Women Behind the Wheel: How Thelma & Louise Got Made

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This week’s Igloo Book Buzz selection is Becky Aikman’s OFF THE CLIFF: How The Making of Thelma & Louise Drove Hollywood to the Edge, published by Penguin Press.  Ms. Aikman reveals the inspiration behind the creation of her book: “I wanted to write about the persistent problem that women’s stories aren’t being told enough in Hollywood. But I soon realized that if I droned on for 300 pages about such a frustrating situation, I would go out of my mind.  Talk about a static plot.  So I decided instead to tell the story of how one great women’s film got made and got made right.  What could we learn from that?  Plenty, it turned out.”  

Becky Aikman

Ms. Aikman presents the full story behind this feminist sensation, which crashed through barricades and upended convention. Drawing on 130 exclusive interviews with the key players from this remarkable cast of actors, writers, and filmmakers, she tells an inspiring and important underdog tale about creativity, the magic of cinema, and the obstacles that women in Hollywood face to this day.

In 1991, Thelma & Louise, the story of two outlaw women on the run from their disenchanted lives, was a revelation. Suddenly, a film in which women were, in every sense, behind the wheel.  It turned the tables on Hollywood, instantly becoming a classic, and continues to engage audiences as a cultural statement of defiance. But if the film’s place in history now seems certain, at the time its creation was a long shot. Only through sheer hard work and more than a little good luck did the script end up in the hands of the English filmmaker Ridley Scott, who saw its huge potential. With Scott on board, a team willing to challenge the odds came together—including the stars Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon and an up-and-coming actor named Brad Pitt, as well as veterans like Harvey Keitel, composer Hans Zimmer, and old-school studio chief Alan Ladd Jr.—to create one of the most controversial movies of all time.

But before Davis and Sarandon got involved, Thelma & Louise was just an idea in the head of Callie Khouri, a thirty-year-old music video production manager, who was fed up with working behind the scenes on sleazy sets. At four a.m. one night, sitting in her car outside the ramshackle bungalow in Santa Monica that she shared with two friends, she had a vision: two women on a crime spree, fleeing their dull and tedious lives—lives like hers—in search of a freedom they had never before been able to realize. But in the late 1980s, Hollywood was dominated by men, both on the screen and behind the scenes. The likelihood of a script by an unheard-of screenwriter starring two women in lead roles actually getting made was remote. But Khouri had one thing going for her—she was so inexperienced she didn’t really know she would be attempting the nigh impossible.

Posted: July 7, 2017