniality before that and had no time off. In fact, she finished Murder By Numbers on Saturday, got on a plane and flew on Sunday and went to work on Monday for the next four weeks. Listen to the response...
Do you think the good cast helped with this being your first feature as well?
It’s a dream. I’ve said this a thousand times, but it’s the most apt analogy. It’s like getting your driver’s license and getting handed the keys to a Testarosa. Ok, don’t pile it into a tree. It can do pretty much anything you want. This cast, I wasn’t burdened with the problem of somebody not being good or not being able to do it. Listen to the response...
Were there any problems in working with the large cast?
No, because actually it was three small casts. It was broken up and each group was there for four weeks. I started with the younger ones first, then the middle group, and then the final group of Ya Ya’s came in and it made things a lot simpler. We had to do that for schedules and locations, things like that. Locations had to be completely redone between the 60’s and the 90’s. The pecan grove and the house, that was completely redone. They had to gut the kitchen and rebuild that, because that was not a set. Those kinds of things just require that we do it in order. Listen to the response...
One of the things I enjoyed most about the film was the older cast. That’s something that’s practically unheard of in Hollywood. Any comments on that?
It’s unfortunate that it’s practically unheard of. Watching these women who have had cumulatively 100 years of experience was so marvelous. I mean truly we marveled. It was just amazing how well they all worked together, the way they prepared, the things the did to make it really feel they had know each other all their lives. It’s a shame that there aren’t more parts and that the parts are usually supporting that they get. They’re usually somebody’s mother or grandmother and it’s just terrible. They’re so great and they’ve been at it so long. Really, when you think about it, they are the same age as Clint Eastwood. They’re the same age as a lot of the male leads that are out there working with 20-year old actresses, because it’s just disappointing that there’s not more for them to do. There is some really fantastic acting in them and all they need is the part. Listen to the response...
In mentioning Clint Eastwood, it points out the misogynistic attitude that Hollywood has and it’s interesting to note that when Thelma and Louise came out many critics complained that it was a feminist revenge fantasy when more often than not anything that comes out of Hollywood is the exact opposite of that.
Exactly, I really didn’t have a lot of sympathy for people that just saw exactly what’s out there all the time, flipped. Listen to the response...
How did you get your start in screenwriting?
I had been working in production for a number of years and before that I had studied acting for a number of years. I felt like I was supposed to be doing something, but it wasn’t what I was doing. I just got the idea to write Thelma and Louise and thought I’ll see what happens. I’m going to write it and see if I can finish it. Listen to the response...
Do you think that Hollywood has a difficult time marketing films with an older and/or female cast?
Absolutely. I think most studios are owned by major corporations and they’re not about making movies anymore, they’re about making money. They’re all doing the franchise thing. You have to find someone who says, I love this and I want to see it. It’s really hard. Because, first of all, when you look at female audience, they have a lot harder time getting to the movie theater. They’ve got to have a babysitter or they have to convince their husbands to go. Listen to the response...
It’s harder to get women into the theater to have that big opening weekend that you can have with a boy movie. The audience, even if it’s there—which I think My Big Fat Greek Wedding proved that it’s absolutely there, but you have to go about it a different way. Listen to the response...
That was a movie with no big name stars and it did great.
Right, it grew and grew and grew. It was word of mouth and it had time to do that. I think there have to be different marketing paradigms for different types of movies. As long as studios are in a “we’ve got to have a big opening weekend or it’s a failure,” it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’ve said to I can’t tell you how many studio heads, why do you condemn a certain amount of pictures that you’re going to release to failure. You’re setting them up to fail. If you’re holding them to the same paradigm that you’re holding Spider-Man and Men in Black to, then it’s a failure, but you want to go make $168 million on a movie that cost $8 million. Listen to the response...
Everyone will want to make My Big Fat Greek Wedding now because it’s done so well.
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