Conflicted, unique underdogs often make the most fascinating characters, particularly when they’re determined women who must find a way to succeed and thrive in gritty new environments. That’s certainly the case with the two protagonists of actresses Mary Holland and Betsy Sodaro’s characters of Melanie and her best friend Danny in the new comedy, ‘Golden Arm.’
Ann Marie Allison and Jenna Milly, who co-wrote and executive produced the film together, captured the equally excitement and grueling reality of sports training, all with a wry sense of humor. Through Melanie and Danny’s close bond and determination to improve their lives, Allison and Milly chronicled how the characters descend into the dark abyss of an underground female arm wrestling match that teases them with glitz and glamour if they win the national competition. The character-driven movie humorously explores the complex world of female competition and athletics, and how they must rely on their friends to help them not only survive, but also win.
Maureen Bharoocha directed ‘Golden Arm,’ which, besides Holland and Sodaro, also stars Olivia Stambouliah, Eugene Cordero, Aparna Nancherla, Dawn Luebbe, Ron Funches, Ahmed Bharoocha with Dot-Marie Jones and Kate Flannery. Utopia Distribution is releasing the comedy today in select theaters and On Digital.
‘Golden Arm’ follows Melanie, a baker in a small town in Kansas who’s struggling to come to terms that her marriage just ended in divorce, despite the fact that her relationship had become toxic. Her failed marriage, along with her rising debt over her business, has led her to grapple with self-doubt and a drop in confidence.
However, Melanie’s luck begins to change when Danny, who’s a local arm wrestling champion, comes to her rescue. After suffering a crippling arm injury, Danny is unable to compete in the Ladies Arm Wrestling Championship, which offers a large monetary prize. So she convinces her best friend to take her place, after Melanie wins an impromptu arm wrestling match at a local truck stop.
While she’s initially reluctant to take part in the competition, Melanie ultimately changes her mind after she meets legendary ladies arm wrestling coach, Big Sexy (Dot-Marie Jones), who inspires her to train for the competition. With Danny’s support and encouragement, Melanie trains with the coach, and the friends then head to Oklahoma, so that the former can compete in the tournament. While there, Melanie begins to believe in her own potential as she continues to prepare to battle Brenda “the Bonecrusher” Smith (Stambouliah), the reigning champion and Danny’s arch nemesis, and win the title.
Allison and Milly generously took the time recently to talk about writing and executive producing ‘Golden Arm’ during an exclusive interview over the phone. Among other things, the filmmakers discussed that the movie was inspired in part by Allison’s experience founding the charity, DC Lady Arm Wrestlers (DCLAW), which Milly wrote an article about, and donates its proceeds from its competitions to different organizations. The duo also shared that they cherished the experience of collaborating with Bharoocha, Holland and Sodaro, as well as the rest of the female-led cast and crew, as they brought the story to the screen.
ShockYa (SY): Together, you co-wrote the script for the new comedy, ‘Golden Arm.’ What was the inspiration in penning the screenplay, and what was the experience like of working together on creating the story for the film?
Ann Marie Allison (AMA): ‘Golden Arm’ was born out of a charity that I started here in D.C., where I live, called the DC Lady Arm Wrestlers (DCLAW). I’m one of the co-founders, and we arm wrestle for charity.
It was a really crazy experience, where we had these events here in the city at the American Legion, and we had crowds of almost 800 people come out and watch female arm wrestlers compete. (Allison laughs.) They could bet on their favorite wrestler, and all of the money that we raised went to the charity of our choice.
It was a really fun time. We had women from all over the area come. We recruited teachers, lawyers, doctors, firefighters and all different kinds of ladies come out to arm wrestle. It was always a great time, but I think the thing that really resonated with me was the transformation of the ladies who came out to wrestle. We had rehearsals during the day, and they were all normal gals, but then at night, they were all dressed as their characters, ready to throw down. The whole message of female empowerment was built in organically into the entire event.
Then Jenna did an article on the charity for us. When she saw the craziness of the event, she said, ‘Ann Marie, we have to write something about these women. It’s such a great world to explore, and it’s so funny.’ That’s where the idea for the film was born.
Jenna Milly (JM): The event really struck me as something that should be a movie, as there’s so much color and showmanship in it. Hearing Ann Marie talk about it, and all the fun the ladies were having, seemed like a really emotional arc for a woman to have, and felt like a movie.
So we decided to create these two ladies who went on this journey together, and it fits in with our type of comedy of women doing funny stuff. It then turned into this road movie where these two friends travel to the arm wrestling championship, which Melanie has to win in order to turn her life around.
Our process of writing is that we spend about four weeks outlining the movie, and then we spend the next three or four weeks writing. So we basically talk on the phone everyday. Ann Marie lives in D.C., and I live in Los Angeles, so we talk on the phone about the story beats.
We create about 100-120 story beats in an outline. Then we split that up and one of us will write the first half, and the other one will write the second half of the story until we get our first draft.
