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Women to Watch: Janet Grillo

Filmmaker Toolkit
by Sydney Levine
February 22, 2012 10:30 AM
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Janet Grillo 

is an Emmy Award winning producer, an Award winning writer and director, and a former Studio Executive. We date back to our days as acquisitions executives in the late 80s when I was with Republic and she was with New Line and based in New York.  She came to L.A. for the American Film Market and stayed downtown.  One day she went to a well known antique book store called Caravan Books (founded in 1954 and still operating!), located underneath the Biltmore Hotel at 5th and Grand and was held up at gunpoint!  We were all totally confouned by such New York style brazenness confronting our New York friend.

In 2007, Janet executive produced the esteemed documentary Autism: The Musical with Bunim Murray Productions, which premiered on HBO in March, 2008. It is distributed by New VideoAutism: The Musical received the coveted audience awards at Newport, Palm Springs and Mill Valley Film Festivals, and premiered to uniformly excellent reviews at the Tribeca Film Festival. It was short listed for an Academy Award Nomination. It won two Emmy Awards in 2008, including Outstanding Non Fiction Special (i.e.; Best Documentary). 

A filmmaker in her own right, Janet wrote and directed two short films; At the Beach starring Lucinda Jenney, and Flying Lessons starring Dana Delany (Desperate Houswives, Castle, China Beach).  Flying Lessons premiered at Palm Springs International Film Festival in August of 2008, to good reviews. It was programmed by many prestigious festivals here and abroad, including the Atlanta, L.A. Short, Rhode Island and San Luis Obispo International Film Festivals. It won the Silver Lei Award for Excellence in Filmmaking at the Honolulu International Film Festival, the Best Dramatic Short at First Look Festival, L.A. and Best Performance at WILDsound Short Film Festival in Toronto, Canada. Her feature script, Fly Away, won the Dylan Thomas Award for Best International Screenplay from the 2010 Swansea Bay Film Festival in Wales. 

Made as a SAG Ultra-Low Budget Independent film, and shot in 14 days, Fly Away premiered as 1 of 8 out of 2000 submissions in Dramatic Competition at the influential South by Southwest Film Festival (SXSW) in Austin, Texas, this March.

Fly Away, went on to win the Best Film and Special Jury Prize for Performance (Ashley Rickards) at the Arizona International Film Festival.  The film opened immediately afterwards in April 2011, in limited theatrical engagement, to rave reviews. It is currently distributed by FlatironFilms/ New Video via iTunes, NetFlix, Amazon and VOD/Time Warner-Comcast.

The complex portrayals of a single mother and her severely autistic teenager daughter (Beth Broderick and Ashley Rickards, who does not actually have the disorder), in collaboration with a talented ensemble, were widely lauded by major critics, as “exceptional...remarkable...first rate...as natural as breathing...The actors are so exemplary it is hard to imagine this is not a documentary,” and “deserving of an Oscar Nomination.”           

                                     CRITICAL ACCLAIM FOR

                                                        FLY AWAY

Fly Away is a gripping, life-enhancing low-budget little film about the physically and emotionally punishing struggles of a single mother raising an autistic child. The actors are so exemplary that it is difficult to imagine this is not a documentary. They might not be household names, but they will be...As the mother, Beth Broderick is as natural as breathing... In a class by herself (Rickards), she deserves, at the very least, an Oscar nomination. Not since Patty Duke in The Miracle Worker has any actor portrayed a handicapped child (especially one with autism) with the same depth of passion and realism. Her emotional range seems to know no limits. She’s more heartbreaking than the movie itself, and that is very high praise indeed.”

- THE NEW YORK OBSERVER By Rex Reed

“The lovely, heartbreaking "Fly Away" benefits from superb performances and a gripping story managed with simplicity and grace by writer-producer-director Janet Grillo. As sensitive and affecting as this mother-daughter drama may be, the film skillfully bypasses its genre's potential pitfalls, opting for intimacy over sensationalism, poignancy over sentimentality.... Broderick is wonderful, a delicate mix of the resolute and resigned, her face a quietly expressive map of pain and pride. But enough can't be said about Rickards, best known from TV's "One Tree Hill," who so convincingly embodies Mandy's wild child spontaneity, startling effusiveness and unwieldy physicality. She's remarkable — in a remarkably challenging role.”

