A script’s journey from concept to completion, and subsequent sale is a complicated one. It’s rarely a straight line from point A to Z; more often, the journey is an Odyssey, in which you, the writer, sail to and fro various ports, journeying here, there and back again, while all the time, you simply want to sail that script home.
In my world, this journey can resemble a maze.
About 7 years ago, I was listening to NPR. WWII was in the news, as often happens when our country is at war. There was a story on about the North Platte Canteen. During the War, North Platte, Nebraska was the central railway stopping place between the coasts. Trains taking servicemen to Europe traveled East, while those sending brave souls to the Pacific traveled West. The trains would stop, and the soldiers would get off to stretch their legs in this small town in America’s heartland.
People in the Plains and the Midwest are giving by nature. A sense of community permeates the air, then and now. The people of North Platte wanted to thank the young men and women for their courage, and for their service. And so, they grew wheat and corn. They hunted for pheasant and for trout, and upon the soldiers’ arrivals in North Platte, each one who stepped off of the train was handed a paper sack with a meal – usually fried pheasant and corn bread – for them to take with them as they traveled into the unknown. A last supper from home.
The young girls in the town had heard about the Hollywood Canteen, and so they created the North Platte Canteen, where soldiers could take a turn with a pretty girl, and go off to war with her name on their lips. Romances blossomed; addresses were inserted into the sacks, and pen pals were formed. Some of the pen pals became lovers; some of the boys returned as men, and married those they left behind in North Platte. Some never returned from their missions. Hearts were broken. Marriages were made. All because of a train depot in a place as humble as North Platte.
I loved the story, and I decided to try my hand at writing it. That being said, research was very difficult – finding the people, interviewing, etc… and so I decided to create an “Inspired by True Events” type of tale. I outlined it… but something was missing.
One night, I had a dream. There was a man, hunting pheasants. It was very foggy; mist swirled around, obscuring him. As the mist cleared, I looked at him more closely – and realized that he was missing an arm.
I decided to follow him. I knew that his name was Tom, I knew that he had a young sister named June, and I knew he belonged in my story. And so, I put him in.
Trouble was, Tom was not happy being relegated to a secondary or tertiary role. Tom had a lot to say – he kept competing for space on the page. And so, I indulged him.
Eventually I ended up with a hodgepodge mess that was about the Canteen and munitions and war-profiteering and… I sighed, and put the pages away.
But Tom – and his little sister – stayed close in my heart.
Two years later. I’m in L.A. I’m in the shower. The water, ions and scalp massage get those synapses popping and I have an AHA moment. I jumped out and called Blake. I pitched him a piece about a one-armed man who wants to save his dying Depression era town. Blake had a workshop that weekend - Come on down! he cried. I threw on my clothes and walked into the STC! Austin workshop. Met Al, Peg, Deb, Jen… and countless others. Within an hour, I had a title – EDEN (thanks, Al), and by the end of the weekend, I had my beat sheet. Within a few months, I had a first draft. Several drafts, reads and even an option later, and here I am, preparing to issue another draft again for financing. Yes, the little pumpkin is still growing.
Well, I’ve finally found my way. I’m killing my darling minotaur. I’m whittling the script down to get it under 3 mil – well under. I’m chopping off 10 pages, and a wrapped-up happy ending. I’m finally getting down and dirty with it, to the heart of the story, serving it, not myself. See, I had fallen in love with the characters, and tried to give them what I felt they deserved… but life isn’t always like that. Seven long years on a story that began as a bit of an Y.A. fluff piece about some girls who longed to create the Hollywood Canteen.
I’m so glad to have been trapped in this story’s labyrinth for so long, for finally my muse has given me that golden thread that will, I hope, help me find my way out.
What’s the longest you’ve spent on a script?
Now, go write.
HRH, Princess Scribe