A Gal’s Guide to Making a Movie is a new weekly written series by Erin Bagwell. To view the whole series click here.
Part 20: The White House
E etting the film done for the White House was nothing short of a miracle. The week before we finalized the edit I had both a sinus infection and the flu. I remember sitting in the doctor’s office when they told me and said to them (with tears in my eyes) that I was going to the White House and they needed to give me every and any drug imaginable to get my health back on track. I was both physically and emotionally drained, and I wasn’t the only one.
Komal had just come back from Ottawa after going through surgery to remove the skin cancer from her upper thigh and was in recovery mode. Even though they had removed all the cancer, she was waiting to hear back from her doctor about if she needed to go in for a second surgery to clear the margins to make sure she was totally cancer free. She got a call a few days before heading to D.C. that she would have to go in for a second time.
Despite this news I think the adrenaline of going to the White House kept both of us as focused as we could possibility be. We were exhausted but we also felt ready. It was like this was meant to be. After the pain and the anguish of getting here, we were going to be seen (a film by, produced, and made for women about the power of the female economy) by the most powerful institution in the world.
Komal flew to D.C. a couple of days early to meet her family and Diana, Sal, Bous (our EP) and I drove down the day of. I packed a bluray player in my luggage and about three back up discs for the show. We arrived in D.C. at around 1pm the day of the screening and all started getting ready together.
Family, friends, and the cast trickled into our hotel. My parents and brother flew in from Buffalo, my cousin Maegan flew in from Milwaukee, our Executive Producer Linda flew in with her family from California, my friends drove in from Brooklyn, my best friend Molly and her husband Chris came from Maryland. The Dream, Girl crew was there and almost the entire cast came in for the screening. It felt like a wedding. This flood of love and energy poured in from all over.
About two hours before the screening was going to start Komal, Diana and I went to the White House to the South Court Auditorium to test the bluray disc and audio levels of the room. We went through security and were there super early. After setting everything up, we just had to sit around trying not to freak out or lose our minds.
Out of the 200 people that would attend, I’d say we knew 140 of them. The White House was super generous and let us pick the majority of the guests in attendance. Carla Harris from XXX would give the opening remarks before the film, and after Komal and I would do a Q&A with three other local entrepreneurs about being a woman in businesses. There was word that the Obama’s might be present, but the chances were slim since it was an evening event. Even though it would have been really nice to have them, I was honestly too nervous the day of to even consider the possibility in my brain.
I think the thing I was most nervous about was having the entrepreneurs see the film for the first time. Usually, you host a screening for the cast before the premiere so they have a chance to get comfortable seeing themselves on screen away from the pressure of watching it with an audience. Because of my sinus-flu-infection I had to cancel our private screening. I was petrified at what they would say after the movie, and kicking myself for not giving them a safe space to watch it first. It made me anxious and uneasy, and with my mind going a million miles anyway the added pressure of waiting for their reaction definitely didn’t help. However I kept reminding myself just breathe, the hard part was over. I literally just needed to sit in the auditorium for an hour and not die.
After what seemed like an eternity of waiting our friends and family and the cast started to stream in. Photos were had and spirits were high. What an incredible place to be. To be able to share this film with everyone in such an iconic landmark. My heart burst with pride and gratitude, and I was trying to breath in every moment. After about forty minutes of getting people settled I took my seat in between Sal and my mom, MaryAlice and everything started. My mom grabbed my hand when the lights went down and for 62 minutes she never let go. My whole body sweated profusely. I decided to wear a black pantsuit with a leopard top and my hair down, and I felt like my whole body was covered in sweat.
Finally the final three minutes of the film were on screen and my eyes starter to well up with tears, this was it. We had made it. When the lights turned back on the audience gave us a standing ovation and I started to cry. I walked across the aisle (Komal was sitting with her family to the right of me) and gave her a huge hug. This was it. We made it. I felt an enormous sense of relief and joy.
After the applause Komal and I had to go up on stage to do a Q&A which was honestly one of the worst speaking events I’ve ever done (or at least it felt like it to me). I felt totally brain dead. I kept looking out into the audience, seeing all the entrepreneurs, feeling so proud, “Hi, Mom! We are at the White House” and not paying any attention to what was happening on stage. I tried not to speak at all and just kind of soaked it all in.
Once the Q&A was wrapped, our whole ganged walked over to our hotel for a small after party. I made a bee-line for the all the entrepreneurs who hadn’t seen the film yet to see how they felt about it. They were kind, generous with their feedback, and excited to be there. Another deep breathe. Time for a cocktail.
I drank rum and cokes all night which is my mom’s favorite drink (which I never drink) because I needed a boost of caffeine and I was too overwhelmed at that point to make a decision for myself. I remember sitting at the bar with our Executive Producer, Bous and he raised a glass to me. He told me about his first directing gig- it was at a theater, it was a small production, and how nervous he had been throughout the whole thing. He told me how lucky we were to be here. That it never happens like this- that this was special, and that I’ll never fully understand what an incredible opportunity this was to be seen in this way as a first time director.
Part of me for sure didn’t have the time to process the magnitude of what this would mean for us both emotionally and professionally, but part of me definitely felt the power of what it meant for us all to be there that night. Seeing Annie, Clara, Linda, Alicia, Suzanne, Amanda, Crista and Mariama all come together for Komal and I was transformative. These were women who were strangers to one another but all connected through Dream, Girl and whose stories would go on to uplift and inspire not only audiences globally, but each other.
In times when I feel insecure, unready, or overwhelmed to this day I close my eyes and picture them all together, a circle surrounding me with love, joy, and power.
Komal and I would stay up into the early morning with our friends and families, talking about the film, sharing our experiences and riding the rush of the evening.
One premiere down. One to go- in about three weeks we would bring Dream, Girl to the iconic Paris Theater with 600 guests, a red carpet, and a rooftop after party.
This new phase of the film’s life (sharing it with our audience) was just getting started.
The last and final chapter of A Gal’s Guide to Making a Movie, Part 21: The Paris Theater.