Women On Film – Screenwriter Megan Holley On “Sunshine Cleaning” – Joanna Langfield interviews

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Megan Holley
Megan Holley
When Megan Holley was named one of Variety’s 10 Screenwriters to Watch in 2005, her Hollywood agents had to wait till she clocked in to work–tending to drug addicted lab rats–to tell her the good news. That’s because Megan, who’d quit her longtime job editing industrial safety films to take a month-long filmwriting fellowship, had come home with no money. And her phone had been cut off. So, it’s no surprise when Holley, who describes herself as an ‘eternal optimist who takes huge leaps of faith,’ admitted she really related to the struggles of the two lead characters she created Sunshine Cleaning.

It’s been a long road for this new hot talent. It was back in 2001 that she first began writing the story of the two sisters who find their true selves after creating a business cleaning up other people’s tragedies. Encouraged to enter the script into a local film festival, Megan soon found herself a winner and taking meetings with former Focus Films production chief Glenn Williamson, who’d shown up on campus to serve as a board member for his former alma mater. What might have been smooth sailing from that point turned into a twisty multi-year saga. Names attached to the project early on–director Karen Moncreiff and actors Ashley Judd and Zooey Deschanel– pulled out. New producing partners came in. The screenplay, Holley admits, went through several ‘reincarnations.’

Megan is protective of her work, and quick to express her dismay early in our conversation at the critical reception to one of her characters–Joe, the sisters’ father–who has been described by some as a schemer, always looking for a get-rich-quick deal. “I think he’s heroic! He works hard, he loves his kids to a fault,” she protests. “It was so surprising to me that people saw him as bumbling!”

She was also ready to take on, if not quite as passionately, the subject of changes made to her script once the producing team behind Little Miss Sunshine came on board. “There were continual rewrites”, Megan recalls, “based on who was attached. It was always a story about the sisters, and about Rose’s developing a sense of herself though the job, but I did trim back some storylines. The character of Norah changed the most. I couldn’t be more thrilled with what Amy Adams and Emily Blunt and all the actors brought. They made things so much richer. And Christine (Jeffs, the director) brought a ton of material. What great visual style!”

Holley says she can see comparisons that some people make between her Sunshine and Little Miss, but points out that she wrote her script five years before she knew anything about the other film. “I loved that movie,” she moans good naturedly. “It’s fantastic, but it’s got a different tone. There were some elements shared and that was initiallyt a concern. So, there was discussion about changing the title, but none of the new ones seemed to stick.”

Considering her comments about the ‘fine tuning’ that was going on around her, I can’t help but wonder whether Megan, as a first time writer, was intimidated. “Well, I did speak up,” she admits. “But I was keenly aware that these people know more than I did. They’ve been around. I was a novice, and I was given a tremendous opportunity to learn. I thought it was a good idea to listen to them.”

Now that Sunshine Cleaning is a box office success, Holley hopes her next projects will have shorter gestation periods. Fox 2000 assigned her to adapt the Key to the Golden Firebird, Maureen Johnson’s teen lit novel, for the screen, and she’s recently completed the script. She’s also got several pitches in play for both TV and film, and she hears her adapted screenplay of A Jealous Ghost, which Kirsten Dunst is producing and will star in, is “very, very close. But,” Megan says with a rueful chuckle, “I’m not holding my breath.”

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Joanna Langfield (Archived Contributor)

Her voice is heard throughout the 50 states and around the world by more than one million listeners on her syndicated radio programs: Joanna Langfield’s People Report and Video and Movie Minute. She’s also seen and heard as a regular contributing commentator on CNN International, CNN, Fox News and CNBC. In print, her articles have been published in such high profile magazines as Video Review and McCall’s. Joanna Langfield is known for taking interviews to another level with probing looks at celebrities’ insights rather than just their latest projects. As a result, she’s secured a niche among the nation’s premier interviewers and movie critics. Joanna began her career on the production staff of a local Boston television station. She then focused her energies towards radio and produced talk shows at WMEX-AM in Boston. After moving to New York, she became executive producer at WMCA-AM for talk show personalities Barry Gray and Sally Jessy Raphael. She began hosting a one-minute movie review spot which, in turn, led to her top-rated weekend call in-show, The Joanna Langfield Show (1980-83). Joanna moved to WABC-AM to host The Joanna Langfield Show on Saturday nights from 9:00pm to midnight. It was the highest rated show in its time slot. From 1987-1989, Joanna hosted Today’s People on the ABC Radio network, which was fed daily to over 300 stations around the country. She also appeared on WABC-TV as a regular on-air contributor. In 1989, Joanna formed her radio production company, Joanna Langfield Entertainment Reports, to syndicate her radio reports. She is considered to be one of the top authoritative commentators on the entertainment industry. Read Lagfield's recent articles below. For her Women On Film archive, type "Joanna Langfield" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).