I remember vividly the nights spent at a table with two other men as we attempted to transform a short story I had written into a screenplay. Although it was evening, we drank coffee the way some people drink whiskey—liberally, and in a most macho manner. Truly this was not a situation where you wanted to say, as the next cup was being poured, “No thanks, I’m starting to feel a bit jittery.”
That almost sounds like the setting for serious alcohol consumption, but as it turns out the person whose apartment we frequented happened to be under house arrest, and The Man checked him for every kind of stimulant on (I think) a daily basis. He was wearing an ankle cuff and was only allowed to leave the house for specific duties. What crime he committed was never discussed, and to me it didn’t matter. The story I had penned was all about crime and punishment, and my assumption was that, whatever he had done, this aspiring actor was ready to portray that world with the authenticity it demanded.
As you might imagine, there’s a lot more to this story, but for now I’ll simply say that our writing group eventually folded. A year or two later the third man called to tell me to attend an event taking place at the Madison Theater, and that evening I saw my short story transformed into a 23-minute film. So much about Becoming Morris (their title, and I liked it) worked: the actors were super good, the editing rocked and so did the soundtrack, etc. I felt the big letdown came from me: I never figured out how to develop the story beyond the scene where the main character handcuffs an innocent person, drags him a block or two and then lets him go. In my story that character reflects on the incident briefly and then ends the story in flat, oh-well kind of way, and that was kind of the point of the story. I had a hard time thinking beyond that.
Then one day I imagined adding one scene to the story, and that’s when it exploded. Two months later, even though I was working full-time, I had a rough draft for a novel that begins much as this movie does. I tore that draft apart and put it back together intermittently, as writers tend to do, and then came a two-week period where I wrote 12 to 14 hours a day (and up to 5,000 words a day), after which I could safely say that the novel I vaguely imagined appeared before my eyes. Since then, along with the occasional polishing, I mail it out to agents and publishers.
Since Becoming Morris was released in 2004, the resumes of several actors— Kevin Zepf, Don Volpenhein, and Lonel Childred among them—have expanded considerably. One night at a party I ran into Don, and knew that I had seen him before, but I couldn’t remember where. After he and I went through a list of projects that he might have been in, none of which I had seen, it finally dawned on me that—Shazam!—I was talking to one of my characters.
Here’s a link to the movie: