Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Writers Wednesday

Writing takes many forms and today’s interview explores the world of the documentary film in this interview with the multi-talent filmmaker Joyce Marie Fitzpatrick

She numbers among her credits, work for ABC, NBC, CW/UPN, BET, E! Entertainment, PBS and the Discovery Channel. Her documentaries include the award-winning Sunshine, Noodles and Me a heart-warming Cancer documentary and “Discovering Mary about Mary Fields, the first black woman in the old West who drove through the Montana trails to deliver the mail for the U.S. Postal Service.

Joyce shares an inside look at her life as a documentary filmmaker and gives us a sneak peek at her newest project – THE COLOR OF MEDICINE: THE STORY OF HOMER G. PHILLIPS HOSPITAL, A Film by Joyce Marie Fitzpatrick and Brian Shackelford.

When did you first realize you wanted to be involved in film making?
I knew at a very early age (around 7 years old) that I wanted to be involved in filmmaking. I didn’t know a lot about how to make movies or TV, I just knew that I enjoyed watching them. Growing up in Indianapolis, Indiana, there were only 3 network channels and 2 independent channels, so there weren’t many options. We had one local channel that showed movies starting at 8 am, "The Early Morning Movie," "The Mid-Morning Movie," “The Early Afternoon Movie", etc. You get the picture. This went on all day until television signed off around 3 am. So, I could literally watch TV all day!

This allowed me to see classic Hitchcock, Cecil B. Demille movies, musicals, exploitation films of the 70’s, romantic comedies, westerns, and mysteries. I also loved watching our hometown’s ridiculous local horror show that came on every Friday night called, “Sammy Terry’s Nightmare Theater. I learned a lot of useless trivia that is stuck in my head, even today about film and television. It was a wonderful time to be a kid.

What made the final decision for me to be involved with film and TV was watching the 1970’s show, “The Brady Bunch.” One afternoon I asked my mother, "Why don't I see shows like this with black families?" She didn’t really have an answer for me, and that’s when I made up my mind to tell stories of black lives that pretty much mirrored everything I saw on television and in film.

How does your career as a filmmaker influence other areas of your life and vice versa?
As a filmmaker and a story teller, film has influenced my life by allowing me to go places that I thought I never would like Malaysia or Montana, and to meet people of different cultures and backgrounds, and it also teaches me to be a better person. Co-directing and writing the documentary about Breast Cancer called, "Sunshine, Noodles and Me" starring Cheryl Ash-Simpson, introduced me to the story of a woman who found out 3 days before she was to wed that she had breast cancer and that she had to adjust dealing with her treatment while living in Malaysia, where her husband landed a new job. It really opened my eyes to the disease and also to life in Malaysia, Tokyo, and Hong Kong. I learned a lot about Cancer, and when I was diagnosed myself, one year later while doing the film, that knowledge helped me cope with my journey and gave me courage to film my own experience for my new documentary – “Cancer is Just Another Word That Begins with the Letter C,” which I co-directed and wrote with my partner, Brian Shackelford. We are in post-production right now on that film. It covers a completely difference aspect of the disease from a health and wellness aspect. Being a filmmaker can take you on many paths that you might not explore on your own.

You’ve done a number of successful documentaries. What drew you to that particular type of work?
I started my career as a music video director. As I gained more experience it took me in a few different directions. I started doing promos for the PBS affiliate in Los Angeles, then I started producing independent short films and writing scripts. I was somewhat a “Jack of all Trades”! Then I joined cable network television as a producer and although my jobs were rewarding financially, they weren't rewarding emotionally or intellectually. I love to research subjects and people, and I love to read, so when I would see interesting stories about historic places or people, I delved deeper into their stories out of curiosity to learn more about them.

That’s how I ran across the story of "Black Mary" or "Stagecoach Mary,” as most people know her. I read an article about her in an old EBONY magazine that I found at a thrift store, and it intrigued me so much, that I became obsessed with learning more about her. My interest led to many months in the public library, online, and reading numerous books. I talked about her so much, that one day a good friend of mine, told me that I needed to go to Montana to learn more about this woman, because everyone who lived in Cascade Montana where she was from, basically worshiped this woman. The friend that told me about her, went to great Falls, Montana every year and told me that was where she learned about Mary Fields herself.

So, I decided to go to Montana, and that's when I made the documentary, "Discovering Mary." I met the ONLY living witness who actually met her and he was 94 at the time. I am the only person who, to this day, had the last interview with this man who has probably passed on now He was born in Cascade, Montana, and his father was the 2nd Mayor of the town of Cascade at the time when they still called bars “Saloons” which Mary was allowed to enter as the only woman and the only black person in town to do so. This part of Mary’s history was shown in an episode of AMC’s “Hell on Wheels” where they combined two stories about her life. One where she actually knocked out a man for not paying a bill of $2.50 cents for laundry that she did for him when she owned her Launderette in Cascade, and the story of her being the only female who was allowed in a saloon in Cascade. It was exciting to see her story told on a hit cable show.

What led you to do your current subject of the Homer G. Phillips Hospital?
I have to credit Facebook for connecting me to so many people from my past, and that is how I became connected to this powerful story about Homer G. Phillips hospital. A woman reached out to me via Facebook and told me she knew me from my childhood and it turned out that I actually used to babysit this woman. I was a young child of 12 and she was around 4 or 5 years old. When we re-connected it was strange because it was the first time I had ever heard her using full sentences. It’s was a lot to absorb at first, but now we talk all of the time and I think of her as a little sister. Her name is Rebecca Robinson-Williams and her family, and my family were next door neighbors. Her father, Dr. Earle U. Robinson Jr., was a friend of my parents and also our family physician. When I spoke to Dr. Robinson, I found out that his father, who I also met as a child, had an amazing legacy in American history!

