Producer with a cause | July 10, 2013 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


Cover Story - July 10, 2013

Producer with a cause

Woodside woman backs feature film that spotlights early detection of cancer

by Kate Daly

The Big C usually refers to cancer, but in the case of a new movie coming out in theaters on Friday, July 12, C also stands for comedy and connections, local connections.

The executive producer is Laurie Kraus Lacob of Woodside and the investors who backed the feature film, "The Hot Flashes," are for the most part Silicon Valley women.

Ms. Lacob believes one of the main reasons the project resonated with them is because it's "about a group of women in their late 40s who find a cause, jump behind it, and find that they empower themselves and find a new lease on life."

The cause is early detection of breast cancer. In the movie a friend dies from breast cancer, and on her behalf a group of women, all former high school basketball players, bands together to keep a mobile mammography unit operating in a small town in Texas. They put on a fundraiser, challenging the high school girls' state champions to basketball games.

Ms. Lacob describes another storyline in the film as "the philandering husband having a midlife crisis."

The film stars Brooke Shields, Wanda Sykes, Daryl Hannah, Camryn Manheim and Virginia Madsen as teammates; Mark Povinelli as their coach; and Eric Roberts as the unfaithful husband.

Before filming in 2012, Ms. Sykes had a double mastectomy, but Ms. Lacob says as a standup comedian, the actress still brought hilarity into every scene.

"The really challenging thing and fun thing is none of them had played basketball before, so we put them through a two-week-long training camp," Ms. Lacob says. A former president of the Women's National Basketball Association, Donna Orender, ran the camp and advised on all the basketball sequences on the set.

The film was shot in 25 days in the New Orleans area. Chloe McNally of Woodside spent her spring break from New York University there, acting as one of the high school players (#24). She had played high school basketball and says she admired the professional actresses because "they were all so game to play. They did all their own stunts. ... They would give us tips for acting, and we'd give them basketball tips. It was a collaborative experience."

Two other Woodsiders appear in the film for a few seconds. Ms. Lacob's daughter, Kayci, is in one shot, and investor Susan Breyer is in another. Ms. Breyer's mother is a breast cancer survivor, but what really drew Ms. Breyer to the film is "there are no movies about middle-age women that have a lot of heart, soul and courage," whereas this film "is a celebration of women with humor, a lot of love and energy."

"Good Morning America" TV host Robin Roberts makes a cameo appearance. "She's a breast cancer survivor and former college basketball player; she was herself, and put a plug in for women of a certain age who still got game," Ms. Lacob says.

Ms. Lacob is an ovarian cancer survivor and her sister is a breast cancer survivor. Ms. Lacob serves on the Advisory Council for the Stanford Cancer Institute and the Steering Committee for the Stanford Women's Cancer Center. She says she hasn't played basketball since grade school, but has spent countless hours watching her four kids play at Menlo School. One now plays at Washington University and another one is assistant general manager for the Golden State Warriors.

A friend introduced Ms. Lacob to San Francisco writer Brad Hennig, a Texan who played basketball and lost both his mother and aunt to breast cancer. This is his first screenplay to be produced. He produced it with two veterans of the business: Nina Henderson Moore, a cancer survivor who played basketball and worked as a cable TV executive with BET and Starz, and Susan Seidelman, who directed "Desperately Seeking Susan," "She Devil," "Boyton Beach Club," and the TV pilot for "Sex and the City." She directed "The Hot Flashes," too.

Jenny Johnson, chief operating officer of Franklin Resources, also served as executive producer.

Their job, Ms. Lacob says, was to raise $6 million to make the film. Out of the two and a half years she has been involved, Ms. Lacob estimates, the fundraising part took about 18 months.

Jane Solomon was living in Woodside when she invested. Her aunt, sister and cousin are breast cancer survivors, and like Ms. Lacob, she is involved with Under One Umbrella event, a benefit for the Stanford Women's Cancer Center.

That's where another important connection was made. Sheryl Crow spoke about her own battle with breast cancer when she performed at a luncheon in Menlo Park in 2012. Shortly after that, Ms. Lacob says, "We convinced her to write a song for this movie. It rolls during credits. ... It's called 'Leaning in a new direction' and is about women supporting each other ... the value of friendship, sisterhood, friends you can count on."

Another investor, Joanie Sullivan of Woodside, was thrilled to attend a private showing of the movie at Stanford on June 24. It was an appreciation event for Under One Umbrella donors. The Sullivans' daughter, Sue Foley, survived breast cancer and husband Jack Sullivan invested in the movie as a birthday present to his wife.

Most of the other investors attended the Hollywood premier on June 27, where they walked down a pink carpet instead of red, and enjoyed an after-party hosted by the film's partner, the American Cancer Society. The actresses filmed a PSA for the organization to promote getting mammograms.

So far the film has sold out at film festivals in Miami and Dallas, and in Oklahoma City, where the showings were fundraisers for tornado victims.

On July 12, the movie will be playing in theaters in a dozen cities, including AMC Mercado in Santa Clara and Sundance Kabuki in San Francisco. That same day it will be released on video on demand. The DVD version will come out later.

The movie is rated R due to some colorful language, and what Ms. Lacob calls "sexual innuendo and a little drug use."

She notes as a first-timer to the film industry: "I learned a lot on this one. ... I would certainly know more the next time, and am open to it."