Bucking the “Invisible After Fifty” Stereotype

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There is something about Mary Tucker.

My friend seems like a normal enough person when you meet her. That is, normal in the sense of having been an attentive mom to her two daughters, a support to her husband, and an active member of her community. She’s smart, funny, has successfully managed some rental property on the side, and written occasionally for local publications over the years. She’s someone you could meet at PTA or at the grocery store. But there is more to her than meets the eye.

It isn’t just her enthusiasm, creativity, or her writing talent, although she has those aplenty. No, her “something” is that at fifty, she wasn’t afraid to follow her muse in an unexpected and unfamiliar direction—filmmaking. We’ve all heard that women start becoming invisible after fifty; Mary isn’t buying into that for herself or any other woman.

In fact, her curious and intrepid spirit was part of my inspiration for starting WomenBloom. How did she go from mom and wife to rubbing elbows at film festivals?

Three or four years ago, Mary decided to take a creative writing course and wrote a story about a woman unhappily caring for an elderly relative. A year or so later, she happened across a contest for screenwriters. First prize was getting your short screenplay turned into a movie.

She suddenly had the idea that her story might make a good screenplay, and that re-writing it into a different format would be a fun challenge. She decided to enter. “It was one of those things. I knew when I put it in the envelope, it was going to have significance in my life … I thought I might win this thing,” Mary said.

Gentle reader, in case you think this is a complete fairy tale of a story, Mary did not win first place with her screenplay. She came in second. Exciting, but no film deal. Nonetheless, the outcome did turn out to be significant. When she told her niece about the contest, the aspiring actress and writer offered to help turn the story into a film.

“It was more than somebody offering to help; it was somebody giving me permission to do something I didn’t realize I could do. I am so grateful although it makes me a little sad, that it was someone else who had to give me permission … to show me I could do it,” Mary explained.

Mary laughs ruefully now to think that only seven weeks after her niece’s offer, she had a completed short film. “That was really stupid. I didn’t know what I was doing and it wasn’t done carefully. That movie didn’t do very well.” It did land in the SXSW Reel Women Showcase but went no further.

Undaunted, the next short film she wrote and directed was planned much more deliberately. She collaborated with a director of photography for three months before she actually shot it. He encouraged her to work through the basics of making a film, helping her think through each shot very carefully. Eventually, she created her most important tool, a storyboard using photographs.

Her thoughtful approach paid off. Her second film landed in more than sixteen film festivals, a few of which were Academy Award-qualifying film festivals, including Nashville Film Festival, Rhode Island International Film Festival, Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival, and DC International Film Festival, to name only a few.

Mary enthuses about the collaboration and creative problem-solving process of filmmaking although she acknowledges that the process also caused her plenty of sleep loss. She remembers waking up more than once at 4:30 a.m. thinking, “Oh my God, WHY did I do this? I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M DOING!”

What kept her going? The fact that people were counting on her. She let loose with a big laugh when recalling that people working with her fully expected her to be the expert, to provide competent direction. “I learned that a big part of this is saying, ‘Yeah I can do this’ … and people just think you can!”

Mary and I talked about how intimidating it can feel to have to figure out how to do something new. We shook our heads at how often we’ve let that fear stop us from tackling a new project or venture. Both of us have noticed that it seems to be an issue for many women.

Mary’s film experience taught her a thing or two about that fear of “just figuring it out.”

She and I agree that the biggest part of doing something you’ve never done before is simply committing the time and attention necessary to figure it out. She wisely said, “People are good [at figuring things out] because they have the right attitude. It has nothing to do with pre-knowledge.”

Another big realization for Mary was that her own mental limitations held her back. “What aggravates me more than people putting me in a box, is ME being willing to put me in a box,” she said. “Our world can be so much bigger than we think.”

She mused that “Women our age believe what our culture says about becoming more invisible as we get older. We just believe it and act the way people treat us. Why do we do that?”

Mary’s willingness to take on filmmaking, and succeed at it, gave me permission to do something I never dreamed I could do. Sometimes, all it takes is someone you know being courageous enough to take a risk. Suddenly something shifts inside and you begin believing you could do it too.

Mary summed it up beautifully: “Where you are is where you’re willing to put yourself. It is all in the attitude.”


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