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What's Up With... Erica Beeney

Where You've Seen Her: The Ohio State University M.F.A. graduate had a quick rise to fame as the winner of the second installment of Project Greenlight, with her screenplay The Battle of Shaker Heights. And while the HBO series that documented the filmmaking process mostly centered on all the shooting catastrophes, Beeney said the entire process was a joy. "The final version of the film is not how I would have imagined it would be," she said. "But I'm not sure that the writer's job is to really conceptualize the final version. My process was done when the final script was approved; that's the part I had control over. After that you just have to hand it off. While at times I was fearful of what the movie was turning into, I think in the end what was produced was something I'm really proud of and really closely reflects a lot of the original aspects of the screenplay."

Beeney readily admits that her situation was probably quite different from that of the average first-time screenwriter. "No one was going to fire me," she said jokingly. "I didn't have to be worried that they were going to turn The Battle of Shaker Heights into a shoot-'em-up action movie with a new writer—not a lot of other writers have that security." But, she said, the more she speaks to other writers, the more she has learned that there is no such thing as an average experience. "The screenwriter's experience is different in every situation. Sometimes the final version of your film becomes almost unrecognizable [compared with] what you wrote, in others you work hand in hand with the director, and in the middle lies my experience, which was some level of input, though certainly not the final say."

Getting It All on Tape: Beeney said she was nervous and unsure about being on the set every day but that the anxiety was further compounded by the Project Greenlight cameras documenting her every move. She said, "The benefit of the sometimes embarrassing and painful process of watching myself on television is that I can see the mistakes I made, and I can try to correct them the next go-around. I regret in hindsight that I wasn't more clear about what my role was on-set, who I answered to, and what my authority was. That reflects my inexperience, but it's a battle that every screenwriter has."

Though many "reality stars" lament that the overexposure has done more harm to their careers than good, Beeney isn't concerned. "One of the benefits of being a writer is that ultimately it all hinges on the quality of my work. If people got a negative impression of me, but they still like the product, they can easily buy the script and leave me out of it." Still, she admitted "The show certainly has given me a higher public profile than most first-time writers, and that has its good and bad sides. People think they know you, but I really don't think Project Greenlight manipulated the show in any way. Pretty much everything that happened was accurate; they just left out the parts when everyone was getting along and everything was fine."

Creatively Different: Much of the show focused on the creative strife between Beeney and Shaker directors Kyle Rankin and Efram Potelle (also Project Greenlight winners). And while Beeney doesn't deny that they had their differences, she said they ultimately were able to find a common vision. For those who watched the series, tension culminated when filming the all-important emotional father/son scene. When the actors broke into a three-way hug, Beeney balked, but Potelle and Rankin wanted to leave it in. Said Beeney, "The three-way-hug became a metaphor for a certain kind of creative difference that Kyle and Efram and I had. They envisioned the movie being able to encompass more drama than I did, and so it was satisfying to have them kind of finally come around to the same place of realizing that this is simply not the kind of movie in which a three-way-hug can exist."

Beeney said that even through her frustrations and her uncertainty, being on-set was a thrilling experience. "The unusual thing about this situation was that, generally, the writer is on-set because the director requests that she be there—they have some relationship that works for them. In this case it was the producers who wanted me there, so there wasn't the organic collaborative spirit between Kyle and Efram and me. As frustrating as it was at times, though, it was really satisfying to get to be a part of my first movie getting made—even as a watcher, which I was a lot of the time. It was deeply satisfying. Hopefully someday it will seem like old hat; but, right now, to see it come to life was wonderful."

Advice to Future Applicants: While all parties involved are enthusiastic about a Project Greenlight 3, the future of Project Greenlight hinges on the success of Shaker Heights. But Beeney had many helpful suggestions for all budding hopefuls. "Only submit a screenplay in which the best possible version of the movie would cost $1 million," she said. "It's got to be small, inventive, and original in a very limited frame of mind. You also have to know all the rules, but then you have to bring your own personality to it. There should be a reason why your screenplay seems different from anyone else's. The person who is lucky enough to win will have the most intense revision process of his life ahead of him—you do a revision process, which can sometimes take years, in a matter of five weeks. You will be generating an insane amount of material, and so it's dire that you feel passionate about your characters."

Beeney, who is currently working on a TV pilot, is ready to look to future projects but ultimately is pleased with the outcome of Shaker Heights. "I stand behind this movie 100 percent. Regardless of what the problems were during filming, in the end we all really were able to come together and collaborate and make something we're really proud of and feel good about."

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