I showed up to meet the Grey's Anatomy creator with spit-shined legs, a ripped dress and a major lump in my throat. That turned out to be the easy part. Now I've got a movie to write.
Last Friday I finally got a deadline. Knowing when to end something is sometimes the only way I can begin. For more than a year now, my agents, editor, mother, publicists and Facebook page have been talking about the screenplay I'm "writing" based on my collection of essays, Bitch Is the New Black. For more than a year I have not been writing. But with the yellow finish line in sight, now I can finally step off the starting line.
Here's how it actually started. In February 2009, I headed to Los Angeles to have "meetings" with people who had read some rough drafts of a few chapters of my book. By then, in addition to a proposal that included a summary of all the chapters I was planning to write, I'd really only written about astronaut Lisa Nowak, my equally crazy mother and my temporarily racist dog, Miles.
My agent sent those musings to people whose names you'd recognize in Hollywood. Apparently I'm not the only one who thinks Lisa Nowak is a goddess among mere mortal women. Folks called us back. The theme of being an outsider overachiever with a penchant for rambling, rudeness and self-reflection struck a chord in La La Land. Go figure.
So I charged a Banana Republic Monogram dress, cut my hair into a bob and flew 3,000 miles to have the most important cups of coffee of my career to date. The weirdest thing about the whole situation? Exactly two years earlier, a colleague of mine at Politico told me one morning over coffee (which I'd just gotten into) that he'd dreamed I moved to Hollywood to make movies. "Typical Helena story line. Thing is, I actually think it might happen," he told me. No lie. I wanted to call Dan before I left D.C., if only to warn him about his powers. But then again, I didn't want to jinx it.
Because I don't drive -- as in, there's a non-driver ID in my wallet -- an old cheerleading buddy of mine from high school, Sherly, called me a "Korean taxi." These cabs, unlike the traditional yellow-and-black checkers, come in normal, "I'm a grown-up who gets driven around" varieties like SUV and sedan. Basically they don't scream, "I'm from out of town and needed a ride!"
Most of the driver-owners of said snazzy cars are Korean, and because my friend Sherly is also Korean and speaks Korean, she had a leg up on negotiating price and whatnot. In high school, before any of us could drive, that's how our United Colors of Benetton crew got around Los Angeles. But now I was 28 and still the loser without a car.
"You look pretty. Like a star," my driver said while ushering me into the back of his minivan. I was rolling Soccer Mom chic. When I sat down, I realized how short my dress was and how ashy my legs looked. So when I finally met Shonda Rhimes (creator of Grey's Anatomy and soon-to-be executive producer of the movie based on my book) for the first time, I had legs lotioned with spit and a dress with tiny rips at the armpits from my constant yanking.
I was so worried about what my new hairdo was doing that when Shonda walked into the room with a Venti-sized something in her hand, looking normal and very un-Hollywood, I forgot whatever canned pitch I had planned. Instead we chatted for an hour about nothing and everything -- modern feminism, being black at an Ivy League school, children and my lack thereof, being single, my extensive fieldwork in that department, working hard. And boys. When I left, she said, "This is totally a movie," and that, as they say, was that.
Fast-forward two years and two gazillion "So how's the screenplay going?" questions, and now it's finally a go. The gun's just been shot. I've got my treatments, my note cards, my vision boards, my Final Draft software and my finish line. Now all I have to do take that first step.