By Michael Phillips
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) While she may have had some hesitations about jumping into the director’s chair, Elizabeth Chomko put those fears aside and is now flourishing as the one calling the shots. She shares how you can do it too!
Five pieces of direction from first-time feature filmmaker Elizabeth Chomko, writer and director of “What They Had”:
Write what you know. Chomko, 37, was born in Chicago and grew up in Minnesota; Hinsdale, Ill.; Belgium; England; and California. Her mother and uncles grew up in Oak Park and River Forest. She visited her grandparents twice a year for many years, and was 21 when her grandmother received an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, the basis of the “What They Had” storyline.
“We were a family of laughers,” Chomko told me last week, the day after her debut feature played the Chicago International Film Festival. “When she was diagnosed it was devastating, and we all thought we’d lose that easy laughter, how could anything be funny anymore? But we never really lost it, even though watching her lose her memories made me realize how precious they are, and how our memories are always kind of ebbing and flowing.”
Use your writing to cheat death. For years, Chomko worked primarily and steadily as a stage and TV actress. In Hollywood she made do with some recurring and series regular roles on the high end, settling on the low end, earlier on, for “mistress corpse in a rolled-up carpet” fare a la “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.” (She really did play a mistress corpse in a rolled-up carpet, though she was seen, fleetingly, alive, in flashbacks.)
Chomko began the first draft of her semi-autobiographical screenplay seven years ago. “I wasn’t ready to let them go,” she says of her grandparents. “So this was a way of trying to cheat death, and find a workaround.”