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Becky Aikman Discusses "Off the Cliff"

Thelma and Louise defied convention - it was the first screenplay by Hollywood outsider Callie Khouri, it starred not just one, but two women... and then there's that crazy ending. In her new book "Off the Cliff: How the Making of Thelma and Louise Drove Hollywood To the Edge," writer Becky Aikman tells the story behind the film and asks how Hollywood might learn from it in this #TimesUp moment.

AIRED: March 02, 2018 | 0:09:05

Maddie Orton:Hi

I'm Maddie Orton and this is

author imprint.

A few months back I sat down

with author Becky Aikman to

discuss her book Off the

Cliff: How the Making of

Thelma and Louise drove

Hollywood to the Edge.

The interview you're about to

see touches on topics that

have been in the news since

our taping - sexual harassment

in Hollywood and the workplace

and a lack of support for

women in the film industry.

Here is author Becky Aikman.

Maddie Orton:We're

going to get to our book in a


But first I want to bring you

to the movies the years 1991

in theaters are raking it in

with Terminator 2, Robin Hood,

Cape Fear and Hook.

And then there's this other

movie with two female leads

who flip the script and drive

a Ford Thunderbird off a


Thelma and Louise bucked

convention launched careers

and won an Oscar.

But when it was just a script

in the hands of a 30 year old

woman writing her first


it almost didn't get made.

Author Becky Aikman tells the

whole crazy tale in full in

her new book Off the Cliff:

How the making of Thelma and

Louise Drove Hollywood to the


Thanks for being here Becky.

Becky Aikman: Thank


Maddie Orton:So

let's start off with this


What made you decide to focus

on Thelma and Louise.

Becky Aikman:I

actually started off thinking

I wanted to write something

about the persistent problem

that women's stories aren't

being told enough in


I soon decided that I would go

completely insane droning on

for 300 pages about something

so frustrating.

Maddie Orton: Sure.

Becky Aikman:So I

thought what if I look at one

great woman's film that got

made and made well and see

what could be learned from

that about how it might happen


Maddie Orton:So

why Thelma and Louise?

Becky Aikman:It

caused a huge sensation when

it came out in 1991 a time

when women were feeling

frustrated with their place in


And it still feels fresh today

for a lot of the same reasons.

Maddie Orton:What

was Hollywood like in 1991?

Becky Aikman:Women

were starting to really make

progress elsewhere in society.

But in Hollywood it was as if

it wasn't even happening.

Hollywood was continuing to

coast on the way it always


Why Hollywood was not changing

was part of what I wanted to

look into in the book because

it's still important now.

And it was hard even to

understand why Hollywood

wouldn't see the rich

potential in these kinds of

subjects for tapping into what

people cared about at the


Maddie Orton:You

talk a little bit in your book

about the idea of having two

female figures leading

something was mindblowing for

people at the time which is

shocking to me now.

Becky Aikman:Well

it was very rare for women to

have a lead role in the movies

which isn't that different


Tt's only about 20 percent of

movies have women in the lead.

But in real life we all know

we're out there,

we're doing things,

so make some movies about us.

Maddie Orton:Yea


So let's talk about Callie

Khouri who is one of the major

protagonists of the story

behind the story.

Tell us a little bit about who

she is.

Becky Aikman:She

was a former waitress and a

college dropout.

She was working at the time

behind the scenes on really

cheesy music videos.

She did work like line up the

women who would audition for

backup dancers and watch the

directors have them take their

clothes off and this was the

first thing she had ever


She threw all of her

frustration about her own

thwarted ambitions into this


She wound up winning the Oscar

for it as you know.

Not bad for a first effort.

Maddie Orton:No

not bad at all.

Let's talk about all of the

reasons why this almost

couldn't get made.

One of the key things I wrote

down is the idea that the

women are not sympathetic

they're unsympathetic which is

an interesting concept when

you think of all of the other

people who were portrayed in

films at the time who are also

unsympathetic but are not


Becky Aikman: Right.

Yeah antiheroes were big in

Hollywood at the time.

