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The Bigger Picture

One Richmond filmmaker's continuing quest for Hollywood.

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"It's a marathon, not a sprint," she says. "I've seen people not continue to develop and grow because they're fixated with this or that project, and it's killed them." Holley's attitude is: "That was that. It was a fantastic experience for what it was, but I've moved on to the next thing."

The next thing is "Sunshine Cleaning," Holley's screenplay about two sisters who set up a crime-scene cleaning business. She sent the script, along with a copy of "The Snowflake Crusade," to producer Glenn Williamson. Williamson is the former president of production at Focus Features and now produces independently. Most recently, he was executive producer of the critically acclaimed and extremely creative Jim Carrey flick "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind."

Impressed with Holley's work, Williamson took on "Sunshine Cleaning" and has Ashley Judd attached to play one of the sisters, and Karen Moncrieff ("Blue Car") signed on to direct, a choice Holley approves of. "She's very cool. She knows I want to direct, and I want to direct bigger-budget films, so she wants to keep me involved in the process."

Holley, 38, does plan to direct another project called "Eucharist," her screenplay about a research facility that catalogs samples of human tissue. When David, a lowly computer technician, sees the face of Jesus in a tissue sample, he decides to steal the mysterious sliver of skin. "It's a smaller thing," Holley explains. "The budget should be around one or two million dollars, so it's at a good place for me to direct."

While still not finished, "Eucharist" has already furthered Holley's career. She entered it in the Virginia Governor's Screenwriting Competition, and won. Even better, "somebody, somewhere passed it on" and recommended her to the exclusive Nantucket Screenwriters Colony.

"Only four people are selected every year," explains Holley. "And you have to be recommended by someone in the industry." She sent additional samples of her work before being accepted to the colony and just returned after spending a month in residence.

"They paid for everything," Holley says. "They flew us there; we stayed in a beautiful farmhouse and had chefs making us fabulous gourmet meals." But it wasn't just a holiday. During the month Holley was there, she began a second draft of "Eucharist" and began work on an untitled thriller set against the backdrop of a polygamist fundamentalist Mormon community.

More importantly, she got to shake hands with some influential people. "On the weekends they flew in advisors and industry people," Holley says. She met such senior figures in the independent film world as the legendary Bingham Ray, founder of October Films and former president of United Artists. She also met with Campbell Scott, star of "Singles" and "Roger Dodger."

"I got to play Boggle with Campbell Scott," Holley says. Did she win? "I kicked his ass!"

Hopefully she didn't go too hard on him, because the film industry is all about who you know. "So much is based on relationships, and a lot of the experience at the colony was being able to interact with these people. We had huge dinners where we basically talked about the industry." This relaxed setting was "less intimidating and more sociable" than going to Hollywood to meet people in their offices, she says.

So what next? With "Sunshine Cleaning" raring to go, a second draft of "Eucharist" on the way and the untitled third project taking shape, surely Holley has enough to keep her busy. Apparently not. "I've just done a pitch over the phone for the adaptation of 'Electroboy,'" she says. "It went pretty well. It's down to me and one other writer."

"Electroboy" is the popular, emotionally frenzied autobiography of bipolar manic-depressive Andrew Behrman. Tobey "Spiderman" Maguire's production company, Maguire Entertainment, is co-producing the film, and it's been suggested that Maguire will take the lead role. While being involved with something so big would be a giant leap for Holley, she remains levelheaded. "It's not all or nothing," she says. "Just getting down to the last two and pitching to these people is one more step." S

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