News Column

Dreams do come true: Oklahoma film accountant turns screenwriter for 'The Ultimate Gift'

September 5, 2013


Sept. 05--Have you heard the one about the actor who really wants to be a director?

Well, Lisa Shillingburg has spent the better part of her adult life traveling between filming locations for some of Hollywood's biggest hits as an accountant -- but what she's always aspired to is screenwriting.

The Edmond resident's dream comes true on Friday with the release of "The Ultimate Life," a screenplay she helped adapt from Tulsa author Jim Stovall's book.

"I just received my Writers Guild card and my AARP card in the same month, so things can still happen if you work and you're patient -- just maybe not on the schedule you originally imagined," Shillingburg said with a chuckle during a phone interview Wednesday -- just before she was about to speak to a screenwriting class at the University of Oklahoma, her alma mater.

Her Hollywood story has had its own adventures, beginning with her packing up her car -- her college graduation gift -- and leaving for Los Angeles with $1,000 to her name and no job in 1984.

A job came soon in writing segments for a small "behind-the-scenes" production company. Then she went to work for filmmakers like Tony Scott ("Top Gun") and Paul Mazursky ("Down and Out in Beverly Hills") in script reading and development. She always continued her own writing, and she co-created a soap opera, but it wasn't picked for production.

After nearly a decade, she decided to leave California ("There was this earthquake," she said, "and then my car was blown up by an arsonist. No kidding.") and she moved to North Carolina, where some friends introduced her to motion picture production accounting.

"It's a very specific kind of bookkeeping. The best way to describe it is that it's about like putting together and dismantling a major corporation in four to six months time," she said, with the "Anchorman" sequel and "Walking With Dinosaurs" among her film projects this year and last year's megahit "The Avengers," which took her to Cleveland for filming.

"I'm there on location, keeping things on budget, paying people. It's a lot of paperwork, but it's a great way to make a living, and it's a great way to travel: The 'Horse Whisperer' took me to Montana, 'The Good Shepherd' in the Dominican Republic, 'Munich' in Budapest, 'Valkyrie' in Germany. For me, a big appeal has been the travel."

That's why she moved back to Oklahoma a long time ago, to be near family and to keep writing, when she's not seeing the world.

"Then last year a producer I had worked with 15 years ago called out of the blue and said, 'I remember a script you wrote way back then, and I'm working on a project now that I need help with. Can you help?' "It came out of nowhere, like an answered prayer," Shillingburg said.

As a co-screenwriter of "The Ultimate Life," she helped to write a film follow-up to 2007's "The Ultimate Gift" by incorporating elements from both the second and third books ("The Ultimate Life" and "The Ultimate Journey") in Stovall's series.

The second film, "The Ultimate Life," is both a prequel and a sequel to the first film, a spiritual-minded movie dramatizing how a privileged young man balances riches with happiness when he receives an unusual inheritance, Shillingburg said.

She's preparing to leave for Puerto Rico to work on a TV series as production accountant, but she's also excited that she and a writing partner are "75 percent there" on what she describes as an "Air Force action-adventure" script.

"What I really want to do is keep writing. Even if it only happens once, which I hope isn't the case, it's the culmination of everything that I've been working toward in my life, because it's not easy to get a movie made," she said.

"It's also nice to work on something by a person also from Oklahoma (in Stovall), and I think we've been able to keep Jim's message in this movie: The importance of all these gifts we have like family, dreams, hard work and the idea that some things are worth more than money.

"In this business, I'm a worker bee. I'm a free-lancer. So this new experience (as a screenwriter) has been worth more than money to me."


(c)2013 Tulsa World (Tulsa, Okla.)

Visit Tulsa World (Tulsa, Okla.) at

Distributed by MCT Information Services

A service of YellowBrix, Inc.

For more stories covering arts and entertainment, please see HispanicBusiness' Arts & Entertainment Channel

Story Tools Facebook Linkedin Twitter RSS Feed Email Alerts & Newsletters