"We did a film, a documentary film, that was called Wish Me Away. It was the story of Chely Wright who was the first country music singer, commercial singer, to come out as gay and we followed her on that path."
Beverly joins us to outline her failures and success as a writer and producer. She managed to overcome heavy obstacles and face her fears to claim awards and recognition, and even snagged Emmy. Family death, rediscovering God, and coming out of the closet personally, and professionally. Mind you, this was about a millennia before LGBTQ movements began to shake foundations. Please join us and Beverly Kopf for some good ol' fashioned wisdom on this episode of What's Your Why!
Beverly Koft: We did a film, a documentary film, that was called Wish Me Away. It was the story of Chely Wright who was the first country music singer, commercial singer, to come out as gay and we followed her on that path.
Emy diGrappa: Hello. My name is Emy diGrappa. Each week we bring you stories asking our guests the question why. We learn about passion, purpose, and the human experience. Brought to you by Wyoming Humanities with the generous support of the Wyoming Community Foundation, this is What's Your Why?
Emy diGrappa: Today, we are talking to Beverly Koft. She's a writer and producer, and the name of her production company is TVGals, and you can find Beverly at tvgals.com. Beverly, I want to know what was your journey to become a writer and producer. You've, you've had an Emmy award, have many accolades and media awards, but really what was your passion and journey to start down that road?
Beverly Koft: It has not been an easy road, I can tell you that. I think that I have always wanted to be a writer, but I, I grew up in an Orthodox Jewish family and I really had my... What my parents wanted for me was not what I wanted for myself and I spent a long time trying to be who they wanted me to be. And even when I started writing and I really, um, didn't take myself seriously as a writer for a long time because I didn't have any confidence in myself and I didn't think that I had anything to say.
Beverly Koft: So that took a long time to sort of overcome that. Then I was very, very critical, and I've listened to what other people said. So if I wrote something and someone said, "You know, I don't think there should be a comma there, I think that should be a semicolon," then I would stop writing for years. You know, I'm not kidding, years. But really the turning point in my life, if you want to know was when my brother died, and I realized that if I didn't start taking my life seriously and myself seriously, I wouldn't have a life, and I wouldn't be able to do anything for him because I always felt that I was living now... After his death that I was living for both of us.
Beverly Koft: And literally six months after he died, I was the head writer of The View, which is kind of amazing because I had never really done anything like that before but I knew I had it in me and, um, I became very successful at that job writing for other people, but deep down I always knew that I wanted to write fiction. I wanted to be a screenwriter and a television writer.
Beverly Koft: And I finally had the courage to really pursue that full-time and moved out to Los Angeles was when Bobby got a job on a, as a showrunner on a Bravo, Bravo show. And I finally realized that I had a lot to say and I was ready to say it. So, and that's what I'm doing out, and I'm just thrilled beyond belief because I'm starting to have success as a writer, and, um, it's very exciting.
Emy diGrappa: And so, you know, when you're living for what other people think of you, it stunts you into becoming what you want to be and that lesson when your brother died, how have you translated that, not just into your own success but into success in telling stories and learning to be a script writer?
Beverly Koft: Well, I think the main thing to know about me, Emmy is that, and I'm not even sure where this came from, but I have always been a very determined person. Like when I was really screwed up, I was very determined to get help, you know and I was in therapy for a long time and I just kept working on myself. I've always worked on myself and I've always had a very strong faith, um, in... When I was growing up as an Orthodox Jew, it was, it was that my idea of God then, but then when I realized that to live my life fully and authentically, I would have to leave that community because I wouldn't be accepted there because I'm a lesbian.
Beverly Koft: Then I had to rediscover God and find God in, in a different way. And that connection became much stronger. And I think that the turning point for me was writing The View because I won awards and I realized that I was really talented and I was training other people, and I love doing that, and I loved the whole idea of having, um, a voice in the culture you know that I could have a voice and could be, uh, a positive voice and I, I want, I loved impacting other people's lives, and I found that that was the best way that I could do it that of all the gifts that I had, writing seemed to be the one that I was the best at, you know?
