I've been around a bit in this business. I came up through the ranks of production and then moved into post, all the while writing and working towards helming a film of my own to make my life complete. Or so I thought. On April 13, 2011, the thing that would truly make my life complete presented itself in the form of a phone call. "I'm sorry," the voice on the other end of the phone said to me. "We were all pulling for you."
At 38 years old, I had breast cancer.
When the news broke that I might have cancer, people were surprised that I chose to go into a busy post-production office knowing "The Call" was coming. Others knew very well why I'd chosen to do just that.
As a woman in Hollywood, I've experienced the once over, the twice over, the comparisons, judgments and misbehavior that unfortunately seem to go hand in hand with making making a movie. I've also experienced the commitment, drive, loyalty and refusal to quit that shines through when Hollywood's best show up to get something done. It was the latter that brought me into the office that day, and it was the latter that got me through the fight of my life.
Three days into the news, there I was, holding 11 books and binders full of information that I needed to understand how the enormous tumor in my breast was going to turn my life upside down. So I did what any totally overwhelmed girl would do: I went to Netflix for the movie version. I wanted an overview before I sat down with the materials. The search left me in shock. There were loads of personal stories, quite a few scientific documentaries, but no Cancer 101. Nothing existed that would answer my questions. In that moment, there was no question in my mind: I needed to make a movie. I put the word out on the street and that was it. Everybody showed up.
Through a mastectomy, two reconstructive surgeries, four-and-a-half months of chemotherapy and 30 rounds of radiation, Hollywood was more present than it ever had been for me. I loved going to work every day. It was my cancer, but we were all fighting it.
Old friends showed up. New friends introduced themselves. People came from all over the business to support my film, What the F@#- is Cancer and Why Does Everybody Have It?, and embrace what they could do to fight cancer with the talents they had. Our music consultant, Kaylin Frank, said it best the first time I met her. She said, "Allison, we can't fight cancer like the doctors, but we can fight it with what we do best." In one short sentence, she was able to articulate how personal it was and how big it was for everyone involved.
I am not the first to say that this town is rough and that if you don't want to make movies just as much as you want to wake up in the morning and breathe, then you probably shouldn't be here. That said, making a movie is a walk in the park compared to fighting cancer.
People sometimes ask me how I made this film while I was going through treatment. The reality is, I'm not sure I could have made it through treatment nearly as well if I hadn't been making this movie. The camaraderie, the knowledge and the stories people shared all led to wonderful talks that were incredibly helpful to me physically and emotionally, both as a filmmaker and as a cancer fighter. To see a massive crew of people naked in their souls and 150 percent dedicated to making a movie for free brought tears to my eyes nearly every day. If anyone out there is looking for proof of profound love in Hollywood, all they need to do is take a look at the WTF cast and crew list.
So, Hollywood and breasts, green light. Hollywood and cancer, absolutely! We didn't even need an official green light because everyone just showed up with what they had and we did it. Our community donated their time and resources to make this documentary with not a dollar spent. We made our own green light for all the right reasons.
As a woman in Hollywood guest-writing a column about women and issues related to entertainment, I'd like to give a standing ovation and celebrate all of the amazing men and women this town has to offer. We've got glitz. We've got glamour. We've got crazy and we've got drama. We've also got talent, integrity, drive and now a movie that so many of us made together without being paid a dime because we felt it was the right thing to do. We have each other, and every once in a while it's spectacular to sit back and marvel at just how amazing that is.
Allison W. Gryphon is a novelist, filmmaker and breast-cancer fighter. What the F@#- is Cancer and Why Does Everybody Have It? is her directorial debut. What the F@#- is Cancer and Why Does Everybody Have It? is available on iTunes worldwide January 7th. To learn more about the movie, visit our cancer education website at www.thewhyfoundation.org.
Watch the What the F@#- trailer: