In their book Hollywood, Interrupted , authors Andrew Breitbart and Mark Ebner included a chapter called “E-Girl,” about an America Online customer-service representative named Heather Robinson who allegedly mined her employer’s database for the e-mail addresses of numerous actors, producers and movie-industry operatives.
Ms. Robinson admittedly used the information to contact, befriend and, in some cases, achieve a creepy intimacy with these famous and influential targets. And now she’s working to parlay that proximity into her second movie deal of the past year.
It’s a picture based on Ms. Robinson’s experiences. She’s calling it E-Girl .
“It’s going to be more a take on how these celebrities and politicians helped me. Mark [Ebner]’s chapter was more of a darker version,” said the 25-year-old Ms. Robinson with a staccato laugh. “This one is going to be more lighthearted,” she added, “showing how I went from a customer-service rep at AOL to selling a screenplay and now producing my first screenplay.”
According to Ms. Robinson, for the period of roughly a year and a half in 1997 and 1998, she used her position at AOL to gain access to private information regarding celebrities, then sought them out. Ms. Robinson said she approached her famous subjects as if she didn’t know who they were, then baited them with information she had gathered on them. “At first, I didn’t have a reason-I just was doing it to talk to them,” she told The Observer .
Ms. Robinson’s online persona seemed to be one part ingenue, one part confidante and one part Coyote Ugly barmaid. She went by the screen name HooterR. Her member profile, which can still be found on AOL, identifies her as a single wine-lover splitting her time between Tucson, Ariz., and Santa Monica, Calif. And her personal quote-of her own making-sounds like the slogan from an old 70’s T-shirt: “God Created Women with Breasts to Hold Beer.” Under the “personal gadgets” entry, she wrote, “I can’t mention my ‘gadgets’ here … oh but I love em.”
Like these come-ons, most of Ms. Robinson’s Hollywood encounters took place online, conducted from the safety of her mother’s Tucson home. Some did not, however. In the Hollywood, Interrupted book, Ms. Robinson recounted escaping the clutches of a sexually aroused middle-aged movie producer. Like Monica Lewinsky, she said she has the stained shirt to prove it.
But eventually Ms. Robinson put her contacts to more beneficial use. “It turned into, ‘Well, I have a story maybe you guys would be interested in,'” she said of her cyber-pitch. “I talked to these people over four years, and they kind of watched me and helped me grow up in a way.”
These “friends” helped shape the treatment and screenplay for Ms. Robinson’s first movie project, The Perfect Man . The movie, which she co-wrote with Michael McQuown, is scheduled to start production on April 26, with Hilary Duff in the starring role. It’s about a teenager who lies and steals to create a fictitious suitor for her single mother. The movie is loosely based on another of Ms. Robinson’s adventures in the virtual world-this one with real legal consequences. When she was 16, Ms. Robinson was arrested, along with a high-school friend, for purchasing a diamond ring for her mother that cost close to $4,000 with stolen credit cards. Because her friend lifted the plastic and doctored the ID herself, Ms. Robinson was charged only as an accomplice. And since she didn’t have a prior record, the charge was reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor, and she was sentenced to 120 hours of community service.
But don’t expect to see Ms. Duff in an orange jumpsuit picking up trash on the freeway in the movie version. Sources familiar with the script said that the criminal aspect has been excised from the most recent draft.
When she first started shopping around a treatment for The Perfect Man in 1999, Ms. Robinson said she tried using a literary manager, but found out she could do better herself. “When he would walk into a meeting with somebody, they would be like, ‘Wait a minute, I think that I talked to this girl online,'” she said.
She got the script into the hands of Adam Siegel, the executive at Platt Productions who bought the film in a life-rights deal with Ms. Robinson. Over a month ago, Ms. Robinson signed a deal with Universal. According to Ms. Robinson, the script was submitted to the Duffs by one of Ms. Robinson’s online buddies, producer Dawn Wolfrom. A representative for Ms. Duff said that the actor and her mother, Susan-who is co-producing the picture with Ms. Wolfrom, among others-were intrigued by the close relationship between the mother and the daughter in the story. Ms. Robinson’s background played no part, negative or positive, in the negotiations.
And now that a production date is looming for The Perfect Man , Ms. Robinson is out there hawking what she hopes to be the perfect follow-up: E-Girl , which essentially is the story of how Ms. Robinson sold her Perfect Man script to Hollywood.
In some ways, Ms. Robinson sounds like a digital-age Miranda Grosvenor, who, in the early 80’s, beguiled the likes of Paul Schrader, Billy Joel and Buck Henry-entirely by phone. As Bryan Burrough reported in a 1999 Vanity Fair piece, however, the witty, gossipy and sexy-sounding Grosvenor turned out to be Whitney Walton, who, as far as he could tell, was a decidedly unglamorous middle-aged social worker living in Baton Rouge, La.
But that’s where the comparison ends. Though Ms. Walton’s story was reportedly being shopped around as a movie by Robert De Niro’s Tribeca Films, Ms. Walton is not involved.
Ms. Robinson, on the other hand, co-wrote the script with screenwriter Joe Wehinger and will produce the film once they find financing. Once again, she is working without representation. As part of the Perfect Man deal, Ms. Robinson said Universal has first right of refusal and last right of negotiation for anything pertaining to her life. She submitted the E-Girl script to them a month ago.
Another online acquaintance, fledgling producer (and nephew of Kathy Bates) Tyler St. Mark ( The Front Runner ), is working with Ms. Robinson to bring E-Girl to the screen, and recently introduced her to producer Ilya Salkind ( Superman ), who signed on to the project in a consulting role.
Mr. Salkind could not be reached for comment, but Mr. St. Mark told The Transom: “I loved the fact that she was able to zoom Hollywood before Hollywood zoomed her. They really appreciated the fact that she was so resourceful.”
And what does AOL think of its former employee’s resourcefulness? AOL spokesman Andrew Weinstein said: “Any AOL employee who had been discovered accessing a member’s account, whether a celebrity or not, would be disciplined or dismissed for doing so,” he said, though he added that it was against company policy to discuss any former or current employees of the Internet giant.
By the way, Ms. Robinson shouldn’t consider shopping her screenplay to any of the studios owned by AOL’s parent company Time Warner. If an employee had accessed a member’s account without permission,” Mr. Weinstein said, “it would be something we would refer to our legal department, not to our business development department.”
Some of Ms. Robinson’s Hollywood contacts may not feel so supportive of her as well. Mr. St. Mark said that while there are a lot of movie-industry heavies who have helped Ms. Robinson after meeting her online, there are just as many who are afraid of what she could reveal about them. “There are people in this industry who know Heather only by her screen name,” he explained. “And when this comes out, there are going to be people in this community who are extremely nervous … that they are going to somehow be betrayed.”
For instance, Ms. Robinson supplied Mr. Ebner with correspondence between her and an A-list actor who had a simple request: He wanted her to masturbate using a pair of pumps he had bought for her on eBay. According to Ms. Robinson, when she declined, the actor starred in his own onanistic scene with the shoes and sent her a video tape. Ms. Robinson refused to turn over the tape to Mr. Ebner, and she told The Observer that her movie, although ripe with similar stories, would not reveal anyone’s identity.
“Yeah, there was a lot of dark stuff that happened, but, again, there was so much good that’s happened and came from it that I think that that’s the important thing to focus on,” Ms. Robinson said. “I have stuff that I could make millions of dollars on, if I wanted to sell it and expose people. I’ve had my car repo’d. I’ve had everything of mine pawned, including my laptop. And I still wouldn’t go to that degree and do that to those people. It’s not fair,” she said. “These celebrities have enough problems as it is.”