Beverly Koft: Bo- Bo- I believe Bobby is someone who's good at many, many things and I'm really very good at a few things and the writing seems to be one that I was really good at. So I became... I, and I think what happened to me also is that I realized that it was a very long, arduous road that I had to work harder and be more determined, and focused, and committed than I'd ever really thought that I could be and then also I had to learn to take criticism and to take, take rejection and to, you know, fail, and then gradually, gradually, very gradually realize that I, that I would, that I was, it wasn't going to deter me. Failure was going to make me stronger. And rejection would make me stronger and that I developed this inner, inner strength that I really... It took me a long time to realize how much inner strength I had, and so that was, that's my path.
Emy diGrappa: How long have you lived in LA?
Beverly Koft: Going on five years.
Emy diGrappa: Oh, going on five years. Where did you move from?
Beverly Koft: New York.
Emy diGrappa: Oh.
Beverly Koft: In New York, yeah, I really, you know, I really started writing when I was in New York. Um, I'll tell you a story that, um... I have... We, we did, uh, a, film, a documentary film that was called Wish Me Away. It was the story of Chely Wright who was the, the first country music singer, commercial singer, uh, to come out as gay and we followed her on that path. And, um, I thought God that would make a really good, uh, musical Broadway, musical. And through a very close friend of mine I was able to meet and work with a director, a Broadway director who was... He was like in between projects and he really taught me a lot about dramatic writing.
Beverly Koft: And when I was... When we brought Wish Me Away out here, I met, uh, a writer who is the one of the critics for the LA Times, and he and I really connected. And when I moved out here, he basically mentored me and taught me about writing. It turns out he had done a class that was called Screenplay, um, Bootcamp. So he taught me a lot and then slowly I started to learn my craft which is, you know, it's not easy. Screenwriting is very complicated and difficult. So I've always been sort of humble in the sense of wanting to get help from other people and listening to other people and being open to other people's, you know, giving me notes.
Beverly Koft: So I, I just have the right... It turns out I have the right... And I'm very collaborative by nature so I've just been able to really learn and grow as a writer, you know by just being willing to let other people you know listen to them and not get defensive and be open to learning new things, you know.
Emy diGrappa: Do you think you have to have a really thick skin to make it in, you know, in, in television and, and movies and stick in there? What do you think is the... Is there a magic sauce to how people succeed in that industry?
Beverly Koft: No.
Emy diGrappa: Okay (laughs).
Beverly Koft: There's no magic sauce. There's no magic sauce. But I was.. What I was gonna say when you said thick skin is that's the understatement of all time (laughing). You know, it's like you can't even describe how thick your skin has to be, and how, you know, prepared you have to be, to be not taken seriously, to be dismissed, to be demeaned. You know everything you can imagine, you know is a cutthroat industry. It's not, uh, it's not an emotionally healthy industry. There's a lot of insecure people. There's a lot of narcissism.
Beverly Koft: You know, it's all of the above, but you can't let that deter you from your path or I certainly was not going to let that determine. I mean, you know, I let it deter me for a long time and there's... The way that I am now, there's nothing that's going to deter me. You know, I mean I'm just unstoppable.
Emy diGrappa: (laughs)
Beverly Koft: And, uh, I keep... You know, that's really you have to have that attitude.
Emy diGrappa: Right.
Beverly Koft: Otherwise you, you really... It's, it's hard. You know, people fall away very consistently in this business because they don't understand that nobody is going to make it easy for you, you know, but if you have a certain faith. Like I, I see things that seem to be guiding me in this, you know... Like things happen to me that I think, well, you know, that's kind of amazing, you know, and I'm very fortunate. I feel like I'm very, I'm very grateful, and I'm very, and I have been lucky, you know. So we'll see if I can... You know the jury is still out. I mean, if I can pull this off, but I kind of think I can.
Emy diGrappa: Well, it sounds like you have been very successful. I think, I think it's interesting that you are a lesbian and that you've been in this industry, have you felt discrimination? Have you felt a challenge in being a woman and lesbian in the film industry?
Beverly Koft: Yes, I would say that I have, um, but I really came out professionally for the first time when I was writing The View. I made it very clear from the beginning and it was a, a transformational experience because I was writing the show and I was, I created hot topics and I was having, uh, you know, a voice in the, the national conversation. I was able to insert, you know, gay topics into the hot topics, you know. And not all of the, the other, host on the show... You know, some of them were homophobic and we stay out of that and we talked about that, and I was able to really, you know, make a difference because I was out.
