Jenna Milly (ABJ ‘95) to release first film ‘Golden Arm’ at end of month

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.

Allison and Milly pose for a photo in Tate Plaza when they were students at UGA.

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. 

Mary Holland (who plays Melanie), Allison (who plays Cleo-Smacktra) and Betsy Sodaro (who plays Danny).

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.

Grady alumna teaches workshops in Vietnam

The power of networking is a huge lesson that is emphasized to the students at Grady College. It’s not every day that a former professor asks an alumna to go to Vietnam to lead workshops for a television station, but for Sheeka Sanahori, that is just what happened.

Michael Castengera, who retired last December from teaching journalism, was contacted by a representative from the Television Network of Vietnam looking for recommendations of people that could help VTV with specific training. Castengera has worked with VTV on a large production company in Ho Chi Minh City called Dien Quan Media and Entertainment for five years.

The request prompted Castengera think of people Grady graduates that he knew who could do a good job at these workshops. He looked up their background through a Facebook group that has more than 500 Grady alumni in it.

“When you do that with a group like this, you find out that there are a number of Grady grads who have become major “movers and shakers” in the industry and it is astounding,” Castengera said. He recommended Sheeka Sanahori (ABJ’ 06) along with a few others, because he has seen the work that they have done after graduating from Grady.

Sanahori spent two weeks away from her job at USA Today teaching three workshops in Vietnam on creating trailers and teasers for both news and programming to VTV employees.

The first workshop that Sanahori taught was a class for news and programming employees in Ho Chi Minh City. The second workshop, located in Hanoi, was the same workshop but it was geared toward news professionals. The last workshop was for VTV employees that work in the programming division.

Interpreter (right) sitting with Sheeka Sanahori (middle) having lunch with an employee of VTV’s training management division getting ready for a class in Ho Chi Minh City.

“The biggest challenge was getting a crash course in Vietnamese culture,” Sanahori said. “This was my first time in Vietnam, let alone teaching workshops there. Some marketing and video strategies that work in America simply wouldn’t fly in Vietnam. I made sure to let the workshop participants know that at the beginning of my workshops that some of my examples will work for them, and some of them may not.”

Sanahori learned from everyone she met while working with VTV. By going over to Vietnam and being immersed into the culture, she was able to learn a lot about the food, history and their news and entertainment offerings.

The courses Sanahori took at Grady, especially her experience with Newsource, taught her the value of hard work. Sanahori said that those lessons have been imperative for every step throughout her career.

“VTV’s news channels are producing sophisticated, globally-focused reporting,” Sanahori said. “Their entertainment channels produce content that are both thoughtful and interesting. I approached this as an opportunity to learn from them as much as they learned from me, and that’s absolutely what I experienced.”

Castengera, through his consulting work with VTV, has also been involved with workshops in India and Pakistan. His company grew out of the work he did with Audience Research and Development, one of the largest consulting firms in America. Castengera left the company and went out on his own after joining the university. In Vietnam, his focus was on producing a multi-platform material that would work in the multimedia/transmedia world.