Film & Television · Theater

The Big Picture: ‘ELAINE STRITCH: SHOOT ME,’ Episode 2

Elizabeth Hemmerdinger, a member of the board of Women’s Voices, has played many roles—as playwright, screenwriter, executive director of The Real Rosie the Riveter Project, and producer. Her producing credits include a short film, Good Sister, which will premiere at the Boston International Film Festival; the short documentary Beyond These Walls, and being producer/writer of The Girl With the Rivet Gun, a new-media project in development.

Here, she shares her exhilaration at stepping into a new role—that of producer of an independent film she strongly believes in. That film is a celebration of the life of the formidable Elaine Stritch. This post is Episode 2 of the story of the making of SHOOT ME; Episode 1 can be found here. —Ed.


Elaine StritchElaine Stritch: A performing artist first, last, and always.

I am simply delighted to report that a film I am associated with, ELAINE STRITCH: SHOOT ME, will have its World Premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 19. Chiemi Karasawa of Isotope Films is the director/producer. I am a fellow producer. Very few women get to “walk the red carpet” as producer of an independent film, a movie made by an individual or small group without the backing of a studio or major financier. Very few women. And so this venture, with its affirmation that I am indeed an independent-film producer, marks a career change for me.

I asked Chiemi Karasawa, whose life certainly changes today in a bigger way, to describe what a producer contributes to the making of a film. She replied: “Essentially, taking on the role of what is best for the film and its director—from conception through production, supporting the foundations of the film within the budget, and getting the film to market—is a producer’s role.  So through your supportive relationship with me and the film, your hard work, tenacity, and investment in the fundraising/budget, you have become a producer—responsible, like any other producer, for the finishing of the film. It’s like becoming an adoptive parent of a child. That’s how I look at it.”

The power of assuming this new role and responsibility rather suddenly—of actively working to get to “yes” for a project in which I utterly believe—is really quite delicious. I clearly remember believing that I needed to arrive by the age of 35. When that didn’t happen, I had to deal with what I thought of briefly as failure. And then I learned to accept and savor all the good people and opportunities in my life, and to live and love with purpose. Though I kept writing and working for causes, and though I continue to adore my large family and savor times with them, I confess that I never stopped searching beyond the prow for the Arrivals Dock.

And now, in this fairly new career, I have already learned things—most of them from working with Chiemi and Laverne Berry, a pragmatic entertainment lawyer and great mentor. Be clear, be generous, be strong—particularly in the face of a man throwing a hissy-fit. Be protective of the safe space a working artist (including me) needs—a mental and sometimes physical space of one’s own, where family and finances and daily concerns must be put aside. But the process of learning brings the biggest satisfaction to me.

And so we come to the film, an always-entertaining, often startling paean to an often irascible, fiercely perfectionistic, always independent, long-lived woman. The official description of the film reads, “What does it mean to be a performing artist—first, last and always? Broadway legend Elaine Stritch can answer that. At 87, Stritch is still here, dominating the stage in her one-woman cabaret act, torturing Alec Baldwin on 30 Rock, giving us her take on aging, her struggle with alcohol and diabetes, and the fear of leaving the followspot behind. In stolen moments from her corner room at the Carlyle, and on breaks from her tour and work, candid reflections about her life are punctuated with rare archival footage, words from friends (Hal Prince, George C. Wolfe, Nathan Lane, Cherry Jones and John Turturro) and photographs from her personal collection. By turns bold, hilarious and achingly poignant, the journey connects Stritch’s present to her past, and is an inspiring portrait of a one-of-a-kind survivor.”

Serving on the board of WVFC, participating in the founding of this online presence, I have had to learn a fair amount about the Web. Now I’m learning something about the art and craft of crowd-funding—which is very new media for a grandmother of five. In our present universe of interactivity and pro-activity, crowd-sourcing is one of the ways an independent film raises money and builds an audience and participating followers. Click here to see what transparency and grassroots look like today.

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