This past weekend, POMS, starring Diane Keaton and written and directed by Zara Hayes, opened in theaters nationwide. As a die-hard Bring It On! fan I was ready to watch a funny movie about older women achieving their dreams of becoming cheerleaders, but I wasn’t expecting such a moving tribute to the power of friendship among women.
I had the chance to chat with movie creator Zara Hayes about POMS and her inspiration. Zara said she was drinking coffee on a Sunday morning on the sofa in London and saw pictures in the Observer Magazine of older women who started a cheerleading club. She searched the internet and found a few more images. It stopped her in her tracks. It was one of those moments where you know you’ve stumbled upon something personal yet universal.
Q: I love that scene when Sheryl and Martha are at the hospital and she says “you’re dying today, you were dying yesterday, you’re going to be dying tomorrow. Life is short. In the meantime you should be dancing your ass off.” Was there a particular person in your life that inspired Martha or Sheryl’s characters? I know the women in the newspaper were your inspiration but are there any storylines in the movie that were real life?
A: Much of Martha’s storyline (played by Diane Keaton) was inspired by Zara’s own mother who quit school at age 17 to help raise her siblings (she was one of seven) when her mother passed away. Sheryl’s character has a bit of Zara’s husband’s grandmother in her. She lived to 106 in a retirement home in Florida and was a bit outrageous and flamboyant.
Q: How was this experience different for you, writing a scripted fictional story rather than a script for a documentary? Your co-writer on the movie is Shane Atkinson. How did you meet? How was it working with a co-writer?
A: I had never written a screen play before and to make this fly I needed someone who could write with the language of screen writing. Plus I needed someone who went to American High School because I didn’t. We collaborated a lot on the script – to maintain the authenticity of the women’s personalities. At times they did improv with things on set like when Sheryl said “My only talent is Poker and Poking.” I pulled from my documentarian experience during the scene where they are shout something they like about themselves in the mirror. Their answers are all improvised. They all said real things about themselves.
Q: How was it working with Diane Keaton. Pam Grier, Jacki Weaver and Rhea Perlman? What an amazing cast!
A: They are all naturally funny. The cast really contributed to the dialogue as well. They were given permission to put things in their own voice.
Q:Your previous work conveys clear messages of social impact – specifically the feminist movement with The Battle of the Sexes and Clothes to Die For. How do you feel POMS contributes to this ongoing message?
A: There’s a physicality to the women on screen in my films. For example in the Battle of the Sexes – no one wanted to see women sweating on camera. The way we view older women hasn’t progressed much. Once you reach a certain age as a woman your value has gone down. Seeing older women being physical and using their bodies is something we haven’t seen before. This was why I wanted to make this film.
Q: How does it feel to be in the same genre / circle of female writers of Book Club (Erin Simms) and Something’s Gotta Give / Its Complicated (Nancy Myers)?
A: We’re crying out for any depictions of older women. These movies that are anomalies and do well in the box office show that there are women over 55 going to the movies who want to see movies about themselves. What’s unique about this movie is the focus on the friendships that are built between the women. The women in POMS find fulfillment through their friendship. The main story isn’t about the romance – the man sweeping in and making life better for women – its about Sheryl changing Martha’s life and friendship changed her.
Q: What’s next for you? Do you have some projects in mind or are you looking for materials?
A: I’m becoming a mom! 35 weeks pregnant. I am currently writing a treatment for a new script and receiving materials from people as well.
Inspired by true events, Poms is a hilarious female-powered film, which follows a group of women in a retirement community that decide to form their own cheerleading squad – proving you’re never too old to have fun. Zara is known for her work in the documentary space, directing feature documentaries including THE BATTLE OF THE SEXES and DIAN FOSSEY: SECRETS IN THE MIST. As Poms is her first narrative film, Zara uses her experience as a documentarian to impressively portray the perfect balance of comedy and authenticity.
When Zara saw original images from the 1970’s of a senior citizens cheer quad called the “Sun City Poms”, she was inspired to create a story that was funny, sincere, and conveyed the redeeming power of female friendship at any age. The film has an amazing ensemble cast including Diane Keaton, Jackie Weaver and Rhea Perlman.