Beverly Koft: Had I not been out, the, uh, trajectory of that show would have been... It would have been fine but it just would have been different. We would not have... I wouldn't have won of a, a GLAAD Media Award. We wouldn't have been able to talk about. You know at that time it was Matthew Shepard who became... You know, there were stories that I talked about that I inserted into our conversation, because of who I was, because I was out, you know. And it was very... It was fun. You know, it was amazing, uh, but I realized that, you know, that, if that had been my dream to work on a daytime talk show, I would still be there, you know?
Beverly Koft: And I'd have a pension now (laughs) and I would be very secure, financially, which we're not because I, I took a risk, you know, and I said, "Well, this isn't my dream, so I don't want to stay here. I'm gonna move on and see if I can live my dream, you know?" So that's been... I mean, I think that's the other thing about this business. It's not just a thick skin, it's been, it's being do you want to play it safe or do you want to take a risk? If you want to play it safe, this is not the right business to be in, but if you're willing to risk and have faith, um, you, you have a chance to be successful, you know, in life too I think, you know.
Emy diGrappa: And, and you had to work your butt off, right?
Beverly Koft: You, you can't ima- It's very hard. It's, it's a lot of work, but so with everything.
Emy diGrappa: Right.
Beverly Koft: You know, what is in hard work? Relationships are hard work, you know. I mean everything in life being true to yourself, understanding yourself, accepting your failures and your, and your flaws, and your, you know your weaknesses are, is, is and, and being open to changing and growing. You know it's all hard work, you know? Um, and I think that it's a, it's a very, um, kind of complicated time that we're living in and you know it's, um, it's very easy to be discouraged and, um, and rightfully so, you know, but I don't know. I, I just, I feel like I, I am very positive about, um, what I'm capable of and I really... And as I said, you know, just to come full circle, I feel like, you know, I'm doing everything because my brother is not here to do it, and I'm doing it for both of us, you know? That's my, that's my inspiration, that's my motivation.
Emy diGrappa: Was he a writer as well? Was he in, um, a producer?
Beverly Koft: No.
Emy diGrappa: Okay. Okay.
Beverly Koft: Yeah. He, he wanted to be a dancer and he never, he never lived that dream. Um, so he didn't have a happy life.
Emy diGrappa: Oh, I'm sorry about that.
Beverly Koft: Yeah, yeah.
Emy diGrappa: So when you left The View, and... Because I think that's interesting and you, and you had a, you know, a comfortable job and you were obviously successful in that position, what was the jump you were taking? Was it to be your own writer of your own show?
Beverly Koft: The jump for me, and I, I used to say [inaudible 00:15:06], but I'll say it to you. I went from Barbara Walters to Bobbie Birleffi. It's true. I, I switched Barbara's because I wanted to work with Bobbie because Bobbie was a really talented filmmaker. We had always dreamed about working together, and, um, I wanted to learn from Bobbie. And so we started doing documentaries together and we... You know, when you work on a talk show, it's like you get a formula. You figure it out, what that show is. I could turn on The View right now and I have to tell you exactly what's gonna happen next, you know.
Beverly Koft: I mean, the hot topics have been incredible to watch and I'm so proud because these women now are... You know, every political candidate has to make a stop at The View now, you know. But to say the formula that I created is still, is still alive and well on that show. It just wasn't what I wanted to be doing. I want... There were other things and once I realized what a good writer I was, and I thought, "Well, you know, I can do maybe... Maybe I really can't pull this off, you know." So that's what it was for me. It was like a stepping stone to other things that I wanted to do.
Emy diGrappa: I think it's interesting that you were a writer for a program like The View, and do you get frustrated when you spend the time writing something and it doesn't come out exactly as you had intended it to?
Beverly Koft: You mean... Um, no.
Emy diGrappa: No? Okay.
Beverly Koft: You know, I'm not... No, I don't, because I, I'm not... Like when you work in television you can't be really that precious about your work (laughing). I mean, you know you just can't. I mean, it, it would get changed all the time, you know? I always, I always... It didn't... As long as I felt that it was, you know close to what I wanted it to be, I mean it didn't turn into something dif- very different from what I wanted to be, but I was never that precious about, and I still aren't. You know, I'm still not that precious about it because it's just not a healthy way to be, you know.
