Screenwriter Linda Voorhees has been having the time of her life this month.
First, she saw one of those giant billboards above Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood announcing "Crazy From the Heart," her first produced screenplay.
"That," she said, "was thrilling."
And this week People magazine checked in with the first review of the two-hour TV movie starring Christine Lahti and Ruben Blades, which received an A-minus rating.
"Crazy From the Heart," which People calls "a sweet romantic comedy, with all the small-town charm of the 1979 film 'Breaking Away,' " premieres on Turner Network Television (TNT) Monday at 5, 7, 9 and 11 p.m.
The movie, set in the fictional east Texas town of Tidewater, is about a conservative high school principal (Lahti) who shocks the community when she begins going out with the school's Mexican-American janitor (Blades).
Voorhees, who has written eight previous unproduced screenplays, is pleased with the production. But then, unlike most screenwriters, the Anaheim resident was not only present during the actual filming of her screenplay, she also had the ear of the director throughout production.
The reason for her access to the filmmakers is simple: She also served as associate producer.
And how did she wind up with that extra title?
"I've got a very good agent," Voorhees, 38, said with a laugh.
As associate producer, Voorhees said, she was "privy to meetings which a writer is typically not allowed to be in--advertising and promo meetings, and discussions of locations and casting. Although the decisions were ultimately not mine, I at least was able to be involved."
The only change to her original script, she said, was "a matter of resequencing a few scenes and"--she said, laughing--"taking out the bad words. That's how intense our story meetings were. If this had been made for theatrical release it would have been rated R as written. Now it's down to a solid G."
She said her role as associate producer "was basically just a dialogue between the director and me: just going over script notes. Once the project sold, the director had most of the clout because it becomes his piece, as much as I hate to admit that."
But, Voorhees said, she and director Thomas Schlamme (Lahti's husband) "were on the same wavelength, so it was definitely a very pleasant experience."
Voorhees wrote the "Crazy From the Heart" script in 1989 and it took a year to sell. (She won't reveal how much she got for it, other than to say "I'm very happy with what I was paid-- very happy.")
The movie was filmed entirely on location last fall in Los Angeles, Pasadena, Santa Paula, Ventura, Newhall and Saugus. Voorhees, who was on the set during most of the 20-day shooting schedule, said of the finished production, "I'm very happy, especially with the chemistry between Christine and Ruben. It comes across really strongly on the screen."
As Voorhees describes "Crazy From the Heart," the basic story "is about this very conservative principal who won't allow herself to fall in love with this man who is absolutely perfect for her in every way because, in her vision, he is beneath her and she doesn't want to admit this is really the reason."
The movie, she said, "is a comment on the restrictions we put on ourselves when we're meeting people and trying to establish relationships and even looking for happiness. There's an undertone of racism (in the film). . . . And that really is what is keeping her from fully loving this man."
Voorhees, a former planner with the Orange County Harbors, Beaches and Parks department, has only been writing screenplays for five years. She took two semesters of a screenwriting class at Orange Coast College, then began commuting to screenwriting classes at UCLA. ("I figured I'd better get as close to the industry as I could.")
When not taking classes at UCLA, she attended Costa Mesa screenwriter Terry ("Dead Heat") Black's screenwriting course at Irvine Valley College "just so I'd have deadlines to meet. I knew he was a very inspiring person and would keep me going."
The primary benefit of classes, Voorhees said, is to remain motivated.
"You really are writing in a so-called vacuum," said Voorhees, who is now working on a script for an NBC-TV movie. "It's just wonderful to connect on a weekly basis with the people who are going through the same things and having the same kind of struggles. . . . I found having that constant deadline is very good for you as a writer. It teaches you that you have to sit down and crank out the pages and then you have to face the criticisms."