VMFA Fellowship Sets Megan Holley on the Path to Write “Sunshine Cleaning”

Courtesy of Overture Films

Courtesy of Overture Films

It’s one thing to be really good at something; it’s often quite another to make a career out of it.

Screenwriter and consummate storyteller Megan Holley was at just such a crossroads in the early 2000s. “I had always wanted to be a filmmaker and storyteller but lacked the confidence to throw myself into the deep end,” she recalls. “I had a very clear sense that if I didn’t push hard to realize my dreams then, I never would . . . I would remain an observer and not a participant.”

Then she won a VMFA Visual Arts Fellowship for screenwriting in 2002, and everything changed. The award gave her not only the funds to move forward on a feature film that she was directing, but also the courage to stop testing the waters and dive in head first.

That year, Holley wrote the screenplay for what would become the critically acclaimed film Sunshine Cleaning. Screened at the Sundance Film Festival and released theatrically, the film also earned her the “Best Woman Storyteller” award from the Women Film Critics Circle Awards. Since then, she’s gone on to pen scripts for Fox 2000, Paramount, ABC, Showtime, and Bad Robot and worked closely with many of her heroes, including Robert Zemeckis, Ron Howard, and J.J. Abrams.

Despite the fact that Holley spends a lot of time on studio lots these days (“I still get a thrill every time I drive onto a studio lot”), she continues to call Richmond home. And while she’s in the River City, the screenwriter regularly visits VMFA; you might even find her writing in Best Café now and again.

But it’s not just because Holley loves the art here. The museum also represents a turning point for her. She says: “The VMFA award helped give me the confidence to set aside my fears and jump.”