Local Screenwriter Takes On Hollywood


Screenwriter Sue Dolan said she could easily paper a couple of walls in her Rim country home with the rejection slips she's received over the years.

But instead, she happily tells the tale of her recent trip to California, where a production company just finished filming her screenplay "The Stepdaughter."

"It takes place on a thoroughbred horse ranch in California with this family," Dolan said Friday, back from her baptism in the Hollywood film industry.

"Stepdaughter" is a thriller, starring Gil Gerard, Andrea Roth, Lisa Dean Ryan, Cindy Pickett, Jaimz Woolvett and Gary Hudson.

"People start to disappear and get killed," she said.

It's not exactly a family movie, but Dolan's family helped inspire her to finish the script. She received a little help from her daughter, Cyndi Pass a card-carrying member of the Screen Actors Guild, whose credits include appearances on such television shows as "Fraiser" and "Star Trek:

Deep Space Nine." Pass "Stepdaughters" co-producer also appeared as the leading lady in such movies as "The Force" and "Night Caller," and had a brief role in the Ron Howard movie "EdTV" as Matthew McConaughey's estranged girlfriend.

"I've written three more that I'd like to sell," Dolan said, "but this is the first one anyone has shown interest in." Rejection, she said with a laugh, is just a part of the business.

"It's really hard to break into Hollywood," she said. "Everyone, from the camera man to the grip, has a script in their pocket they're trying to sell. It's very competitive."

Writing on the Rim

Dolan has been a familiar face in the Rim country since the mid-1980s, when she was finally able to end her "visits" to Payson and make it her permanent home.

"Payson is my passion," she said. "I'd been coming here since 1976, and I always knew, this is where I wanted to live."

Shortly after moving here, Dolan became the manager of the Payson Chamber of Commerce, now the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce. She later owned and operated Plastercrafters in the Payson Village Shopping Center, before leaving for a few years to care for her ailing mother. When she returned, she worked in marketing for the Mazatzal Casino.

But no matter how hectic her family life or professional career became, she said she always curled up at night with a good idea and a fresh pad of paper to scribble it down on.

"I've been writing since about 1971, I guess," she said. "When I finally retired last year, I was able to work on this full time."

Though never formally trained in the mysteries of screenwriting, Dolan said she became self-taught through trial and error.

"Delete, delete, delete," she said. "I became this eccentric old hermit, and wrote all the time. The hardest part was getting rid of what was unnecessary in the story."

For example, she said, Ernest Hemingway can take an entire page to describe a tree or a sunset, but in a screenplay, an entire page is wasted if it doesn't further the storyline.

An average script, if there is such a thing, takes anywhere from four to six months to complete, she said.

With one film credit under her belt, Dolan is now eligible to join the Writers Guild of America, "which opens doors," she said.

On the set

As creator of "The Stepdaughter," Dolan was invited to participate in pre-production meetings in Tinseltown, and was allowed to watch the production of her script.

"To me, the most exciting part was creating a person," she said, "giving them their personality, their look, their talk."

Watching her "baby" come to life was an amazing part of the process, she said. It was a thrill to see who was cast as the characters she'd created in the comfort of her Payson digs.

Gil Gerard the man who made space hero "Buck Rogers" a household name -- was an extremely large man, said the scribe, but he was an excellent choice to play the father.

"And Jaimz Woolvett (who plays Buddy) was wonderful," she said. "There's a young man in the story who is a little slow at learning. He's still a young boy, but he's in his 20s. He's not retarded, he's just slow.

"When I wrote this, I would swear that Jaimz was the person I wrote this for. He brought tears to my eyes in this one scene. He was this person I created."

Back home detailing the rocky road to her success Dolan humbly claims that anybody can do it, and if writing is what they want to do, they should do it.

"It is hard to break into Hollywood, but if screenwriting is what you want to do, then yes, quit your day job," she said. "Move to the mountains of central California, rent a one-room apartment somewhere, live off beans and write.

"Believe me, if I had known years ago that what I wanted to do was be a writer, that's what I would have done."

Post-production for "The Stepdaughter" will be complete in January, she said, and should be released by Trimark Pictures in the fall of 2000.

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