How Murdered Waitress Director Adrienne Shelly's Foundation Helps Women Filmmakers – Including One Who Won an Oscar
Even after her untimely death, the indie star-turned-director and screenwriter is still helping other women in film
After starring in director Hal Hartley’s hits such as The Unbelievable Truth and Trust in the early ’90s, Adrienne Shelly became known as the original indie queen and gained a huge fan following.
Driven to do even more in the film world, she began writing her own screenplays and directing her own movies, including Waitress, which became a hit 2007 movie and is now a smash musical on Broadway – nominated for four Tony Awards.
Even though Shelly was happily married to marketing company owner Andy Ostroy, 56, and had a daughter she adored, Sophie, now 12, the film and the Broadway musical center around an unhappy pregnant woman with a penchant for baking pies reflecting her life’s woes, such as “I Can’t Have No Affair Because It’s Wrong and I Don’t Want Earl to Kill Me Pie” and ‘”Baby Screaming Its Head Off in the Middle of the Night and Ruining My Life Pie.”
Even though “she didn t have two nickels to rub together,” says Ostroy, “she was fiercely dedicated to her craft, working as hard as she could to pursue her dreams.
“She was the quintessential starving artist,” he adds. “She never wanted to take anything from me and insisted on fighting through it all to make it on her own.”
But, he says, “when she finally did get there, she never lived to see that day.”
On Nov. 1, 2006, when Shelly, 40, was murdered by Diego Pillco, a 19-year-old construction worker from Ecuador, who killed her in the Manhattan apartment where she liked to work, staging it to look like a suicide. In 2008, he was sentenced to 25 years without parole.
After she died, Ostroy wanted to find a way to honor her memory and expand her legacy. “I thought, ‘What would Adrienne want? Who would Adrienne want to help?’ It was clear: other filmmakers like her.”
A month after her untimely death, he created The Adrienne Shelly Foundation with a simple mission, he says: supporting women filmmakers.
Led by board members including a mix of celebrities and business and film experts such as Paul Rudd, Cheryl Hines, Michelle Williams, Keri Russell, Ted Hope, Michelle Byrd, Dan Katcher, Liz Benjamin and Adam Brightman, the foundation has partnered with top filmmaking institutions including the Sundance Institute, the American Film Institute, IFP, Women in Film, the Tribeca Film Institute, Columbia University, Rooftop Films and Boston University, Shelly’s alma mater.
The foundation has awarded sixty production grants since its inception. “We gave out our first award at Columbia in May 2007, eight months after Adrienne died,” he says. “One of our first grant recipients, Cynthia Wade, won an Academy Award in 2008 for her documentary Freeheld.
“She sent a letter that says she couldn t have made this film without the help of the foundation, which meant so much,” he says.
After Shelly died, Ostroy was often asked if she was a talented baker, like the main character in Waitress.
“She wouldn’t have known a pie if she had tripped over one and wasn’t much of a baker at all, but what she did know was what it was like to be a woman in a man’s world and overcome insurmountable challenges,” he says. “That’s why this foundation is so important.”
On April 11, the foundation held its 2016 Woman of Vision Salute, an annual event at the Museum of Modern Art, which honored filmmaker Rebecca Miller, who brought along her husband, Oscar-winning actor Daniel Day Lewis.
“The entire evening I kept thinking that all of this is because of Adrienne,” Ostroy says. “You could feel her presence, her spirit, all over the theater.”
While he thinks of his late wife every day, he says he is thrilled that the world is now getting to know her again in such a big way.
“When I look at Adrienne’s life, career and legacy, she, of course, had all the movies she acted in, the films she wrote and directed, Waitress on Broadway, and the lives of so many filmmakers she s impacted.
“But most of all, we have this incredible child in whom she will always live.