Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Dream in the Drawer

Secrets are a dangerous thing, Ben. We all think we want to know them, but if you've kept one to yourself, you come to understand that doing so, you may learn something about someone else, but you also discover something about yourself. I hope you're ready for that.

-Nick Sloan (Robert Redford)
The Company You Keep

Much of this series has been about the past. This one is about the letting go of the past to move forward.

Writer/Director Ray DeFelitta talks about having a script "in the drawer." It is something his father, Frank, also a writer/director, told him.

For me, that script was my first screenplay, Never Waver. It was my first screenplay, and one that was close to my heart for many reasons.

It took me longer than any other screenplay, and I dd a great deal of research to finish it. My ex-wife, Maureen, was incredibly supportive, helping me with the typing and formatting before Final Draft was on the scene. It led me on a number of adventures to try and get it made.

The story was one I was passionate about; the story of a journalist involved in an ROTC bombing in the 1960s in which a woman was killed. It was now the Reagan 80s, and this journalist had run to Canada, hiding and working under a different name. The bomb was not supposed to be  real, and the journalist - David - never knew who planted a real bomb. When as former political mentor - a professor and one-term liberal congressman from NY is killed, and one of the members of David's group is accused, David decides he must find out the truth, at risk to the life he now has.

If this plot sounds a little familiar, it is because it is very close to the plot of The Company We Keep, the new Robert Redford film. In his film, Redford plays a lawyer now living under the name Jim Grant in Albany, NY. When a member of the Weather Underground group (Susan Sarandon)  he was a part of is arrested while trying to turn herself in, his life is turned upside down. In 1971, that group was involved in a bank robbery where a guard was killed. Jim, then Nick Sloan, has been named as an accomplice all these years, When a young journalist (Shia LaBeouf) finds him, he must find an old lover and member of the group (Julie Christie) to make sure the truth comes out.

You can look up more about the film at the link above, or the book it is based on at this link

I first noticed it because it was a return of Redford to the screen, and when I read the synopsis, I had mixed feelings. The plot, and more so the theme, were so close to the plot and theme of Never Waver. I tried a number of times over the years to get Never Waver made, and it never happened. It's not that I think someone stole my idea - clearly the author of the book did not see my script all these years later. It just makes me wonder if I would have gotten my script sold if I just kept at it.

The story of the lessons from the 1960s that are lost on people today (or, when I wrote it, the Reagan 80s) is an interesting one to me. The older you get, the more you realize we really are doomed to repeat mistakes of the past by forgetting the lessons - or so it seems sometimes. The parallels are everywhere.

It was with all of this on my mind that I went to see the movie, which did not bode well for what my reaction might be.I was even prepared to get up and leave if I found myself getting angry at any point.

That did not happen.

The script, and the movie, are good - really good. Besides the themes above, it is also a treatise on journalism in the age of social media, and in the aftermath of the disastrous coverage by both traditional and new media of the Boston Marathon bombing, it proves to be very prophetic.

This is also a big issue for me, as most of my best college friends went into journalism in some form, and I don't see a lot of the values we talked about in many journalists today.

The cast of veteran actors, from Sarandon and Redford to the too-rarely-seen Julie Christie, Nick Nolte Chris Cooper, Richard Jenkins, Stanley Tucci and more, make you miss all the old pros who seem to be out of fashion (unless they are bringing them back for action movies to reprise themselves, such as Willis and Ah-nold)

The movie does a great job of showing the strain responding to big, passionate social issues takes on human beings and their personal lives.

The latter was also a theme of Never Waver, one that always haunted me from my days stage managing, and then stage directing, Hair, and the song "Easy to Be Hard"

And especially people
Who care about strangers
Who care about evil
And social injustice,
Do you only
care about the bleeding crowd?
How about
a needing friend?
I need a friend.

That song has always stuck with me, how fighting for what is right is so much easier if you can look past the human consequences and look past the sentient beings all around you. We humans are a messy lot, are we not?

As I was heading home, what struck me is what a better script The Company You Keep is than Never Waver - it just is. The difference is in the details, as it always is with writing.

I am a better writer than I was then, and it might have inspired me to take Never Waver out of the drawer and fix it, work on it, reshape it, and make it better. That did not happen.

What I felt on the way home was relief, the relief of letting Never Waver go. The underlying themes are something I might still seek to explore, but if I do, it will be in another script, another story. It is liberating. It is time to move on; it has been for some time.

Hanging on to the past can wait for the days when I'm in a retirement home somewhere re-living past triumphs and defeats. I am a better writer who has lived more of life and has more to give to my work. Whatever my writing becomes, it won't be re-hashing of ideas I suffered through a long time ago, I worked those emotions and feelings out once, I gave them life in those old scripts, and even though they lived a sheltered life, never got to spend time in the outside world, getting through them helped make me the better writer I am today.

It's time to move on, and let the dream sleep peacefully in that drawer.

(The Clip below is not because Cheryl Barnes is not amazing in the movie, but because it was written as the character of Sheila's song. They changed it in the movie, one of many things that I hated about the film version.)

1 comment:

Kangas said...

Yeah, that's happened to me a couple of times. I think the more scripts you write, the better chance that all of a sudden a movie very similar will come along. And it's hard not to think "Some one stole my idea!"

Even when you haven't showed the script to ANYBODY. :)