Phillip Ward ’05: Welcome to Hollywood Part 3

Two weeks after finishing the last draft of my screenplay, guess who walks into my L.A. massage therapy office?… Melissa Gilbert, former president of the Screen Actors Guild and “Little House On the Prairie” star.

I would love to say that I immediately recognized her, but I didn’t have a clue who she was. I never watched “Little House” and even if I did, she wasn’t the cute little girl the world remembered as “Half Pint.” She was a beautiful lady looking for help with her aching back.

After our first session, she continued to see me for massage therapy each week and over time, we became good friends. Our sessions were filled with conversations of past experiences, family updates and jokes, LOTS OF JOKES. To this day, I can laugh myself into tears just thinking about some of our inside jokes; Melissa is hilarious!

Occasionally, she would also ask me how my career as an actor and newfound writer was going, but despite her interest in my progress, I never asked for her help in the industry. That sort of thing has always seemed distasteful to me, and besides, she was coming to see me for my professional skills as a therapist NOT to hopefully find Hollywood’s next successful actor.

One day during a session, she specifically asked about my “new script” and its progress. I explained the premise of the story and the fact that it was based on real Southern people from North Carolina. To my surprise she continued asking questions about it over the next several sessions until finally, against my professional judgment as a therapist, I ask her if she would be willing to read it. She agreed.

And then I waited… and waited… and waited… I knew she was a busy lady, and I never expected her to read it immediately. After two months and no mention of the script from Melissa, I assumed she had read it and didn’t like it. I had decided that her not saying anything about it during our sessions was her way of politely telling me it stunk. Then, out of nowhere, on a random afternoon in L.A., I get a text. It’s Melissa. She had read the script on a plane from L.A. to New York, and she liked it!

Melissa is now my executive producer. We have locked the working script, added fellow North Carolinians Andy Wells and Jefferson Loftfield to our producing team, created a budget and attached an A-list entertainer to the cast. Unfortunately, due to legal reasons, I can’t mention that person in this blog. Things are moving forward, but our biggest hurdle at this point, of course, is the budget. It’s a $1 million film and although that is considered a low-budget film in the industry, it’s a challenging time to find investors.

Thus far, it has been an amazing yet tremendously challenging experience. Even with several warnings from friends and colleagues, I never would have dreamed that making a film would be this much work. Despite the endless hours of paperwork and bookkeeping, I love the creative process of bringing a story to life; it’s a labor of love and something worth pursuing.

I can only hope that when the film is finally completed, it will inspire others to pursue their life passion. So for now, I embrace patience, hope and perseverance, and trust that things are going to work out just as they should.


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