Everyone has a part to play. A few take on many roles. A handful take them all. They're not greedy; they're simply determined. And perhaps, a little nutty, but creativity is nothing if not eccentric.
"My friends call me honey badger," said Natalie Wallace. Fierce and determined, the honey badger eats poisonous snakes, bares its teeth at predators and heads straight into bees' nests for a little fun. "I have a rabid confidence," she added. "It gets me where I'm going, but it also gets me in trouble sometimes. I tend to not care about that part of it," she laughed.
To say that Natalie is in the film business would be inaccurate. Natalie has a film business. But her path to the role of founder and owner of Platinum MultiMedia was anything but straight and narrow.
Like many actresses, she takes on multiple parts. Some days, she's a director. Other days, she's a producer or a photographer. During long nights in the cave, she's a screenwriter. It's enough to keep her brain constantly buzzing. "My mind is so busy all of the time, all on its own with creative projects, lists, dialogues, wonderings and recounting, that if you add background music, people talking and main conversation, I'm outside sitting down in the quiet before you know it," she said.
Multitasking becomes second nature—somewhat unwelcomed—and distractions present themselves in abundance. "As a screenwriter, I want to listen to conversations around me. I want to know what they're doing and how they're speaking—how the language is put together." Natalie leaned in closer to whisper. "For instance, we're talking right now very engaged, but I know that her grandson," she said, nodding over her shoulder, "lives in Connecticut. I know exactly what's going on over there. I don't compartmentalize at all."
Natalie waited until the ripe age of 10 before her first cinematic experience. "Orca, the Killer Whale!" was an inspired flick about a whale that went on a rampage, similar to "Jaws." She still has nightmares.
Even with the shaky introduction, her passion for film led her to a screenwriting degree from the University of Washington, but she took to memorizing lines before writing them, working as a commercial actress for companies such as American Airlines and Lifetime, appearing in 40 different advertisements in the Northwest.
Eventually, Natalie's natural curiosity led to questions—lots of questions. She torpedoed the cameramen and lighting guys with her thoughts, learning about various techniques, which eventually hammered out her role as photographer. She was soon volunteering to be first assistant director—who's primarily in charge of talent—and learned how to be a crewmember. Over the span of 15 years, she transitioned from the talent in front of the screen to the talent behind it.
But none of that was enough to satisfy her creative needs. Late at night and early in the morning, Natalie would hunker down, folding into imaginative worlds and endless characters while she wrote for hours between her day job as a paralegal. Occasionally, she would jaunt down to Los Angeles to take meetings and network, but learned that rubbing elbows became more important than producing ideas.
"Once you're in the machine, you lose your creativity," she said about Los Angeles. "Everybody down there is a screenwriter. It's kind of a joke." Never being one to join the pack, she created her network of big executives in Hollywood and stayed in Washington to do the actual work. In her cave, she surrounds herself with movie memorabilia, four computers and hundreds of ideas. "It's kind of like the command post for my creativity. It's my bat cave," she said.
There are more than a few challenges when it comes to creating something from nothing. As a screenwriter, you must do not only this, but also turn around and sell it. "Screenwriting is genuinely the hardest thing I've ever done," said Natalie. Each piece—the tiniest, most minute detail—has to be brought to life. "I love the God-ish aspect of it," she said. "By God-ish, I mean that you're creating an entire world—every scene, every character, every bit of dialogue they utter and every subplot of every project. It's very satisfying for a creative mind."
Within 120 pages, which generally includes a lot of white space, a story must find its ending. Then comes the pitch, and the fun begins.
After nearly six years in the business, Natalie met Hollywood's Pitch Man. He's known as Hollywood's Idea Man, harboring relationships with some of the top studios. During a seminar at the Alfred Hitchcock Theater on the Universal Studios lot, a simple Q&A showed the Pitch Man that Natalie was also an idea person—one with enough audacity to get what she wanted. "Everyone was asking him these crazy questions, and I'm just looking around the room going, 'do you not know who is up there?'" she said. Natalie had her hand raised, but no idea what she was going to ask. "I figured, I'm an actress, I'll think of something, and the first thing that popped out of my mouth was, 'what are you doing for lunch?' "
The entire theater went quiet, embarrassing Natalie. "(I figured) all those people thought I was trying to pick him up," she laughed. At lunch, she pulled out her binder—organized by film genre—and pitched to the Pitch Man. Her doggie bag that day included his personal phone and fax numbers. She continued to send him three pitches a day. "I went weeks without hearing anything," she said. "I went through all of my self-doubts."