Beverly Koft: Um, when I started working on the screenplay that I'm working on, that actually is a Wyoming story about Lester Hunt who was a very successful governor, who through Bobbie we met a very wonderful man named Rodger McDaniel who had written a book, a non-fiction book called dying for Joe McCarthy's Sins which was about Lester Hunt who is a Democratic governor who, uh, came to Washington as a senator, uh, during the McCarthy era and his son was, uh, caught in Lafayette Park which was a hangout for LGBTQ people.
Beverly Koft: Rodger McDaniel, I don't know if... I'm sorry if I didn't get his name right. Anyway Rodger McDaniel, and he's a wonderful man. So we got the rights to his book and I started working on this screenplay of the story because it touched my heart that Lester came here, his son was, uh, arrested for soliciting sex from an undercover cop, a man and, um, McCarthy and his henchmen started blackmailing Lester Hunt because they wanted his seat, because he was a Democrat and it was... The Congress was very evenly divided. And Lester ended up after a year of this, um, killing himself in his Senate office a year later.
Beverly Koft: And within a few months after that, um, McCarthy was sent cen- censored and it was an amazing story. But my point in saying it is that, it took me 11 drafts to get to the point where, and I was very lucky. I had a manager who was wonderful and kept giving me these really, really, really (laughs) you know, notes of like, "Okay. Well, that's a cliché, and you know, there's more to a screenplay than dialogue." You know, it was just like-
Emy diGrappa: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Beverly Koft: ... "I want you to do this draft and I want you to just tell a story visually or just tell the subtext." You know, it was like... It was agony so to get to the point... And you know what, I now have a draft that's out there that I'm proud of, and I realized that I'm, I have to do another draft because I can make it better. So I, you know, it's, it's just a learning experience for me and I'm able to take notes in without getting defensive because it's just making me a better writer. I don't know if that answered your question at all. Emy but...
Emy diGrappa: Yeah, and, and I think, uh, I, I think that is important to understand your own journey. As you were saying that, you're getting ready to do another draft and I'm thinking to myself, when does the perfect get in the way of the good? Like when do you just have to stop and say-
Beverly Koft: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Emy diGrappa: ... "This is done."
Beverly Koft: I think that, um, you have to have people around you that you trust, um, and I think that there is a moment when you know that... You know, it's, it's, it's... Probably if you ask 10 different writers they would all tell you a different answer, but I, I don't think it's ever fully done, but I do think you have to reach a point where you say, "This, this is, this is as far as we can take it," you know? But I know I'm not at that point yet with this script, you know?
Emy diGrappa: Oh, right.
Beverly Koft: You just... You know what I mean? You, you just keep working on it and trying to make it better until you're in production, (laughs) you know, until you have the, you know, you're, you're starting to shoot it. And then, you know, if you're a playwright, for example, you know, you go into previews and you're rewriting. You know, Aaron Sorkin who did the play To Kill a Mockingbird, he, he did 58 drafts on that play. So you have to be willing to keep making it better is what the answer is, really, you know.
Emy diGrappa: Yeah, so-
Beverly Koft: So the opening night.
Emy diGrappa: So it's always a work in progress. It's always, it's always can-
Beverly Koft: I think so.
Emy diGrappa: ... can be better. Well, that's really interesting.
Beverly Koft: I, I think that's true, you know? And I know writers who say, you know, you see it on like a television or whatever, and they think, "Oh, god. I wish I had, you know." You, you... It's part of I think that, that writing impulse is to... You're just always tweaking it and trying to make it better and then at some point they take it away from you (laughs) and then you're done.
Emy diGrappa: Yeah.
Beverly Koft: And you move on to the next thing, you know?
Emy diGrappa: Yeah. They take it away from you.
Beverly Koft: Otherwise you-
Emy diGrappa: I like that (laughs).
Beverly Koft: I mean, I'll tell you something. There are people that are still writing a novel 30 years later because they won't let it go, you know?
Emy diGrappa: No, I have heard that.
Beverly Koft: And that's the other side of it.
Emy diGrappa: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yup, I have heard that.
Beverly Koft: Yeah.
Emy diGrappa: Well Beverly, it's been great talking to you. Thank you so much.
Beverly Koft: Okay, thank you.
Emy diGrappa: Thank you for joining us for this episode of What's Your Why? brought to you by Wyoming humanities with support from Wyoming Community Foundation, and generous supporters like you. To learn more go to thinkwhy.org, subscribe and never miss a show.