Living Life for the Story

To mark the release of her fourth film, the road movie Pooling to Paradise, writer Caytha Jentis reflects on her own journey.

I’ve been a writer since I could write. I wrote memoir essays, short plays, started a novel and wrote erotic fiction until my mother read them. I love all forms of storytelling. My maxim is: “Do it for the story.” I live life fearlessly – for better and for worse – so I can write about it.

As an undergrad at Syracuse University, I majored in film with a concentration in screenwriting, as that form of storytelling best suited me as a profession. When I graduated, I didn’t have the confidence or discipline to identify as a writer, so I began my career as a literary agent to master the trade of selling scripts. I have always been a fluid artist/sales-suit hybrid, as I get a thrill from both creating art and from the art of deal-making.

Sales is a form of storytelling and I enjoyed helping writers find success, but then the creative beast inside of me got restless and I finally had the confidence to be a writer.

I was accepted into the prestigious UCLA MFA program for screenwriting. I spent two glorious years being a writer. I got an agent and sold a pitch to ABC.

The second year of grad school, I got pregnant and naively thought having a baby wouldn’t slow me down. I was wrong. It was as if the creative juices flowed out of me with the amniotic fluid. I also didn’t have the confidence, energy or financial means to be a stay-at-home writer/mother, so I paused my writing and took a part-time job in sales.

Eartha Kitt and Vanessa Williams in And Then Came Love.

My husband and I moved back East with our second child in tow.

Living in the suburbs of New York City, I felt a galaxy away from Los Angeles. But when my kids were in middle school, the creative beast got restless again and I yearned to return to the world I once was part of.

I wrote a romantic comedy And Then Came Love, about a donor-inseminated single mother, inspired by the story of a woman I met on a ski trip. It dealt with the choices and challenges that successful career women face. I tried to submit the script to “friends” I had known in the biz, but I quickly learned that movie-business years are like dog years, and “film friend” is an oxymoron.

A mom friend gave Vanessa Williams the script. Vanessa was recently divorced, a loving mother with a thriving career, and I hoped she could relate to a woman who had everything in her life, except romance.

She did. Vanessa loved the script and gave it to her agent. When we spoke, he told me that while the script got a “recommend,” it didn’t appeal to all of the four quadrants – which, in a nutshell, meant my script didn’t cater to the coveted young male audience. Oh, and Jennifer Aniston wasn’t attached.

Caytha Jentis and Cheri Oteri on the set of Bad Parents.

I requested the reader’s report, created a business plan and became a producer on the film. Beyond Vanessa, the cast included Eartha Kitt, Ben Vereen and Anna Camp. We got a deal with Warner Brothers and my investors made money. Talk about beginner’s luck.

Sitting in the sales agent’s office, following the release of the film, I asked him, “Does this mean I have to return to driving carpools?” He responded, “I’m afraid so.”

After what I’d pulled off as a writer and first-time producer, I thought my phone would be ringing, with agents or producers wondering what I was writing next. But the calls never came.

The next story I wrote was inspired by several late nights with my closest gay friends, when we contemplated about the elusiveness of true love. I read Plato’s Dialogues on Love to get a philosophical understanding.

I wrote The One for these friends, the story about a “perfect” man who lives an inauthentic life but is afraid to change. … While a gay romantic drama, it was very much a metaphor about my struggles to be happy living a suburban life, which I found suffocating. The film was made on the smallest of budgets but found a distributor and had a theatrical release.

Caytha Jentis during the making of The Other F Word.

I then wrote an existential play called It’s All About the Kids that deconstructed the hyper-competitive world of youth soccer I was living in. It won a play competition and was produced. Those who watched it found it so compelling, they wanted me to turn it into a film and helped to finance it. Bad Parents stars Janeane Garofalo, Cheri Oteri and Christopher Titus. It was a top comedy on Redbox, streamed on Netflix and was recently on HBO. Still no agent or producer wondering what’s next from me …

With my kids now grown, I reflected on the next chapter of my life. An empty-nester about to turn 50, I was at a crossroads. I read blogs by many women who were going through similar experiences. What I was writing felt more like an open-ended episodic story than a finite movie, so as a proof of concept I created a web series, The Other F Word, whose cast included Steve Guttenberg, Judy Gold and Alysia Reiner, which did really well. I learned quickly that I was too old to be hired as a staff writer, and that the ages of my characters were considered a “tough demographic,” but the series made money and its success was extremely gratifying.

During my fight to see if The Other F Word would sell as a half-hour show, I befriended many L.A. thirty-somethings who were grappling with issues of adulthood. After a dinner and late-night ride with a Lyft driver and two close friends, the idea for Pooling to Paradise, my latest feature, came to me. It’s a sweet road movie about four millennial strangers in a ride-share who find unexpected connection and friendship. The cast includes Jonathan Lipnicki, Dreama Walker and Taryn Manning, and the film is now streaming on Amazon, VOD, VUDU and other platforms.

There is a calm and sadness at the end of making each film. The story is over. Once it’s released into the universe, there is not much more for a filmmaker to do than hope it’s well received, and that money will trickle in and to try and figure out … what’s next.

Jonathan Lipnicki, Dreama Walker, Lynn Chen and Jordan Carlos in Pooling to Paradise.

The hustle hasn’t gotten any easier as the industry itself gets harder, but I stare at the blank page and ponder the next story.

As I tell fledgling writers, it’s hard and rejection will hurt, but find a way… because if the creative beast lives inside of you, you must nurture her and feed her, or she will rattle her cage and wreak havoc.

Feature image shows Caytha Jentis on the set of Pooling to Paradise.

Caytha Jentis’ latest film as writer-producer, the road movie Pooling to Paradise starring Jonathan Lipnicki, Taryn Manning and Dreama Walker, is out now on VOD and digital. Caytha has written, directed and produced features, an online series, and an award-winning stage play that has been turned into a musical. She has several projects in various stages of development, and has an MFA in Screenwriting from UCLA and a BS in TV/Film from Syracuse University. She began her career as a literary agent in New York and was profiled by the Writers Guild as well as Screenwriter Magazine. She is a member of the Writers Guild, Film Fatales and the Producers Guild.