The Collegian
Saturday, July 04, 2020

'Sunshine Cleaning' screenwriter discusses movie-making

She steps out of the rain and into the coffee shop, wearing a sweater and jeans, carrying a red umbrella and an unexpected accessory. Sam, her toddler son, is perched happily on her hip and giggles with a wide grin.

Megan Holley, a Richmond resident, has a lot to be happy about. She is the screenwriter of "Sunshine Cleaning," a movie starring Amy Adams, Emily Blunt, Alan Arkin and Steve Zahn that opened in theaters across the United States on March 13 and in Richmond on April 3.

"Sunshine Cleaning" is the most recent of Holley's ideas.

"It's such a commitment," she says. "It's not hard to come up with ideas -- it's hard to settle on one." That's especially true when a script can take years to write and rewrite and rewrite.

In 2005, Holley submitted "Sunshine Cleaning" to the Virginia Governor's Screenwriting Competition where Glenn Williamson, an executive producer at Focus Features, picked it up.

"Once I got interest from someone like Glenn, things started happening," Holley says. "Agents started calling me." Since then, she has acquired an agent, a lawyer and opportunities at Fox Movies and Paramount Pictures.

The day before our conversation, Showtime asked her to write a pilot for a series based on "Sunshine Cleaning."

Her voice flutters and she plays with her son a moment. She tried not to get too excited, she says, because she never knows whether a script will sell. The small smile on her face, though, gives everything away. She is doing what she loves.

The long journey to screenwriting success began in film clubs and festivals in Richmond. Always a fan of film, but never sure how to break in, Holley taught herself to write scripts by reading every book on the subject she could find. Once she taught herself the finer points of screenwriting, Holley set out to make a movie. Then, she made another and another.

Flicker, a festival in Richmond that shows Super 8 films shorter than 15 minutes, gave her the opportunity to debut her work. "Antonio Knows," which pays homage to French art films; "Ivan: Rigor Mortis is Not a Big Deal," about an embalmer; and "7 Minutes is a Lifetime in Cigarette Years," a 7-minute short that follows a waitress on her cigarette break, opened with good reviews.

Her first feature film, "The Snowflake Crusade," about a clone struggling with the concept of personal identity, received even more positive feedback.

"Directing was like a film school. I made so many mistakes," she says, pausing momentarily to feed Sam some Cheerios.

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At the end of the interview, Holley invites me to attend a celebration in her honor and in honor of "Sunshine Cleaning," put on that evening by her family and friends. Sam is still in her arms when I arrive. Everyone gathers to toast the laid-back filmmaker who creates strong characters and sharp dialogue.

Several other members of the University of Richmond community are present. Andrew Carnwath, an art and special effects department crew member from "Cry Wolf," which was filmed on Richmond's campus, is here as well. Holley introduces me to everyone as "the aspiring screenwriter."

In the short time I spend with her, Megan Holley's down-to-earth nature inspires me. Though "Sunshine Cleaning" isn't perfect, it has enough of her woven into it that it becomes a great film -- as mellow as she is but with the passionate drive that got her to where she is today.

Contact reporter Jordan Trippeer at

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