A Gal’s Guide to Making a Movie, Part 18: The Oprah

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GalsGudie3x3v2A Gal’s Guide to Making a Movie is a new weekly written series by Erin Bagwell. To view the whole series click here.

Part 18: The Oprah

After Komal’s diagnosis it’s fair to say the morale of the Dream, Girl team was pretty crushed. We were in the midst of re-editing the movie, floating in a sea of never-ending footage, and I was trying to figure out how to navigate this new phase of Komal’s health both as a friend and as a business partner.

Then, one unassuming afternoon while working from home in Brooklyn I got a call from one of our Kickstarter backers, a woman who was advocating the film in her community for us. She told me she had some big news.

Oprah wanted to put us on her SuperSoul100 list. I was stunned.

Oprah.

Holy fuck.

OPRAH!!!!!

Komal and I knew we were being nominated, but never in a million years did we think two first time filmmakers without a film would ever be on the list. I couldn’t believe it.

I can’t speak for Komal’s experience, as I’ll never fully know what she went through during this time but I felt like getting the call from Oprah was like getting a call from the universe. We needed to keep moving forward, keep dreaming big, and keep working hard. This felt like a divine sign that this film was our destiny and it needed to be complete.

Not only were we going to be featured in Oprah’s magazine, but Komal and I were also invited to a special brunch after the SuperSoul Sessions with the other SuperSoulers and Oprah herself.

A couple months later we jumped on a flight to LA and mentally prepared for what was surely the most bizarrely wonderful weekend of my life.

Komal and I were both in high spirits in California and loved watching the SuperSoul sessions together on the UCLA campus. We got to see Marie Forleo, Eckhart Tolle, and Cheryl Stayed share their stories and wisdom from the stage, and also got to see Oprah host knowing the next day we would be at a brunch with her.

It was nothing short of magical.

The night before our brunch I couldn’t sleep so I was up super early curling my hair, putting on makeup, and listening to Justin Bieber. Komal got up a little later and we scurried around our hotel room getting ready like two little mice in a maze.

Once were were primped and ready to go we met the other SuperSoulers outside our hotel. We climbed aboard a bus with Danielle LaPorte, Richard (aka Prince EA), Ingrid Nilson, and Gary Zukav, just to name a few. It was fabulous. We hadn’t even gotten to our destination and it was already utterly magical.

At the OWN lot we were greeted and shown into the main kitchen area. Long wooden tables filled with big fresh white flowers and rustic place settings greeted us. Waiters with mimosas swirled around the room as we kicked off the day with networking.

I first saw her when we found our seats for brunch. She floated in the room like an old friend, like someone we’d seen a million times; an icon. It almost felt like I was seeing things, this living legend and I in the same room. I felt lightheaded and excited.

She was greeting people when she looked at me, and then without any explanation made a beeline to my left arm which is covered in tattoos. I froze. She started touching my arm.

I wish I could tell Oprah and I engaged in some kind of witty banter, but I’m going to be honest with you gals – I blacked out. I remember her touching my arm and I remember her asking if that “was a snake?” It was! “That’s the sign of the devil!” she said, Is all I remember.

Oprah. Just touched my tattooed arm.

I’m dead.

And just when I thought I was really dead, Ava DuVernay walked into the room. Now for those of you who don’t know Ava is not only a powerhouse director but an incredible PR and strategy mogul. She knows how to speak authentically to her brand and her work, and she is effortlessly cool in a space where people are grasping for the spotlight and can oftentimes be inauthentic.

Her South by Southwest keynote was what got me through the months leading up this event, when I felt lost as we were piecing together our new rough cut. Her main advice to “serve the story” became our anchor for how we put Dream, Girl together. She was hands down the number one person I wanted to meet in the world, and I was only ten feet from her. And she sat down next to Oprah.

After brunch, I made my way over to Ava to tell her how much she meant to me. I told her how we were first-time filmmakers, and how awesome it was to meet her. It was a great little conversation, and on days when I’m feeling low I remember her smile and that she said she couldn’t “wait to watch the film.”

These two days as an Oprah insider were definitely some of the most exciting and surprising days of my life- however, if I’m being really honest with you gals I was terrified to be there. Sure, I knew the film we were making would have a big social impact and would be emotionally engaging. But I hadn’t made it yet. It was still only a half-finished file on my computer, and I felt like a real imposter.

Did that mean I say no to the opportunity? No. Did it mean I didn’t feel grateful to be there? No. It just meant the stakes were getting higher for me to create a really powerful film, which is why I was happy to get back to New York and crush this thing.

It was time to go into an editing blackout.

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Erin Bagwell is the founder of Feminist Wednesday and the director of Dream, Girl. Follow Erin on instagram at @erin.bagwell

Join us next Wednesday to hear the next part of Erin’s story. Or sign up for Feminist Wednesday’s newsletter to get it right to your inbox.

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