Faith, Media & Culture

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

The positive power of “Yes.” I just finished reading Beautifully Flawed: Finding Your Radiance in the Imperfections of Your Life, the excellent, courageous and inspiring autobiography busy actress Shari Rigby wrote with TV writer Claire Yorita Lee (whose work includes scripts for NBC’s Medium and PBS’ Independent Lens). As fans of her 2011 Erwin Brothers film October Baby know, Shari’s past was a difficult one that included an emotionally painful abortion. In the movie, she played Cindy Hastings, a successful career woman who literally comes face to face with her past when she’s confronted with a young woman (Rachel Hendrix) who informs her that she’s the daughter she attempted to abort two decades earlier. The Erwin Brothers had no idea about Shari’s own past abortion when they cast her in the role but, in hindsight, it does seems as though a Larger Hand was at work.

The film caused her to open up about her personal history and say “Yes” to bravely revealing her scars — as well as the healing she received from saying “Yes” to God’s forgiveness. I’ve interviewed Shari on the phone before and found her to be remarkably open and forthcoming about a past that also included a dysfunctional romantic relationships, divorce and drug abuse. And, of course, her story — and her courage in telling it — is inspirational. So, when her book tour brought her to New York City, I had to say “Yes” to the opportunity to meet her in person. We were joined by her co-author Claire Yorita Lee. Their story is a story in itself. Since the book brought them together, a friendship has blossomed that has paved the way for additional collaborations. “The Lord,” as the saying goes, “works in mysterious ways.”

JWK: So, what kind of reaction have you been receiving from your book?

SHARI RIGBY: I think, as far as the emails and messages coming in, you always think that you’re just going to have just one demographic of people that are going to be reading your book but when you get a message (from one guy) who’s gotta be like 68 years old and another gentlemen that I know is 75, that have read the book…all in one night, I mean, that’s incredible! Or, you know, the young mom that reads it. It’s just an incredible thing to see how many people the book actually relates to on all these different levels — and actually the different pieces that they pull…and apply it to their lives….I think maybe the youngest so far that I’ve received a message from….was probably 14 years old. It was really great message to hear how she was going through the same thing as she was entering high school and just trying to figure her identity and who she was and how she should remain pure and know that she shouldn’t be entering into relationships that she shouldn’t be into.

JWK: I guess that girl was probably the type of reader that you would expect to relate to your book — but it is interesting how our life stories can touch people we wouldn’t expect in ways that we wouldn’t expect. It’s like we’re all more alike than we may think.

SR: Yeah, it was really cool! One of the gentlemen said “I think every young man should read this book so that they can understand…a young girl and (her) heart — and how they should how they should treat young women and what they go through and how they should be able to relate to that. Every dad should it so he can understand what it is like for a young woman to got through these trials and tribulations and (to make) sure that she’s able to go to her parents and speak to them about it.” So, I thought that was really cool to hear those different perspectives.

JWK: It must have been cathartic for you write the book but, more than that, rewarding to hear from people who it has actually touched. I know you’re past is already healed — but this book, it would seem to, would add to that healing.

SR: I think healing probably isn’t the right (way to describe it). I think it’s more of a journey. I think after writing this story (that) it was more about the continuation of learning. I continued to learn new things about how I saw something in life. In fact, Claire and I were talking one time. You know, I had gone through this whole entire book and I thought I knew exactly what I was going to take away from it. Then, as we were getting ready to turn in the manuscript, (there) was the realization of “Wait a minute. God’s now just spoken to my heart again. This is really about Him being the Leading Man in my life and how I  identify with Him to enter into (that) relationship. That’s the overall message of this particular book to women…So, this is a continuation, I guess, of learning. Claire was standing in the kitchen with me and she said she had been in a study group…and one of the women asked “Why is Shari’s story any different? There are so many stories out there. So, what makes it different?” I think what it simply came down to is because I said “Yes.”…That’s the theme I hope that continues to be a message to people. All stories are worthy.

JWK: How did you two meet?

CLAIRE YORITA LEE: We have a common friend, a Christian comedian named Kerrie Pomarolli. She had met Shari (through) Bill Reeves (of Working Title).  They had met just briefly and Shari had mentioned to Kerrie that she wanted write a book and that she needed a writer. She asked Kerrie if she knew of a writer. Kerrie and I had written together before. So, she mentioned me to Shari. She emailed me and goes “You need to meet this woman. She’s great! She’s just an amazing person and you really need to meet her! She wants help writing her book.” I just said “Kerrie, I don’t write books That’s not what I do.” She goes “Just meet with her.” She called me over to dinner at her house because Shari was going to be there. Shari and I just totally connected. It was like we already knew each other. We were chatting and laughing. Even her husband Matt was like “This is the first time you met?!” It felt like it was sort of like an open door, that God was giving me this opportunity and I said “Yes!” So, I guess that’s the theme!

JWK: So, you wrote comedy?