The development is very fun, but there are a lot of challenges. Even though this is an indie film, we still wanted to have all of the showmanship, but at the same time, we knew we were making the movie on a small budget. So we had to pick and choose the place where we put the big scenes. We also knew that we would have more quiet scenes between the two gals, in which they would talk about their friendship and the challenges in their lives.
Some of my favorite moments were when Ann Marie and I got to look at the script and develop things as we were going through production. We really enjoyed figuring out when the two leads would be able to have those types of conversations in quieter situations.
SY: Once you began developing and scribing the script, what kind of research did you both do in order to help further your knowledge of the world of female arm wrestling?
AMA: I can jump in and talk about the research. We had to really understand the dynamic of the event because it’s really competitive. During the charity event, we had an arm wrestling captain help us make sure we had the proper form. We would also train women on how to arm wrestle in the proper form, and not go into arm break position, which we address in the script.
Once we started to write the script, I went online to research various professional lady arm wrestlers and their leagues, including where they compete and the type of people coming out to compete in, and watch, the events. That was very interesting. I also watched a lot of videos on YouTube about arm wrestlers and the tricks of the trade.
One of the interesting things about ‘Golden Arm’ is that Dot-Marie Jones, who plays Big Sexy, the mentor who helped train Melanie, is actually a real-life professional arm wrestler champion. So she was really integral to us on the set, as well, and it was great to hear all of her stories.
JM: I also want to add how cool it was to have Dot-Marie with us. We were all inspired by her life. She was about 18 or 21 when she left home to become an arm wrestling champion, which was amazing.
Before we started the process of writing the script, I never even thought about arm wrestlers. I knew, of course, that they exist, but I didn’t have them in my circle.
Also, being with so many creative women on the set, including our director, grips, costume designer and in make-up department, was great. We tried to have as many women in front of, and behind, the camera as possible. We also had female executive producers, producers and associate producers. We also had great men work on the production, as well, but we tried to give as many opportunities to women as we could, so that we could open doors for them.
SY: Speaking of ‘Golden Arm’s director, Maureen Bharoocha, what was your experience like of collaborating with her on bringing your story to the screen?
JM: Maureen was very integral to bringing in the comedy actors who we found. Mary and Betsy are part of the UCB (Upright Citizens Brigade) comedy troupe here in Los Angeles. We’re so grateful that she found them, and was able to bring them, and so many other great comedians, onto the cast.
We also worked very closely with her on the budget. Again, when you’re working on a movie of this size, you have to stay in the parameters of the small budget, while also trying to put as much as you can on screen.
Maureen did such a great job working with what we had, as in the end, we had less locations and camera options than we originally thought we’d have. She did such a great job pushing everything to the limit to make such a great looking movie.
We also tried keeping our cameras rolling as much as we could, so that we could capture these funny women going on with their funny improv. I think we have some improv at the end of the movie, if you can stay until the end. The movie is coming out (today) on Apple TV, Prime Video and on a few other VOD platforms, as well as in a few theaters.
SY: Speaking of the movie’s release, Utopia Distribution is unveiling the feature (today) in theaters and Digital. Why do you feel having the dual release is beneficial for this type of indie film?
AMA: The film’s Apple TV release is going to be pushed the hardest. But the movie’s also going to be on Google Play, as well as our distributor, Utopia’s platform, Altavod. It will also be playing in select theaters around the country, including the Film Noir Cinema in Brooklyn, the Laemmle NoHo 7 in Los Angeles and the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Winchester, Virginia, which we’re excited about. We feel grateful we received this release.
SY: In addition to writing the screenplay, you both also served as executive producers on ‘Golden Arm.’ What was your involvement as producers during the comedy’s production?
AMA: Since Jenna and I were also executive producers on the film, we’re part of one of its production companies, Golden Arm LLC. So we were involved in all of the financial decisions in making the movie. As executive producers on the film, we were also involve in all of the other aspects in making the film, including getting the film up and running, as well as casting.
We were also involved in hiring Maureen, as we previously worked with her on another film, and felt that she would be a great addition to the team on this movie. We were also involved in figuring out what state we were going to produce the film in, and where we could get the best tax benefits. It was a really cool learning experience.
SY: Speaking of deciding where you would shoot the movie, the feature was shot on location in Oklahoma, where the story takes place. What was the experience like of visiting the set during the production?
AMA: We looked at several different locations, including Georgia, Oklahoma and Texas. But we ultimately chose Oklahoma because of its really cool, unique setting, as well as the diversity of the locations we could have and the cost-it has a great tax incentive. We thought the locations we found there turned out great, as they brought so much character to the film. I also think it turned out to be a great place to film-everyone was so welcoming.
JM: Yes, it feels like it should have always been in Oklahoma! All of the locations we got there really fit, including the bar and where the championship takes place. Being in the Midwest was really fun.