Anne Heffron '91, Screenwriter, Shares Passion for Life and Creative Writing with Binghamton Students
It was an act of coincidence. Ann Heffron ‘91 had attended a Boston church group with the hope of meeting her idol, the author, political activist, and preacher, Annie Lammot. When it was time to form a prayer circle, the two just so happened to stand next to each other. As they held hands, Heffron swears that Lamott squeezed her hand especially tight, almost to say two things: that she is not alone and that she must keep writing.
"And now, as I talk to you today," Heffron said to more than 40 students in the Fleishman Center, looking up from her hand-written paper, "I am going to squeeze your hand."
Heffron, a screenwriter who now lives in San Jose, spoke to students via video conference on Thursday, November 13 through the Cool Connections, Hot Alumni program. The virtual program, which is a co-collaboration between the Alumni Association and the Fleishman Center for Career and Professional Development, are designed to connect students with alumni in a variety of careers.
But Heffron, a creative soul, started the program a little differently by reading her personal, pre-drafted Lamott story.
"The first rule of being a creative person," she joked before she began her insightful and powerful hand-written Lamott anecdote, "is to never follow the rules."
She then answered questions from students regarding her Binghamton experience, her life as a
screenwriter and her movie, Phantom Halo, and the importance of doing what you love.
Heffron stated that she went to three different schools before going to Binghamton, dropping out of every one of them. She then realized that in order to be successful, she needed to buckle down and do well in school. So with determination, she worked hard in her classes, aiming to be accepted to graduate school.
Intimidated by the film students dressed in all black, she geared more towards fiction writing instead of screenwriting after Binghamton. Heffron was enrolled at the University of Oregon with a creative writing fellowship. She then taught writing for about twenty years.
One day, a friend suggested that Heffron meet a fellow writer, Antonia Bogdanovich. Bogdanovich, daughter of famous filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich, instantly clicked with Heffron. They then became writing partners, collaborating on several screenplays.
The duo worked on six or seven screenplays before actually hitting it big with their movie, Phantom Halo.
Phantom Halo, a story about two brothers and their experiences with their alcoholic father, was filmed in Los Angeles and debuted in this year's Austin Film Festival.
Heffron talked about her favorite parts of seeing her screenplay come to life, such as when the actors were improvising.
"I loved my role as a writer because I could walk in and out of the story," she said." I could detach myself from the script."
But then, Heffron told the disheartening reality of success in the film-industry.
"If I didn't have a partner whose family was very well known," she said. "I probably wouldn't have been where I am today."
But that shouldn't discourage others from writing.
After reading her Lamott anecdote, Heffron looked up from her paper, stared past the screen and into the eyes of every student and asks:
"What is the number one thing you want to do in this moment?" she asks. "And what is the number one thing you want to do in the following moment, and the moment after that? Write me an email and tell me just that."
Heffron then went on to say that as humans, we need to do what makes us happy in order to feed our soul. She explained that all her life, her mother loved to write. However, Heffron recalled that her mother sacrificed her passion and worked a job to provide for her family.
"She was the unhappiest woman I had ever met," Heffron says.
After her children had grown, Heffron's mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Instead of feeling sorry for herself, she believed that this was the best time to finally write her book.
"Even though she was in bed rest," Heffron says, "she was the most happy, energetic cancer patient they've ever seen."
Unfortunately, Heffron's mother passed away before she could finish her book. Heffron recalls opening the body bag and seeing her mother's stone cold face of anger.
"I just thought," Heffron recalls, "'That's what a writer who hasn't completed their work looks like when they die.'"
Despite being unfinished, the manuscript was published, and landed on the New York Times' best seller list. If she had focused on her writing earlier in life, Heffron explained, who knows what else she could have accomplished and how much happier she could have been.
And if you're a writer and afraid of the "real" world, don't be discouraged.
"I'm 49 and it took me this long to not know where my next paycheck is coming from," she says.
Heffron also encouraged writers to take what they feel holds them back the most and use it as their greatest strength. As an adopted child, Heffron claimed that something was missing all her life. She admitted to the students that she felt uncomfortable talking about it with her parents because they were loving and caring, and didn't want to hurt them.
"We get so used to what's in front to us, we don't realize it," she says. "But if it's in your heart, that's the story you were born to tell, even if it's 'I love this girl and she doesn't love me back.'" Now, after 49 years, Heffron's next step in her career is to write her own novel about adoption. With the group of friends she has, Heffron says that she feels positive about writing at this point in her life.
"Surround yourself with positive people. Have a goal," she says." When the dark time comes and you think everything you write is crap, remember that you're your own biggest critic."
And remember, that through your dark times, someone is holding squeezing your hand.