CYL: I wrote television scripts. I had done a movie script but mostly just television. I thought it was going to be so much more difficult to write a book but really they’re very similar. You’re writing in chapters. You just write less dialogue — and you’re writing in someone else’s voice which is what television is. You’re writing in other people’s voices. So, it kind of was very natural for me to write a book with Shari.

JWK: Did you interview Shari and, basically, refine what she said?

CYL: No. We did it differently. Shari’s a very good writer herself. So, the way we did it was I just said “Shari just vomit on a page. Just write what ever you want and then I will go through it and we’ll work through it.” We would get together on Saturdays and work through it…I would try to interweave some paragraphs (into) themes and stuff like that but a lot of it started with Shari writing out her story and her life and just what she could remember. In the beginning it started more like maybe she was just writing the story out but, as she progressed (and) as the chapters went on, Shari’s writing got so good! She wrote much differently, I would say, from Chapter 1 to Chapter 12. She was thinking through everything and its was great.

JWK: How long was the process?

SR: I had started the process in 2012 right after I started out on the road for October Baby press. I had done the proposal and I had already…highlighted what my chapters were going to be throughout and this book and what I wanted the end chapters to kind of feel like. So, that was done already and that probably took a couple months. Then, when I met Claire had put it all on the back burner because I was out traveling and speaking so much that I wasn’t able to do it. So, I think when we met in 2013, we talked (and) I sent her all the stuff I already had…I mean it was probably a good year and a half of work. For Claire and I (working together) it was probably a year. I would write, write, write and she’s so great at structure and really honing in on (the) story and asking really specific questions (about things) people would want to hear. Sometimes we forget about that because the story’s so locked in our head that we forget that “Wait a minute! That might not (be clear to) someone else.” So, she was really great with being able to walk through it.

JWK: And it seems like an actual was formed out of the process. 

SR: Absolutely!

CYL: I think it started out that way. That’s why we even started to work together. I really like Shari.

SR: We like each other.

CYL: It was like “Let’s just do this! We can hang our more!”

JWK: We talked earlier about a potential movie coming out of this book. Have you two started working on the screenplay?

CYL: Yeah! We’re excited! We already on the plane, writing on post-its!…We were really like let’s use this time!

SR: It’s been really cool…We knew there was a whole lot more to the story as we could see it start to develop and then, as people started to come and share their stories with us, we could start to see how there was so much more that needed to be said.

And then doing the book trailer for Beautifully Flawed, all of a sudden it ignited. Every question was “Is this a sneak peak into the movie?
and “When are we going to see the movie?” We kind of really just thought this is a great progression for us to go into writing a screenplay.

SR: So, we’re doing that and then also with Beautifully Flawed, we’re also working through a study guide.

JWK: A study guide?

SR: I guess, as this point, that’s what it’s labeled as. The study guide is really based around the chapters of the book. So, really what it does is — going back your question about this process or what have you learned — we’re going through the same thing right now with the study guide and the screenplay. As we continue this journey — and talking with people who have read (the book) — we’re finding out what actually resonates with them and what they actually need to come back and go “I need to bring this to the table and talk about this. I need to re-bond with this relationship. I need to know that I’m worthy. I need to know that I have a redeemer.” So, those are the things right now that we’re working on. Plus. we have another book that we’ll be writing.

JWK: Is it a novel?

CYL: Yes — but based on Shari, also…It’s (about) what happens when you get married. You’re not just you anymore. You still have connections with your mom and you have a new mother-in-law. We’re going to tell it from three different points of view. We’re excited!

JWK: That sounds like it has movie potential too

SR: You know what it is. There’s nothing really on the market that deals with these relationships…I had an issue happen very early on in my marriage (where) I was so upset about my mother-in-law. I was having these emotional breakdowns over different things and it really wasn’t that — but, in my world, it was. And my poor husband had to suffer through it. (There was) this coffee shop that I worked at my church. I went in there and this guy, he’s back there — the chef — and he was working and doing his thing. I’m just a wreck and I got my baby on my hip and he looks at me and (asks) “What’s going on with you?” I said “Oh, my mother-in-law!” And he goes “Have you ever thought about reading The Book of Ruth.  And I went “Okay, well, that’s coming right straight from a guy.” But the fact of the matter was it was really true.

JWK: So, what’s in The Book of Ruth that was so relevant to your situation?

SR: Well, it was really that understanding of commitment as a woman — and realizing how we are to love, follow and honor. I think the generational thing now that we see exploited through television and films and so many avenues is that there’s such a breakdown of relationships. There’s a negative connotation to a mother-in-law — or even…a mother. We forget the walk they had to go through certain generational things themselves. When they come into these relationships, they carry (their own) baggage. I think a lot of times, unfortunately, instead of building these relationships back up, we tear them down. And the people that suffer so much of the time are our husbands or our children that hear these generational issues, So, we’re gonna tackle this in a story and it’s gonna be really fun.

JWK (to CYL): So, now you’re getting into books.

SYL: I know. It’s something I thought I’d never do!

JWK: It is a good way to get the movie process going though, isn’t it?

CYL: It is. It’s not like outlining but it’s, in a way, a first step.

JWK: What is the difference between writing a book and writing screenplay — in terms of process?