- LA TIMES By Gary Goldstein

“Treading warily into territory that few dramas dare to explore, “Fly Away” is a defiantly unsentimental look at the complex codependency between a harried single mother and her severely autistic daughter... Taking a coolheaded approach to hot-button issues, “Fly Away” overcomes its neatly bow-tied ending with strong performances (including Greg Germann as a sensitive neighbor) and a spare, intelligent script. Ms. Grillo has no need of wordiness: Jeanne’s bruised body and exhausted face say it all.”

- NEW YORK TIMES By Jeannette Catsoulis

“The best thing a serious, no-nonsense movie can do is give us a glimpse into the world of someone whose experiences are so far away from our own that they are difficult for us to even imagine... Jeanne is multidimensional in a very real, down to earth sense...Broderick plays Jeanne with a lost look on her face. She is overwhelmed by her circumstances, but is determined to persevere. After many changes in key, when the symphony that is this film comes to a close, we see that Jeanne may be about to face her biggest challenge yet. An ending can be seen as a new beginning, and this film leaves me hoping for a sequel.”

- HUFFINGTON POST By Joseph Smigelski

Also highly awarded, Ashley Rickards, the extraordinary young actress who plays the severely autistic teen MANDY, also stars in the new MTV comedy hit, AWKWARD. For which she was just listed as one of the 10 Breakout TV stars of 2011 in Entertainment Weekly. Ashley is NOT autistic, obviously. Although most people think she is, after watching the film. She turned 18 when she shot FLY AWAY. Pretty remarkable range and talent, and at such a young age.

Previously, Janet worked at New Line Cinema for ten years, rising through the ranks to become the Senior Vice President of Production, East Coast. During this time she established an outstanding track record initiating the careers of many emerging filmmakers, including Reggie Hudlin, for whom she developed his feature debut, HOUSE PARTY. The film received the coveted Audience Award at Sundance, and went on to become a cult classic, grossing $25 million in North American theatrical revenues on a budget of $1.5 million. Janet then executive produced its two financially successful sequels. At New Line, Janet developed and executive produced Joseph B. Vasquez's acclaimed feature Hangin with the Homeboys starring John Leguizamo. It received the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at Sundance. She then went on to develop and associate produce Pump Up the Volume starring Christian Slater, as well as Ted Demme directorial debut, Who's The Man. The same year, she also managed to develop and executive produce David O. Russell acclaimed feature debut, Spanking the Monkey. It won the Sundance Audience Award and launched his prestigious career.  

After a decade at New Line, Janet left to produce independently. Since then she executive produced the critically acclaimed independent feature, Joe The King, which won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at the Sundance Film Festival. Along with Ruth Charny (Grace of My Heart and Search and Destroy), Janet produced Searching for Paradise, which was developed by the Sundance Institute, and distributed on the Sundance Channel.

A Magna Cum Laude graduate of Wesleyan University in Connecticut, with an Honors in Theatre, Janet also trained at William Esper Acting Studio in New York City. While completing her MFA in Dramatic Writing at NYU Tisch School of the Arts, she served as Assistant Literary Manager for Circle Repertory Company, where she was also a member of their Playwright Workshop Lab. In addition, Janet was a finalist for the American Film Innstitute Women's Workshop in Directing, 2008. Her feature screenplay, 2B, was a finalist for the Sundance Screenwriting Lab in 2009. Her plays have been publicly read at Playwrights' Horizons and by actors including Annette Bening, Patricia Arquette, Catherine O'Hara, Hart Bochner, Dana Delany, Bradley Whitford and Jane Kazmarek. She is a member of the Playwrights Workshop at Ensemble Studio Theatre, West. A frequent blogger for The Huffington Post, Janet is also an Autism Advocacy activist. The mother of a son on the Autism Spectrum, she served as a Board Member of Cure Autism Now, which merged with Autism Speaks in 2007. She currently resides in Los Angeles.

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