Growing up in a small town has its limitations, but one Forest Grove native says it helped play to her strengths in Hollywood, where she is releasing her first feature-length film this season.
Hollywood screenwriter Megan Metzger, a 2005 Forest Grove High School alumna, is celebrating the release of a new Netflix original movie she penned, "The Princess Switch," which releases this week on the streaming service.
The Christmas romantic comedy stars Vanessa Hudgens and "Nashville" star Sam Palladio. The film was inspired by the Mark Twain's classic tale, "The Prince and the Pauper."
"The Princess Switch" is Metzger's first film. She spent two seasons working as a writing assistant on the Hallmark television series "When Calls the Heart," with writing credits on more than 20 episodes.
Hudgens plays Stacy, a Chicago baker who travels to Europe to compete in a baking competition, only to run into her doppelganger, the Duchess of the fictional town of Montenaro.
Much like Twain's book, the two decide to switch lives for a while, all around Christmastime.
"Vanessa is fantastic in it and Sam Palladio crushes it. They are all talented actors," Metzger said. "Netflix did such a wonderful job, they really chose the best actors and actresses for it."
"The Princess Switch" was two years in the making, Metzger said. She worked alongside screenwriting partner Robin Bernheim, who worked with her on season three of "When Calls the Heart."
"She asked me if I wanted to write a Christmas movie, and I said 'absolutely,'" Metzger said.
The duo spent the next three months developing the script. The film was eventually picked up by Netflix.
"I absolutely adore Robin, she is wonderful," Metzger said. "She is sort of a veteran but she has a different writing tone. She brings the classical twist, and I bring in the younger voice."
A captain of the dance team her senior year at Forest Grove and a participant in the school's speech and debate team, Metzger always aspired to break into the film industry, she said, but her initial love was animation, not screenwriting.
"I always liked writing. I never thought it was possible for me," Metzger said "I'm dyslexic, and I couldn't read very well as a kid. They found out in kindergarten I was pretending to read."
As a child, a friend would read school books to her. She would memorize them to hide her dyslexia.
But in high school, Metzger became more and more focused on filmmaking as a carer.
"I ended up missing dance camp over the summer because I went to (University of Southern California at Los Angeles) to study film in between junior and senior year," Metzger said.
She began making short movies her senior year at Forest Grove to show to the whole school. One caused controversy at the time because it centered around the school's play, "To Kill a Mockingbird."
"They wouldn't let me show it because it had to deal with racism," Metzger said. "The City Council wrote a letter commending me for my work, but they still wouldn't show it at the high school."
From there, she knew she would always be involved in making a film, and she was able to use the video for a portfolio piece later on.
Metzger attended Florida State University and made small films with friends, then moved on to the San Francisco Art Institute, where she earned a degree in science and technology integration to go into animation.
"When I moved down to California, very soon after, I got into writing instead of animating and then over 10 years worked my way up," Metzger said.
Eventually, she found herself working on the writing teams for AMC's "Into the Badlands" and "When Calls the Heart."
While "The Princess Switch" takes place in Chicago and Europe, the film has a handful of Forest Grove-inspired Easter eggs, Metzger said, not only with the lead character being named after Metzger's mother, but props like a model train in a store representing Metzger's father's train store he once ran in Forest Grove called Evergreen Roundhouse.
"You definitely will see a train in the toy store because my dad ran a train store," Metzger said. "Stacy always wears a Chicago hat because I wear one when I am writing."
Her mother, Stacy Metzger, said she is proud of her daughter.
"It is kind of scary to encourage your child to do something that has a lot of risks for success," she said. "I still wanted to encourage her to pursue her dream, like I did when I moved everyone here for optometry school. It is wonderful that she worked so hard, and every time I call her, she is writing. We can't believe she did it at such a young age but we know how hard she has been working."
Metzger and Bernheim have already started brainstorming future projects together, Metzger said.
For students like her hoping to go into tough fields like filmmaking, Megan Metzger said it doesn't matter if someone is from a small town or a big city — in fact, she said growing up in the suburbs has given her some much-needed life experience.
"Study hard and get A's in the classes you love and B's in the classes you hate," she said. "I wasn't a perfect student, but when the time came, I knew what I wanted to do and I knew I'd have to leave Forest Grove to do it. Go after what you want."
In the end, Metzger said, success comes to people who put in the work.
"You can't say you are a writer if you don't write," she said. "You can't say you want to make it in Hollywood without going to Hollywood."