CYL: Good question!…The thing about a movie is its visual…(In the Beautifully Flawed screenplay) we really would like to tell it through flashback because a book is so much longer than a screenplay can be in terms of story…I won’t tell you too much but there’s a trial. So, were gonna do it in flashback through this trial (involving) Shari’s relationship Don, her first husband, the one that she married at 16 and had a baby with at 17 — at the same time while telling the story of Shari and (her current husband of many years) Matt — because at that same time they were building their relationship. So, that’s we’re going to tell it. It’s totally different (from) the book because the book is linear. That’s what’s fun about a movie. You can jump all around.

JWK (to SR): You were just in India doing a film called The Journalist. Can you tell me about that?

SR: It’s a true story and it’s really another incredible story that I get to share with an audience about forgiveness. What I love though is that I get to become somebody completely different than who I am…But the beautiful thing is the universal message, again, of forgiveness, redemption and (the importance of) really loving people. That’s really what this story is about.

One of the actors that I get to play opposite of is Sharmin Joshi. He is one of the top-rated Indian actors and he is absolutely amazing in this movie. You’re gonna want to watch the journey of this young man (who is) in his mid-thirties. His overall journey takes him from a place where it’s really about himself and trying to make a name for himself as a journalist to what happens in a tragedy that brings him around to actually to…finding Christ. That’s really the overall gist of it. That’s probably about all I can say except I loved India. It was quite the experience. I was there for three weeks and it was just another incredible opportunity to share a story.

JWK: Besides you’re writing, you’re very busy as an actress these days.

SR:  All the time. I’m like, omigosh!, I’ve worked this entire year, I’ve done films back to back.

JWK: You also recently filmed a western film called Boonville Redemption, which, as the title suggests, also deals with subject of forgiveness. That theme runs through so much of your work.

SR: It does!…I think that’s one of the most beautiful about how the Lord has brought me into being a storyteller. I really get to pull so much from my own life and bring it to a character and build that character and allow that to resonate on the screen. Boonville Redemption is really about a woman who who, again, needed to find forgiveness. Wildflower (also due in 2015) again is about a woman who had gone through an incredible time in her life and at the end of the journey is her young daughter…(Th Journalist) is a film of redemption again. Filming in India, to see that, it was just such an incredible process because you get to share that on screen with primarily Hindu and Muslim people. Wow! I mean what God does in those moments! I’ve been so blessed!

JWK: What movies have you seen that have personally inspired you?

SR: I think probably one of my favorites is…The Help. For some reason, I just absolutely fell in love with the story. From the acting to how beautifully it was shot, the story was so intact. I think that’s something that really always grabs me is how well the story is done. I love beautiful movies…

The Hundred-Foot Journey…was, again, beautiful story and unique. The shots were breathtaking. So, those are the kinds of movies I absolutely love and adore. There’s a beauty to them.

JWK: So, you already told me that your working on another book with movie potential. Do you see this as an ongoing thing — the two of you developing projects?

CYL: Oh, yeah. I can’t imagine not working with Shari. We love working together — and I think we work really well together. We complement each other.

SR: We’re really motivated to see how we can tell great stories. I think I’m excited because I believe we’re putting this incredible team of women together. The DP for our Beautifully Flawed book trailer was Rachel Hendrix (October Baby). We had Anna Redmon as a stylist. Ruth Baldwin, Suzanne Niles — all these women that we’re pulling together that are really incredible women in media. They’re extremely talented and gifted. I’m really excited to see how we as women can bring some faith-based inspirational stories to the screen because it’s all guys right now. It’s like the brother game. I mean we have the Kendricks and the Erwins and all these great and talented men…I think that’s one thing people are going to really enjoy — to have women telling these stories. And I think the men are going to love it.

I think we also will be able to cross the boundaries. We want to make those great movies — like The Help — that crossover, that are so beautifully told that people can’t not go.

JWK: I, personally, think the term “faith-based” is sometimes used to make it appear that films with these themes appeal only to a niche audience. In fact, some of the most-successful mainstream films in history have had faith themes — from It’s a Wonderful Life to The Avengers, which included a scene in which Captain America expresses a belief in God. I think, from a being a niche, the audience attracted to positive faith themes is huge.

SR: It is a huge audience — and I don’t think we’ve really tapped into that…We look at Angelina Jolie and what she did with Unbroken. That was such a spectacular movement forward for her — and women storytellers. (To be clear) I love men and they do great things but I think that there is definitely (room for) women out there to tell great stories.

JWK: So, are you two thinking in terms of a development or production company? It’s seems as though you’ve put together a sort of nucleus for one.

CYL: I would definitely say that!

SR: Yeah, I think we are. As we go forward, I love directing so, at some point, I think that’s even a position that I’ll be able to move into. I think we’ve been so blessed because, like Claire said earlier, she never thought that she’d be writing a book but here we are in this position right now where (we’re) writing books and screenplays and directing and acting. It’s  beautiful thing to be able to do all of these things and just see the blessings from it. We’re being motivated by it.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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