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Fighting for the Other F Word
Caytha Jentis doesn’t accept Hollywood’s excuse that making movies for women 40+ is “tough”
CoveyClub: Caytha, you are clearly a serial reinventor. Explain your various reinventions leading up to where you are now.
Caytha Jentis: I blame the fact that I’m a serial reinventor on my ADHD but I do believe women are the best at reinvention. When my kids were in preschool I went through what I call my “marathon stage”: I did long runs with a group during which lots of stories were shared. That led me back to writing. I had studied screenwriting and worked in the movie business BC (before children) and then transitioned into greeting card sales. But I started writing scripts again, the first of which was a romantic comedy. It was well received but it was the first hurdle I faced as I learned that in Hollywood, women’s stories, which had always been the staple of the now-extinct “movie of the week,” was a “tough sell” to the studios. That was when I decided to become a producer. I knew there was an audience for the [story I’d written], and with my background in the film industry and sales, I believed I had the makings of a producer. That lead to my first feature, And Then Came Love starring Vanessa Williams and Eartha Kitt, which got sold to Warner Brothers.
CC: Explain your current project and its challenges.
CJ: With three indie features under my belt [including the hilarious Bad Parents, adored by moms across the country], I was looking for a new story to tell and was reflecting on my own life and that of my friends. I thought the stories about turning 50 and about my kids growing up offered fertile ground for scripts that were more episodic. My web series, The Other F Word, is a comedic drama that I would jokingly refer to as “Girls for Grown-Ups.” I believe that while our kids are in their twenties figuring themselves out, we, as their mothers, are going through similar coming-of-age journeys into mid-life. The pilot script got great feedback but I was told that stories like these targeted a “tough demographic,” which was code for sexism and ageism. So I converted the script into a web series, which is currently streaming on Amazon’s self-publishing video platform. The show has been incredibly well received and we have been one of Amazon’s top series for the past five months. So, “tough demographic,” my ass! Our cast includes a lot of recognizable talent, like Steve Guttenberg, Judy Gold, and Gilbert Gottfried.
CC: Where do you hope to take the series?
CJ: I would like to see the show get picked up by a network. I am in production on season two and am determined to break through the Plexiglas ceiling with stories for this large, yet underserved, demographic. Season two’s episodes are longer so it will feel much more like a traditional television show.
CC: We believe every woman needs to have a reinvention idea in her back pocket. Do you agree?
CJ: Women, more than men, are defined by our bodies and have significant times in our lives that mark new chapters. As a result, we are constantly forced to take stock of who we are–opening the door to reinvention. We are also by nature reactive, needing to ask permission to be who we want to be. As we age, we get bolder and care less about that, which is one of the great benefits.
CC: What can a woman do to find an idea if she doesn’t have a reinvention idea or isn’t sure hers is good enough?
CJ: There have been many times when I felt stuck and found that the best thing to do is to constantly meet and talk with other people and literally throw ideas against the wall and see what sticks. Usually, the best success comes out of failure. We all have our “gimmicks” (à la Gypsy Rose Lee) and they all have value.
CC: How have the post-Harvey Weinstein and Time’s Up movements in Hollywood impacted the issue of ageism? Or is age still a bridge too far?
CJ: I think things are starting to change in Hollywood in terms of ageism. There are projects in development now about older women. Features, by the way, has always been more open to telling all kinds of stories. Women like Madonna and Reese Witherspoon have been particularly vocal.
CC: There’s been a lot of talk in Hollywood about how no one funds movies for women or made by women. Is this true and how do you deal with it?
CJ: It is sadly true. This past year has been the strangest one for me as I’ve been attempting to take that problem head on: I refer to myself often as a Don Quixote chasing windmills. There is a disconnect between Hollywood and the audience. I find that many of the stories that are told about the mom experience are far from authentic or real and that is because they are written by men. If I give up, then the guys win. And I do like to remind myself that if I enjoy the journey, there is no failure. I am a true extrovert and love the people that I meet through my projects, and while I produce on a very small budget, I know I am very rich in my world as a result. On The Other F Word in particular, I’ve done a massive grassroots campaign and believe I’ve become a connector; I have met many amazing women doing amazing things in midlife and confirmed what I always knew—that we are definitely stronger as a united force.