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
by a Western N.Y. blizzard in January 2005, writer Kerry Gleason
Douglass' first autobiography, "Narrative of the Life of Frederick
Douglass: An American Slave." He sat by the fireplace, flipping
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
- Kerry Gleason
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
the script revision January 13, 2009. He
Buffalo-Niagara Film Festival's Screenwriting competition. He won. An option was purchased on the script, which he terminated this past year.