“The Help is an old-fashioned grand yarn of a film, the sort we rarely get these days.”
It really wasn’t a fair fight. Sure Conan the Barbarian has that big sword, but it was three against one. Conan verses Aibileen, Skeeter, and Minny. Three strong women played by Viola Davis, Emma Stone, and Octavia Spencer in The Help.
I’m not one to follow daily box-office trends, but you have to take notice when a film like The Help takes the top box-office spot over the new release of the $90 million Conan the Barbarian and last week’s box-office champ Rise of the Planet of the Apes. The Help is a $25 million film set in Jackson, Mississippi and centers around the always slamdunk Hollywood concept of black maids in the the 1960s.
While the film is anti-high concept, it’s no mystery why this film has made $70 million in its first two weeks of release—the film is based on the bestselling book of the same name written by Kathryn Stockett. It was Stockett’s first novel and took her a year and a half to write the first version. Her first rejection letter read, “Story did not sustain my interest.” Her 40th rejection letter stated. “There’s no market for this kind of writing.”
In an article written by Stockett in MORE Magazine she said that 40th rejection letter made her cry and, “That was a hard weekend. I spent it in pajamas slothing around that racetrack of self-pity—you know the one, from sofa to chair to bed to refrigerator, starting over again on the sofa. But I couldn’t let go of The Help. Call it tenacity, call it resolve or call it what my husband calls it: stubborness.”
But her rejection wasn’t over. Her manuscript would be rejected 20 more times before she landed an agent. Three weeks later that agent, Susan Ramer, sold the book to Amy Einhorn Books. It’s since sold more than 2 million book copies, and the e-book version became the first title to sell 1 million Kindle version.
Stockett was born in Jackson, Mississippi where the story takes place and graduated from the University of Alabama with a degree in English and Creative Writing. She spent nine years in the magazine business in New York City and currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia. She was 40 years old when The Help was first published.
Now her work, after a few years and a few tears, (and with a little help from writer/director Tate Taylor and an incredible cast of characters) is the number movie in America. Want some advice from Stockett?
“I can’t tell you how to succeed. But I can tell you how not to: Give in to the shame of being rejected and put your manuscript—or painting, song, voice, dance moves, [insert passion here]— in the coffin that is your bedside drawer and close it for good. I guarantee you that it won’t take you anywhere. Or you could do what this writer did: Give in to your obsession instead.”
P.S. If I was going to retire from writing the Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places blog—this would be the perfect post to end on. That’s not my intention, but after a few years you think you’ve written all that you can write about writing and you think it’s time to move on. I need stories like Stockett’s (both her book and her journey as a writer) to inspire me.
Somewhat related posts:
Screenwriting Quote #93 (John Grisham)—Ole Miss graduate
Writers Getting Older (Touches on writer Alfred Uhry who wrote Driving Miss Daisy)
Martin Luther King Jr. & Screenwriting (Tip #7) —Touches on a trip I took from Jackson to Atlanta