Jenna Milly has always loved to write. After graduating from the University of Georgia in 1995 with a degree in telecommunication arts (now EMST), she wrote screenplays on the side while working reporting jobs at CNN and the Los Angeles Times. She eventually moved to screenwriting full time and received a master’s degree from UCLA.
But it wasn’t until she wrote an article about her friend’s charity that she realized she might have a movie on her hands.
The story begins in 2010, when Milly’s college roommate and screenwriting partner, Ann Marie Allison, got together with some of her friends in Washington, D.C., to give back to the community. They started a charity — a ladies’ arm wrestling charity, that is.
The now-defunct Washington chapter of the Collective of Lady Arm Wrestlers brought together women from the district to raise money for different causes. They created character personas and dressed up in costumes to seriously compete in the arm wrestling ring.
Milly and Allison played around with the idea of writing this real-life event as a documentary, but they believed fictionalizing it would tell a stronger story.
“Ann Marie always seemed so inspired by the journey that the women had, and kind of coming out of their shell, so that seemed very interesting to do from a fictional place, to take one woman and see how she changed through the experience,” Milly said.
And then came “Golden Arm.” The two women have worked as writing partners for years, and their production company is named after their college apartment in Athens, No. 8 Productions.
The movie documents the journey of Melanie, whose best friend Danny convinces her to train and compete at the Women’s Arm Wrestling Championship.
When they pitched the idea to Hollywood in 2015, they were initially told the industry wasn’t making films about female sports comedies, something Milly and Allison were determined to disprove.
Jumping into such a competitive industry proved to be an “elite, closed-door process,” Milly said. She worked hard to make connections and find representation in Hollywood.
“Jenna was very tenacious… and we ended up getting our first manager that way, just basically beating down doors and being like we won’t be ignored,” Allison said.
By 2017 and the emergence of the #MeToo movement, films about female empowerment were in demand. Over the next two years, they found director Maureen Bharoocha, who helped them make a reel and coordinate a cast of female comics. They staged a script reading in Hollywood and began raising money for production.
They started shooting in Oklahoma in 2019, and over the course of the year they “got it in the can and edited and completed the film,” Milly said.
Despite her love of screenwriting, only one film class was offered to Grady students when Milly attended UGA. She wrote a screenplay and produced a short film, but that was the extent of her experience. In the class, her professor told her to check out library books and teach herself.
“That’s what Ann Marie and I had to do on this project, so I think that was a good lesson,” Milly said. “I think you have to be hungry and you have to want to figure out how to be successful, which was part of the thing that I think they were teaching at Grady.”
“Golden Arm” will be available to stream on April 30 on Apple TV, Amazon video and Google Play. It will also be released in select theaters.