Our family loves movies, all kinds of movies: art-house indies, blockbuster sci-fi, action thrillers, epic historical dramas, documentaries and last but not least, animated musicals. We love films. We love watching them, discussing them, and for as long as I can remember, we have wanted to make them. Together. As a family.
My husband Glenn Withrow and daughter Ivy and I began writing together a few years ago. Our very first effort as a team was a screenplay we wrote, produced and placed with Lionsgate Entertainment. It received favorable critical reviews, was sold on all of the major outlets and platforms including on Redbox where it was ranked in the Top 10 for its genre for one month and in the Top 20 for two months.
When we started the journey for our family to create a full-length feature film, Glenn and I had written before, but not together as a team. He had gone to film school, been through the writing process several times, and even had his first screenplay optioned by a major studio, but neither of us had ever been produced.
I grew up in a Hollywood family. My mother, Ann Guilbert, was a successful character actress (“The Dick Van Dyke Show,” “The Nanny”) and my father, George Eckstein, was a prominent television writer/producer (“The Untouchables,” “The Fugitive” and “Duel.”) The language of screenwriting and story was always spoken in my home, but at the time I planned on following in my mother’s footsteps, and so I only listened from an actor’s perspective.
As for our daughter Ivy, she was 15 years old at that time, and of course totally green, but what she lacked in experience, she made up for in passion, creativity and smarts.
Those were our only credentials moving forward as a writing-producing team. We had no reason to believe that we could pull it off, but what we did have was enormous, what some would call ridiculous: faith.
For our first film, “The Mooring,” we chose a tried and true entry-level genre: Horror. We set out to make the scariest movie possible — like those 1970s B-movies that always scared the-you-know-what out of us, but a film we could, in good conscience, write and produce with our teenage daughter.
It is impossible to measure how much we learned through this experience — about process and patience, and about each other. To try to expand on it at all would make for a book, but one key discovery we made was that it is indeed possible to make (and sell) a dark, harrowing, frightening drama about young girls fleeing a deranged killer in the woods, and to do so without the use of profanity, nudity, sexual violence or excessive gore.
Our innocent protagonists ran through rivers and creeks to escape the madman, and I’m happy to report that there is not a single “wet T-shirt” moment in the movie. Most of the violence happens off-screen. There is very little blood, and because of the style of direction and the organic performances, it is very effective. Let me be very clear: I definitely wouldn’t recommend “The Mooring” to young or faint-hearted audiences because it is indeed very disturbing, but overall, it is a “clean,” yet truly scary movie, and was a great first project for our family production team.
There’s a saying that movies just don’t want to get made. On any film set, the obstacles are numerous and unrelenting, and that was true for us. It was an arduous process. Our team has often said that the behind-the-scenes story of the making of our film would make a great movie in its own right, but instead of a horror film, I think it would be an action-adventure-comedy with a very happy ending.
What fills me with the most gratitude? It’s not the Lionsgate logo that opens that first film. It’s not even the film itself. It’s the miracle of actually sitting down together as a family and finishing the first draft of the script (let alone all the rewrites.) It’s creating something from scratch and seeing it through from conception to delivery. It’s problem-solving as a team, working to get along with each other (not always easy) when things get stressful (which they did), and treating each other (most of the time) respectfully as industry professionals and as a family. It’s seeing our daughter learn the filmmaking business first-hand and watching her mature into the film artist and business woman she has longed to be. Ivy is now the third generation adding to our family’s Hollywood legacy.
As I said, we’ve loved and shared all different genres of movies, but we have always been especially moved by films with great underdog characters. As a team of filmmakers, we want to write and produce something that other families can watch and enjoy together, the type of family-night movie that has become harder to find in recent years.
Our next film is “The Last Champion” and is in pre-production now. It is an inspirational, family, sports drama and deals with themes of repentance and forgiveness. This film will have its own unique challenges, including a higher budget, a larger cast of characters and a more complicated story to tell. We believe it has the potential to really touch peoples’ hearts and as a family, we are working together to get it right.
• Actress and producer Hallie Todd (“Top Ten TV Moms,” CNN Entertainment) is currently working on “The Last Champion,” which is in pre-production through In House Media Film Partners. IHMFP was born when Ms. Todd, husband Glenn Withrow, and daughter Ivy Withrow were inspired to create a family production company after Glenn’s experiences working with Francis Coppola on five films, starting with “The Outsiders.” This is the family’s second feature film working together. Ms. Todd is best known for her role as Lizzie’s mom, Jo McGuire, on Disney Channel’s “Lizzie McGuire” and “The Lizzie McGuire Movie.” She most recently starred in “American Girl: Lea To The Rescue.”