You might be surprised that Book Club—a romantic comedy, in theaters now, about four women in their late 60s whose lives and sexualities are awakened after reading Fifty Shades of Grey*— was written by two people in their mid-30s. But it was a story co-writer and producer Erin Simms and director, producer, and co-writer Bill Holderman wanted to tell. In fact, it took them about six years—and a lot of hustle—to get it made. Now, Simms looks back on the “risk” they took, how they got stars Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen, and Mary Steenburgen on board, and more.*
There are two types of risks. For me, the “not doing something” kind is never the one worth taking.
No one asked me and Bill Holderman to write Book Club. We wrote the script in our free time and on spec, meaning, for free. We both had full time jobs at a production company and were developing and producing movies for Robert Redford. If that sounds like a pretty great gig, it was. When we left that safe, comfortable existence to blaze our own trail it was, in a word, risky. (I’m pretty sure “stupid” and “irresponsible” were also frequent descriptors at the time, but I digress.) The thing is, I just couldn’t shake the idea of making a movie starring four female Hollywood legends in leading roles. The idea was too exciting. This was the kind of movie I wanted to see, but it wasn’t going to be easy.
The journey to get the movie made was long and fraught with complications. Our script was bought and held hostage for two years. When we finally regained the rights, many financiers wanted us to cast younger so that their returns would be less “risky.” (There’s that word again.) They told us audiences wouldn’t show up for a film about a mature group over sixty, a group that happened to be made up of four women. When we told them our dream cast was Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, and Mary Steenburgen, they scoffed: “You think actresses like that will take a risk on a first-time director?” Other financiers wanted us to replace the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy featured in the movie because, according to them, E.L. James would never give us clearance to use her books. I can’t tell you how many times we heard: “Why risk it?” Book Club was a labor of love, but even more so it was a labor of resilience. It was made independently, on a tight budget, and in just 33 days. When our little movie was acquired by Paramount Pictures with their full support for distribution, the amazement I felt was close to awe. Making this movie gave me a profound sense of accomplishment—not because we completed it, but because we started it in the first place. Because we tried.
It also reinforced something I suspected early on: Other people don’t necessarily know any better than you do. Sometimes it’s hard to believe, but it’s true. So when someone tells me “you can’t” or “you won’t,” I smile inside because I know it’s just another hurdle to clear, because that’s what those opinions are. They are a weeding out process—a test. They are other people’s fear of trying something new or different, something that simply might not work out. Something risky.
While I would hardly dare to compare myself with the legends that are Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenburgen, in a way I feel a kinship towards them. These are women who never gave up, never took no for an answer, and who are willing to take the risk. They are also women who have grown up in front of the world and have forgiven themselves for getting older and who are still willing to get out there and try new things no matter the outcome. It’s the survivor, badass, never-say-die quality in each and every one of them that takes the fear out of getting older for me and makes this movie an actual joy to see (and frankly kind of a miracle).
Those are the themes that inspired this movie: Taking chances and challenging yourself, no matter your age; looking forward instead of looking back, and relying on the beauty of female friendship to carry you along the way. For me, the risk was always the reward.
As the opening day for Book Club arrives, I find myself less focused on its performance and more grateful for the journey. Although it would be nice if this demographic proved to the industry that yes, people will show up if you give them something to show up for!
As the great T.S. Eliot wrote, “For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.” Here’s the thing about trying: It never gets old. And if trying never gets old, then maybe trying is the key to staying young at any age. Furthermore, if the four actresses who star in Book Club are any indication, then without a doubt, the future really is bright.