Then her phone rang. He immediately put her on hold. Returning 10 minutes later, he offered her a paycheck. "For what?" she asked. In those 10 minutes, he had pitched her three-word idea to Miramax. Three words. One paycheck. "I had no clue how to make it into a movie and still don't. But I was never going to write one word of the script," Natalie said. "I was hooked on being a screenwriter after that."
It was her foot in.
She delved into writing, creating more worlds and personalities.
Script after script, she pitched to the networks and studios, getting several ideas optioned, which is the first step. If Hollywood likes your idea, they'll rent it from you—option it—for an extended amount of time while they try and package it. They'll scour for producers, directors, cast and crew, and if time runs up, they'll either option it again or drop the project. "I would say about 80 percent of what's purchased or optioned never sees the screen," said Natalie. But if they do start filming, the writer gets paid off.
"My scripts have been off and on the development shelves at several big studios," said Natalie. One of which, a story about a family of ghosts, has guest-starred at Nickelodeon and Warner Bros. This one script has been optioned four times. "I'm making pretty good money on that screenplay, but nobody has made it yet," she laughed. "The annoying thing and the beautiful thing about Hollywood is people change positions in these studios so often that the person who could be championing your screenplay could get it going, but switch studios. You could make really good money doing that, but you could also be waiting a long time to see it."
With all the remakes, sequels and film adaptations of novels, a writer may wonder why studios are rejecting fresh ideas. "It's just the way the industry works," she said, "and another reason why I started shooting my own films."
BASED ON A TRUE STORY
Natalie's current project is all hers. "I wanted to do the whole thing myself," she explained. "I can shoot all day long. I know all the editing tricks. My producing is tough as nails. I know how to flow the story as a writer. It's all dovetailing together for me for this project."
"No Submission" is a bloody, sweaty, violent documentary. It's not a war movie, and it's not a grisly crime drama. It's a look into the world of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighting, specifically following the life of Lyle "Fancy Pants" Beerbohm from Spokane. This fierce, competitive fighter gets his name from the bright-neon shorts he wears—shorts that his mother makes for him.
Lyle is a recovering meth addict, who spent four years in prison on drug-related charges, passing time by watching the "Ultimate Fighter" on TV. Now, he does it professionally, and for the past year, Natalie has captured every moment of it.
While she films, she sets a tripod in the corner, which snaps a photo every few seconds, capturing stills along with the video. "Lots of people who haven't met me yet think it's a crew of dudes working on this film. They literally think I'm half a dozen men trying to film this."
She gets to be in the middle of the fighters' lives, seeing them outside the violence. "I can take these very tough, crazy fighters and get that little bit of softness in their eyes or in the corners of their mouths, and people connect with it," she said. "I think I capture a side of these guys they don't show to a male filmmaker."
But things get dirty.
"Their training is live fighting. People get knocked out in the gym. People lose their tempers. They are like a brood of brothers—they love each other, they are family, but they go after each other; they fight, there's drama. It's the reality of human relationships—but with more takedowns, punching, kicking and flying knees."
She's typically the only woman around, but that's never been a problem. "I have three boys. I'm used to being the only female in a situation. I know how to work that," she laughed. "Really, I should have my female card revoked."
When she's not filming jabs and kicks in the ring, she's getting dirty with her own boys, who keep her busy. Her oldest, Gabe, 20, is currently serving in the Air Force. Garrett, 10, spends his time on the basketball court, and Zachary, 5, is perfectly happy playing. Her husband Kevin is a commercial real estate developer, lawyer and Bellevue City Council member.
"My life is very masculine," said Natalie. "It's good though because I was never a girly-girl."
While she's constantly pulling inspiration from the sights, sounds and people around her, she tries to tame her ideas for her family's sake. "I'm in a political family. It takes all of my fun ideas, beats them up, knocks them down and steps on their necks," she joked. "But that's a part of me that people like—that spicy nature."
Although she's always wrapping up one story and starting another, hers is far from over. It's impossible to mask a creative nature and even harder to silence it, especially when parts are forever immortalized on film. "There's a little bit of me in every character I write," said Natalie. "Anybody who knows me knows I am full of mischief and sauciness. I love to shock people," she smiled devilishly.