Monday, January 12, 2009

In Search of Dolly's Blessing

"Go get Dolly Parton's blessing. Without it, we don't have a hope of making this film."

With my script now in show-able shape, and none of us getting any younger, that "call to action" so often voiced by Barbara through the development years was becoming more urgent, more insistent. So insistent in fact that it moved right into my brain and set up house.  Kind of like a haunting. Or a possession.

Barbara and I both agreed that simply cold-submitting the script to some agent or manager who didn't know us from Adam probably wasn't going to get us or the project anywhere near Dolly. So for quite some time, I had been looking for a more "personal"  way in. Being the socially awkward writer I am, though, I preferred to tackle this challenge head on - by doing lots of research. 

I did things like read Ms. Parton's autobiography (a delicious, well-written story - highly recommend it). I surfed the bjillion websites dedicated to her, I pored over her lyrics, listened to her music, read her interviews, watched her old t.v. shows. I explored the "six degrees of Kevin Bacon" by making lists of everyone I knew who might possibly know someone who might know Dolly Parton. And I kept my ears, eyes, mouth and heart open in the hopes of catching or creating some kind of serendipitous connection to her by pure accident. 

And then one fine day,  such an accident happened.

It came all the way from Nashville - by way of Phil Lalande, one of the terrific producers I work with when I shoot commercials for the production company, Quatre Zero Un here in Montreal.  

Because I had been telling anyone and everyone who cared to listen that I was in search of a way to reach Dolly Parton, Phil immediately thought of me when he knew that a certain country music veteran was going to be at Quatre Zero Un one afternoon, screening some concert footage that a mutual friend of theirs had shot. 

That's how I found myself bowing my head in prayer around the company's  boardroom table while George Hamilton IV said grace.  During the catered lunch that followed, he chatted about the storied Grand Ole Opry where he still performs regularly, his gigs with his son, George Hamilton V at Euro Disney, and Mr. IV's reputation as Country Music's Ambassador to the world. At more than 70 years of age, he's a lively storyteller and a true gentleman with a soft spot for Canada. And to top it all off - he had an inside track to some people who were very close to Ms. Parton in Nashville! How could I not love him?

And how could I not accept when the engaging friend of Phil's asked me to help put together a documentary on Mr. Hamilton IV with the material he'd shot?

I don't mind telling you, I left that lunch about three feet off the ground, with visions of me meeting Dolly Parton backstage at the Grand Ole Opry in the very near future.

I phoned Barbara with the good news.  I was making some serious headway - and I'd be making a little documentary on the side to boot!

Not so fast, Grasshopper. As with so many "projects" in this business - this one unfortunately did not pan out. Mr. IV went back to Nashville, the friend with the footage and I had a few follow-up meetings, but despite good intentions on all sides, the connections eventually faded.

And I was back to square one-ish.  Far from the Grand Ole Opry. Far from Dolly. And close to crushed.

If we didn't get Dolly on board, then the script - good or not - would just be so many dead trees lying in the recycling bin. And three years of my life would be lying there right along with them.

I had to find another way in. And fast. The Telefilm deadline for production financing was rapidly approaching. But without Dolly Parton attached to the project, we couldn't approach a distributor or any serious casting prospects. And without a distributor, we couldn't submit to Telefilm... Something had to give.

More on the giving next week...

Y'all come back now, ya hear?!