His father was one of the first 28 interns to work at one of the United States premier hospitals, Homer G. Phillips in St. Louis Missouri. This hospital existed because a political activist attorney named Homer G. Phillips lobbied to acquire $3 million dollars of an $87 million-dollar bond to build a state-of-the-art hospital that would provide adequate medical facilities and service the under-served black community called, “The Ville.”

What is so intriguing about this story is the attorney Homer G. Phillips was murdered before the hospital was completed, which is an amazing story unto itself, but makes telling this story so important. Homer G. Phillips never saw this hospital open, but because of his work, blacks in the community received the medical help that they needed and by medical professionals that looked like them!  The hospital was built and opened in 1937, staying open through desegregation until 1979, when it was closed despite protests by the community. The hospital has since been remodeled and used as a living facility for seniors in St. Louis. Homer G. Philips should never be forgotten for what he did for the city of St. Louis Missouri’s black population.

What would you like the audience to take from the Homer G. Phillips Hospital film?
I want the audience to watch our documentary and see the accomplishments and disappointments and challenges that running a black hospital went through during the turbulent times in our American history of racism, segregation, desegregation and how even now, Missouri is still a hot-bed of controversy. Look at the situation in Ferguson. This hospital has been featured in numerous publications and was featured in the book, “The Warmth of Other Suns” by Isabel Wilkerson which won her a Pulitzer Prize and I believe is being turned into a television mini-series. This film has a rich history and there are numerous doctors and nurses who worked at Homer G. Phillips who have migrated all over the United States and their children and grandchildren need to see this story to know what their ancestors have given to American History and to Black History. This story is truly another “Hidden Figures.”

What are your current/future projects?
I have several current projects in development right now. Some for television and some for the theater. As I stated, my Cancer documentary is in post-production. I am also working on several narrative films and scripted dock-series for cable. I am very busy and sometimes don’t know how I can juggle it all, but I do.

How do you go about researching the subjects of your films?
I research my projects by internet, books, actual witnesses’ accounts of subjects, historical events, etc. If it peaks my interest and I find myself just exploring it on my free time, then I know that I should look into it further, and that’s when I pursue turning my discoveries into something viable. Also, as I stated before, social media has been great for finding projects as well. People find me on social media and pitch me ideas. Some good, some bad, but they pitch me all the same.

What challenges did you face in getting this film made?
The film is currently in production and the biggest challenge we’ve faced is finding physicians, nurses, and personnel who are still available to tell us more about this historic hospital. It’s been a great experience putting the word out about the hospital, but it’s been a daunting task gathering the information as it is with most documentaries. We are doing our best and we will keep at it to complete the film.

Finishing funds have also been a challenge as it is with most films, and we are currently hosting an Indiegogo Crowd Source Funding campaign to garner funds to help complete this film. As the executive producer, I have been funding it myself along with Dr. Robinson and his’ family and friends and my other producing and directing team. This is an expensive project, but we’ve been doing our best, and we really need help to finish it. It will be such a powerful and informative film that needs to be shared with the public, and I hope people will look into their hearts and pocket books and see that this story needs to be made and shared. Those who see this film will realize how important it has been in helping to shape our current and future medical professionals’ careers, and show that their opportunities have possibly grown and we hope have been enriched by standing on the shoulders of these pioneers!

Are there certain themes or ideas you prefer?
I do love unique and different stories. I’m not into romantic movies or war movies. I love mysteries, comedies, sci-fi, westerns, and horror! I’ve created several projects under those themes. Those are my favorite genres.

Who’s been the greatest influence on your career?
Wow!  That’s hard to say…I’ve been influenced by many in the arts, but I will have to say that James Cameron is someone who I truly admire. I first fell in love with his work on ‘The Terminator” because when I saw that movie in the theater, it made me go out and buy my first CJ7 jeep in 1985, while I was in college! I’ve also liked other films that he’s done, but that is my favorite.

I admire several writers, but the one writer who stands out for me is Leslie Dixon, I LOVE her work! It’s so diverse and she can go from campy like “Outrageous Fortune” to quirky love story like “Overboard” to sci-fi like “Limitless.” She’s amazing to me. But I also love classic story telling like “To Kill a Mockingbird” and one of my all-time favorites movies is “Arsenic and Old Lace” starring Cary Grant! I can go on and on with the films that have influenced me throughout my life.

What's one piece of advice you'd like to pass on to my readers who aspire to a career in the film industry?
Learn the craft of storytelling. Story is the most important element of filmmaking. If the story is boring, slow or just not worthwhile, then no matter how much money you throw at it, you won’t save it. Also learn by action not theory. I’ve met so many people who watch others and think they can just go do it. But I’ve learned by experience good and bad. You have to fail to do better, there is just no other way. So go out and fail and you’ll be successful!!!

Anything else you'd like readers to know?
Please check out our Indiegogo campaign at this link: or click HERE.

If you enjoy the trailer, please donate $5, the cost of a cup of coffee, or at least share it on your social media. Maybe someone will find it interesting and will either share it or donate to it as well. Also if any of your readers want to check out my work go to my website at: or click HERE.  or look me up on For IMDB, click HERE.

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