The Callie Khouri effect
by Cecilia Contreras & Amy Garcia
Thelma left him a note. Louise picked her up in a convertible. Thelma brought a gun. Louise used it. And the girls we were would never be the same again.
We had never seen women behave like that, speak like that, or write like that on screen. They were front and center the entire time. They didn’t listen to Daryl when he said to come home. They didn’t even listen to the cops when they told them to turn themselves in. They didn’t look back. Not once. They were real.
We were kids when we saw that movie and it was the first time we gave a flip as to who wrote it. Not the director, but the writer. The one who came up with the whole thing. Callie Khouri. She won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay in 1992 for Thelma & Louise. And at that time there was no better shining example for us of what a female screenwriter could do. We wanted to be just…like…her. She is why we started writing. And Thelma & Louise told us we could do anything together.
Like Ms. Khouri, our first screenplay would be a road trip. But ours would be about two young girls, the best of friends, who don’t leave a note, but still take off in a convertible. No idea what we were doing. Never seen a movie script before. Hadn’t been to film school. Didn’t know anyone in the business. And didn’t live anywhere near L.A. But we had a pen, a pad of paper, snacks, and the patience to figure it out. The amazing all-girl screenwriting duo was bound for success!
There were pessimists, of course, ready to give us, outlaws, the odds of “making it.” This unsolicited life advice went on for years.
We became experts at ignoring the eye rolls, skilled at overlooking the smirks, professionals at poo pooing the poo pooers. The naysayers had the power of stable jobs and health care while we had the power of two: You don’t mess with Thelma & Louise. They’ll stuff you in a trunk.
Over the years we collected rejection letters like some people collect baseball cards. A suitcase full. There was only one rule we followed if we were going to question our chosen paths, cry that we had made all the wrong choices in our lives, freak out that we may just die as old ladies with too many cats, and scream to the other that “Thelma & Louise die at the end!”: only one of us could be down in the dumps at a time. The other had to stay the course, reminding the sad, dumpy, miserable one that we would make it across the border to Mexico and that it would all be worth it.
And it was. Our first screenplay, Dear Eleanor, was finally filmed this year. Over the span of nearly two decades, we had written a bunch of scripts, but this was the first one we sold. And walking onto our first movie set was our Mexico.
If Callie Khouri hadn’t shown us that we could take risks, dare to not get caught, and challenge each other to keep going no matter what, who knows where’d be right now? The future is wide open. We have a full tank and our foot on the gas pedal. Anything is possible.
We’re still outlaws. And, “Louise, no matter what happens, I’m glad I came with you.”Tags: Amy Garcia, Callie Khouri, Cecilia Contreras, Dear Eleanor, Dreams do come true, Follow your dreams, Getting first movie made, Hollywood, Screenwriters, Thelma & Louise