But when Callie Khouri and a

friend of hers started trying

to shop this script around,

it seemed pretty hopeless.

But the script was so

entertaining and so well

written that there were people

who took some interest.

But then when they would have

Callie come into a meeting

they would say these women

aren't likable enough.

The audience won't sit still

for women who commit any kind

of violence even though men at

the time were killing dozens (



) of people per movie.





They also suggested that the

characters should be rescued

by a man and some people even

said "Maybe we should take the

whole story and have two men

star in it." So it was really

tough to sell the movie and

one of the reasons this

succeeded was that Callie

Khouri was very stubborn.

So she held out for the one

Hollywood studio that was

willing to make it as written.

Maddie Orton:

What's amazing is that

Hollywood studio was Ridley

Scott's studio.

He was kind of an odd choice

for this right.

Becky Aikman:Very

much so and a young woman who

worked for him suggested that

he read the script.

He read the script and he

loved it and he himself felt

very uncomfortable with making

the movie himself as a


So he looked for someone else

to direct.

When he wasn't really

satisfied with anyone else's

approach he went ahead,

and here's where things went

right again: He knew what he

didn't know.

He realized he didn't

understand the characters.

So he spent a lot of time with

the writer Callie Khouri going

through every page of the

script understanding her point

of view so that he could

subsume his point of view to


Maddie Orton:

Callie Khouri gets through

amazingly which in and of

itself is a huge feat.

What is the next challenge

with bringing this this movie

to life?

Maddie Orton:Well

obviously the filming of the

movie was the next step and

one of the huge advantages

here was that it had not just

one but two really smart

really outspoken female stars.

Every woman working in

Hollywood wanted one of these

two parts because it was so

rare for actresses to have an

opportunity to stretch their

skills and play something

different from the passive

girlfriend that every agent

was pitching every actress to

the studio for this.

But Ridley Scott felt that

Thelma and Louise were

ordinary women and he didn't

want too much star power

taking over the parts so he

chose more mid level stars who

he knew could get the job done

Maddie Orton:And

they're shooting in

challenging locations,

the budget is challenging.

I mean when you look at it

from a broader perspective

what do you think was sort of

the biggest struggle within

the production process?

Becky Aikman:I

think it was a struggle to

keep the tone right because

the movie's very entertaining

and it's funny.





But it also has real dark


So getting that balance right

was a constant negotiation.

But one thing that Ridley

Scott did bring to it is that

he has a tremendous visual

talent and he felt all along

that the movie had to be in a

grand setting.

His vision of the American


And particularly if he was

going to sell that crazing

ending he needed the final

scene to have a majestic


So it wouldn't just be Thelma

and Louise get into a car

crash but they're (



) entering into the realm of





) And so he spent a lot of

effort looking for majestic

settings that would work.

And also he uses wonderful

backlighting so that they have

a corona around their heads it

makes them bigger than life.

Maddie Orton:It is

a controversial ending and I

think it was originally,


Becky Aikman:Most

studios said "we will never

make this movie with that

ending." And in fact at the

first test screening for

Thelma and Louise,

the audience really hated the

film and afterwards the

filmmakers were tearing their

hair out thinking of all the

ways they could completely

change it but they all said

"let's remember why we loved

the script in the first

place." So they cut only one

very short scene that was

meant to soften the ending a

little bit.

So let's go with that tough

powerful ending that was

originally intended and see

what happens.

At the next screening the

audience loved the movie.

People wanted that powerful

cathartic statement at the


Maddie Orton:Is

there anything that you took

away from this whole

experience that you think

might make a difference.

Becky Aikman:So

much goes into creating any

work of art,

so it's almost a miracle any

time a good version makes it

through the system.

This was one of those moments.

And I think a lot can be

learned from studying how it

happened so that it can happen


Maddie Orton:

Thanks so much for joining us


Becky Aikman:Thank


Maddie Orton:The

book is Off the Cliff: How the

Making of Thelma and Louise

Drove Hollywood to the Edge.

And the author is Becky


Thanks for tuning in.


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