After a “Mommy midlife crisis,” Caytha started writing again and went on to write and produce three feature films. Her newest work, The Other F Word, is a webseries on Amazon that explores four women’s midlife journeys.
Tell us a little about your background.
I am 54 years old and grew up in Scarsdale, NY. I always loved writing and consider myself a storyteller. In fifth grade during recess, my friends would put on plays that I wrote. I went to Syracuse University, where I majored in Film/TV and met my husband.
After college we lived in New York City. I worked as an agent in the film rights department of a literary agency, and then we moved to Los Angeles. My husband is a finance guy and went to UCLA for an MBA while I worked in the movie business for a producer. I then went to UCLA for a Master in Fine Arts in screenwriting.
Our first child was born when I completed my degree and quickly realized I couldn’t write with a newborn and didn’t want to return to the 24/7 job world of the movie business. So at 30, I closed that chapter of my life. I took a flexible part-time job selling greeting cards as I wanted to keep working in some capacity.
After our second child was born, we moved back East, to suburban New Jersey. I continued to do part-time sales work on and off, and became immersed in suburban mom life culture.
When did you start to think about making a change?
My aha moment was more of a “Mommy mid-life crisis.” My kids were getting older—now in middle school—and the flexible mom jobs available to me were no longer satisfying. Being a full-time stay-at-home mom was just not enough for me. I didn’t want to do a traditional full-time office job as I knew I needed and wanted to be there for my kids.
I suffered a mini (private) breakdown and then started writing again as my internal creative monster was waking up. It wasn’t easy at first; I had a lot of negative thoughts on the worthiness of the stories I wanted to tell—this was before blogs where moms had a place where they could write/talk about their true feelings and experiences.
What is your next act?
I am a writer/director/producer, aka a filmmaker.
In my early 40s, I wrote a feature screenplay but no longer had access to anyone in the business, so couldn’t get anyone to even read it. I gave the script to Vanessa Williams—through a mutual friend—and she loved it. The next thing I knew, I was producing a movie, a romantic comedy called And Then Came Love. In addition to Vanessa Williams, our cast included Eartha Kitt and Ben Vereen. That was the first of three features I wrote and produced. My last feature was a comedy about over-the-top sports parents called Bad Parents that starred Janeane Garofalo and Cheri Oteri.
My current project, and most personal, is a web series called The Other F Word that now streams on Amazon. I was turning 50, my kids were older and moving on, and wanted to write with humor and pathos about this chapter life for women after our kids are grown—our “next act”—through the journeys of four different women friends. These stories hadn’t been explored so it felt like an obvious show. Each character has her own journey: For example, the A story is Amy, a suburban stay-at-home mom whose husband quits his job to join the Peace Corps, and leaves her for a year. I wanted them each to have separate mid-life coming-of-age journeys. Amy is stripped of how she identifies herself, which is through others—as a Mom (she’s now an empty-nester) and as a wife (her husband is gone). It was important to me to have her alone, but not have her on a coupling journey but rather one of self-discovery. While the F originally stood for fifty or forty, it’s as much about friendship, fun, and finding oneself fearlessly during this chapter of life.
Unfortunately, when trying to sell The Other F Word as a network series, while the script got great feedback and validated, I was blind-sided by the ageist resistance to stories about women in the forties and fifties by the youth-obsessed entertainment industry.
I produced the show independently as a web series in hopes that if it’s successful, I could show Hollywood that our stories do matter and that we are not an invisible “tough” demographic. Fortunately, the feedback thus far has been so affirming, and our viewing audience is growing thanks to word of mouth by what I call “The Power of Mom,” as bloggers like Hélène and their readers have been helping to spread the word.
Why did you choose this next act?
Producing seemed to encapsulate all my skills—creative and sales. I am an entrepreneur at heart. I was very scared during the process as there is a lot of financial risk, but it was a nice fear and I started to feel alive again.
How hard was it to take the plunge?
It was hard to take the plunge, as there is a lot that goes into producing and it’s not a cheap venture—and a lot is out of one’s control. Watching countless end credits reminds one how many hands go into the finished project. I ran our town’s soccer tournament prior to my first production and joked that it was preparation as I felt that many of the skills were transferable. I also enlisted the help of my mom friends for some of the film jobs; I called them my “Mommy Posse.”
How supportive were your family and friends?
They were supportive and intrigued yet also skeptical, knowing how hard it is to succeed in this field. There were not a lot of suburban soccer moms making movies. Fortunately, I’ve been able to repay my investors as my films have been profitable.
What challenges did you encounter? Did you ever think about giving up?
It always costs more than you think, and producing ambitious projects on a small budget means lots of compromising. That said, when you don’t have money to throw at a problem, you must rely on ingenuity—a challenge I like to take on.
Yes, I definitely thought about giving up. All of my projects have had huge obstacles like budgets and finding funding and actor’s schedules and the fear that what you are doing will not find an audience. What kept me going? My family and my producing partners, but also my belief that I’d rather fail than not try—a very mid-life “next act” philosophy. My team knew if we didn’t do it, we’d regret that more than the risk of doing it. Don’t let anything or anybody stand in the way of having a dream and then aspiring for it; there is no failure if you enjoy the journey.
What did you learn about yourself through this process?
Not only am I a fearless person, but I take pride in inspiring others to have dreams and not let anything stand in the way of attaining or attempting to realize them.
Looking back, there are things I could have done better. There are always regrets, but they make the best stories.
What advice do you have for those interested in pursuing a movie production career? What resources do you recommend?
My advice is that it’s never too late to dream big. It’s easier than ever to produce as films can be made on an iphone now with fairly good production value. If you have a compelling story that you believe is best told cinematically, go for it.
The Internet is a great resource and in my industry resources are constantly changing. I attended seminars, read anything and everything pertaining to producing a movie or a web series and started to engage with my audience early on for research and validation that whatever I was writing about had the potential to connect. I become incredibly myopic on each project.
There are great film schools that offer continuing education and many like UCLA and NYU offer online classes. A great resource is Stage32.com: It’s free to create a profile and they offer networking opportunities, classes, and workshops for writers, actors and producers. They also provide pitching opportunities for writers to present their scripts directly to producers who are buying. I met my manager through their services.
What’s next for you? Do you think you have another next act in your future?
I have some new feature scripts I’m working on, but really hope that we can find funding for more episodes of The Other F Word as my characters’ next act journeys have only just begun. My fantasy is to have a writer’s room of next act storytellers who can help grow the episodic world I’ve created.
We welcome you to add a comment on Amazon—it really does help. Share the show with your friends and like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, share your comments, subscribe to our newsletter, and just stay in touch with me. We would love to have as many people join us on our mid-life journey. And please reach out to me if you would like to be part of our show’s journey in a more meaningful way.
Contact Caytha Jentis at Caytha@foxmeadowfilms.com
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