Julie & Julia, a film primer for today's writer
Published: January 19, 2010
When I picked up the Julie & Julia DVD during the Christmas season, I figured it would be good entertainment to take my mind off the inevitable work/holiday time crunch. Two of my favorite artists, Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci, had lead roles. But the film turned out to be far more than entertainment. It's also a great primer for the writer facing a technology-governed industry.
Kay B. Day
Actress Amy Adams did a remarkable job, playing the role of Julie Powell. The real-life Julie Powell had a government job related to dealing with victims of September 11. Powell's job was one of those nerve-wracking but necessary positions that can put you to sleep during the day and keep you awake at night because of the emotional outlay. Then one day, somewhat frustrated by her friends' success with their careers compared to her own, Powell had a revelation. "I could write a book," she told her husband. "I have thoughts."
Powell began a blog, The Julie/Julia Project at Salon.com. Her mission was to cook every recipe, more than 500 of them, in Julia Child's book Mastering the Art of French Cooking. She recounted her triumphs and failures on her blog.
As she went about cooking the recipes, Powell immersed herself in books and film clips of Child. The movie melded both women's stories together with remarkable skill. By the end of the movie we applaud Child's life well-lived and Powell's triumph—a book deal that grew from a blog.
A benefit Powell may not have envisioned was introducing the remarkable Child to a younger audience.
So what can a writer take away from the film?
Powell did what so many other writers have done. She focused on doing something she loved and on recording her experiences. She liked to cook. In the early days of blogging, Powell wrote, "I spent the best years of my life as slavish devotee to the foodie movement. I accepted Martha Stewart as my god, after some initial hesitation. I threw away scads of money and time on gourmet magazines and cookbooks." (8-29-02)
Amy Adams portrays Julie Powell in Julie & Julia
She also made good use of technology. She built her platform of readers via a blog that cost nothing but her time. She did have to invest in the ingredients for the recipes, but bringing the experience to her readers cost nothing more. In the early phase, she was discouraged because, like many new bloggers, she felt no one was really paying attention. But that changed.
As Powell made her way through recipes that might make even the most dedicated cook shiver, people began to connect with her. Read a bit and you'll see why. Powell is one of those rare writers who can make the reader feel as though they're in a room together, maybe sharing a cup of tea and talking as old friends. She didn't pull punches with her vocabulary—she was deliberately polysyllabic and if a gutter word was what she needed, the resulting profanity came off as non-pretentious yet necessary. She also shared frustrations from her day job and musings about her home life. In all, Powell built a fully-rounded character.
Adding a rich dimension was Powell's admiration for Child, and we learn so much about the woman who changed the way the U.S. looks at food. Powell wrote, "Julia Child wants you—that's right, you, the one living in the tract house in sprawling suburbia with a dead-end secretarial job and nothing but a Stop-n-Shop for miles around—to master the art of french cooking. She wants you to know how to make good pastry, and also how to make those canned green beans taste alright. She wants you to remember that you are human, and as such are entitled to that most basic of human rights, the right to eat well and enjoy life.
And that, my friends, blows heirloom tomatoes and first-press Umbrian olive oil out of the f*****g water." (8-29-02)
It's easy to see why Powell's writing could be transposed to the screen so admirably.
Above all, you find yourself pulling for this young wife who so passionately wanted to create something of value in her own right.
By the time Powell finished her cooking project, she has pulled off the goal of many a writer—she has drafted a book that has excellent marketing potential. Because we all, like Julia Child, whether we are thick or thin, small boned or large, like to eat.
On Dec. 19, 2003, Powell writes she'll feel lucky if she sells 25 copies of the book. She was far luckier than that—the book is still doing well after being made available on Kindle, in hardcover, mass market paperback, audio and other formats. The film, I suppose, was the icing on the cake.
Powell's inspiration was a famous person who started out in the same predicament Powell had—being slightly bored and in need of some sort of validation.
The film can show what words cannot—the look on a writer's face as she comes to the keyboard each day, intent on coming up with words that will connect with people on a level that will bring those people back to read more. There were the challenges to her marriage and to her budget.
But the result is one every writer envies or should envy—an intimate relationship between author and reader.
From a brief epiphany Powell has, the film reflects the rewards that came after a woman announced to her husband those life-changing words. "I could write a book. I have thoughts."
It's a takeaway for all of us who wield a pen.
• The Julie/Julia Project
The original blog the book and film 'Julie and Julia' is based on.
• How do you blog and how do you talk to your vistors?
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--Published Jan. 19, 2010Join us next time for tips on getting press for yourself—tips to spur others to write about your book or blog
Kay B. Day
Florida journalist Kay B. Day has won awards for poetry, nonfiction and fiction. The author of two books, she has written for The Christian Science Monitor
, United Press International, The Florida Times-Union
and Sky News. To read Kay's other Web Savvy columns about writing for the Web, click here.