Writer, Producer: Kerry Gleason



LOGLINE: A self-educated fugitive slave sets the world ablaze with his fiery oratory, overcoming extraordinary odds to earn his freedom and become a critical element in the Underground Railroad. His written and spoken eloquence impact President Lincoln and influence the outcome of the Civil War, putting an end to the slave trade in America.


How it Happened

Snowed in by a Western N.Y. blizzard in January 2005, writer Kerry Gleason downloaded Frederick Douglass' first autobiography, "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave." He sat by the fireplace, flipping the pages.

"The language was rich. His words were written from the heart. Frankly, I was astounded by his eloquence as a writer, and felt somehow inadequate given my university education. His life was filled with pathos, and fear, and violence overcome by his strong will and character. By page 40, I was in disbelief that nobody had ever produced a feature film -- not a documentary -- and began considering that possibility."

- Kerry Gleason

In between making commercials and designing well-working web pages for clients, Gleason researched Douglass' life. He toiled in Rochester, where Douglass lived the most productive 25 years of his life. That "home-field advantage" in a community overflowing with resources and artifacts from this amazing life energized the screenwriter. When he was convinced he had enough material to write the script, he took four weeks off from his business, and worked day and night closed off from the rest of the world. He finished a 185-page draft in February 2008. After a reading in his living room, he was convinced of the power of the screenplay, but noted that changes were necessary, specifically, cutting the script in half..

"The best thing I did was to have a reading in my living room. The participants didn't really know each other before that night. In a little over 2 hours, we read through just the first half of the screenplay. We stopped just after Frederick's extra-marital affair. It was a good sign when the players demanded they be allowed to come back to finish the reading. Then, something startling happened. Even though it was a work night, and people had kids to put to bed and reasons to get up early the next morning -- nobody left. They stayed, and these strangers in the room had a very open discussion about marital fidelity. One woman was angered to tears by Douglass' insensitivity. The conversation was personal, and it mattered a great deal to everyone in the room to share their perspective. I maintained a stone face as moderator of the reading, but inside, I smiled. I had struck a chord. This story opened people up to share their most personal thoughts and opinions with strangers. And the following week, a different group of readers had a relevant conversation about racism, then and now.

There was amazing power in that script. I suspected it when I wrote it; I knew it when it was read aloud."

- Kerry Gleason

He finished the script revision January 13, 2009. He entered the Buffalo-Niagara Film Festival's Screenwriting competition. He won. An option was purchased on the script, which he terminated this past year.





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