184.108.40.206 Planting The Seed
Read the Weblog version: Aria Pictures PCS Journey Part 3: THE GOLdEN TREE
Back in 2009, Kyriè, Gerald and Tamara's daughter, was taking an acting workshop with Ryan McKinney at It Factor Studios in Sacramento. Gerald went down with Tamara and Kyriè and watched. After the class Ryan reminded everyone to go to Access Sacramento for their casting call. “They need actors, and it's a good place to get experience.” Gerald looked them up online and saw that they were also looking for crew. “I am crew. I am an editor, camera person, and music.” He gathered up a few demo reels and résumé and attended the event on Wednesday, May 20, 2009.
Gerald likes to show up early to get the lay of the land and often times getting to know people before the hectic crowds show up he arrived an hour before the event started. While he was standing around, someone told him he had to get in front of a camera to do a video introduction. “But I am crew.” He told them. “Oh, then you don't have to do it.” Later he was told he had to, and they would let him cut in line since he was there so early. Gerald told them he would wait his turn, “I am not in a hurry.” Gerald shared his demo reel and résumé with a few producers and landed an editing job for Detective A.
“I have been up in this area since 1979, and this is the first time I heard of this event. And they have been doing it for ten years? ” He stayed till the event was over around 9:00pm. On the drive home he asked myself “What would I put in next year as a story, if I were to enter? ”
By the time he got home, which was over an hour drive, Gerald had a story and plot sketched it out. It had elements of The Never Ending Story, Goonies, and National Treasure.
220.127.116.11 Needs Water
Gerald entered his ideas, dialog, and action into Final Draft 7 and in a matter of days, the three young men were added and they were following John Augustus Sutter to find out where he stashes his gold. One of them is a Maidu Indian named Arlen hired by Wes and Bart as the tracker. Gerald titled the story The Treasure.
Gerald began looking through some history books that he owned and books his in-laws had. “I did not want to be influenced by other gold rush or cowboy stories or movies. I wanted it to be my own unique creation. However, there is more written about outlaws and bandits than respectable people in history books..”
Gerald kept the timeline of story back in 1850 during the latter part of the gold rush in California. The three young men were searching for easy gold by stealing it in an non-aggressive comedic way; however, Wes and Barter, name change, were inept highwaymen always getting into trouble doing the oposite of what Arlen recommended they should do. In the end, John Sutter takes Arlen is as his a adopted son, while Wes and Barter end up with nothing.
“What is a gold rush movie without goldminers digging or panning for gold on a river, creak, or a little stream? It needs water.” A few days later, Gerald changed the opening scence with a story that someone was reading from a book about the 1850s. When the person is interrupted, the story cuts to the present. The opening story is about a miner panning for gold on a hidden, little stream in the forest, and gets robbed by two bandits. The present is a girl doing a report on the gold rush for school. University, high-school, or grade school? Gerald could not decide, each had its own interesting story possibilities.
A slight plot change when Gerald had the girl research and investigate, with some of her friends, the possibility that there his gold hidden inside the pillars and on the grounds of the State Capitol Building, and other prominent buildings in Sacramento. She read clues from the history book she was reading. “This would be cool to involve important buildings in Sacramento that were built during, or in relation to, the gold rush. That says 'A Place Called Sacramento' more than some of the films last year.”
18.104.22.168 Real Life
After three months of writing, and changing the girl doing a school report to the same girl, now named Sierra, helping her dad pack her great-grandmothers house, but takes a break to read a book. Gerald also had an idea that Sierra and her dad find out that they are connected to the gold rush somehow. Either great grandma has a secret stash of gold or some other secret.
The story was working and the writing was flowing until Gerald wanted to add the theme about the gold being hidden in the pillars back into the story. The story fought him. Nothing Gerald did made any difference. Until he removed the pillar theme. He sensed the story was telling him that it wanted real life. “The story felt flat, lifeless, and uninspiring when I brought back the theme that gold was hidden in the pillars of prominent buildings. I swear I heard the story tell me 'I want to live, give me real life.' ”
Gerald knew the only place to find realism is in history books. Gerald took Kyriè to the library and found many books on the Gold Rush in Northern California, focusing on Sacramento and Nevada County — he brought home ten. Gerald looked for a family that Sierra and her dad could be related to and found John Sutter. Gerald felt Sutter was boring, and too obvious. James Marshal would not do as he died broke. Sam Brennan was California's first gold rush millionaire, but he also died broke only after his wife divorced him and took half of what he owned. There was John Bidwell, who is the founder of Chico, but his family stayed up in Chico during the gold rush. Gerald learned that some of these men did not have children, or, if they did, they left the area before or during the gold rush.
Gerald did not know what he was looking for, he felt he would know it when he found it, he just knew he wanted an obscure, unknown, but influential family during the gold rush. “Heck, I would have taken an Indian, Mexican, or any other minority family, which is what I was really looking for, because I feel the the non-european nationalities were the real shapers of California.”
As Gerald kept reading, he realized, “If you were not a white, well-known, influential, Male with money, you were just a mention. For example, John Sutter came to the US with some Kanaka's, Hawaiian's, Mexican's, and so forth, but none of them were ever mentioned by name, just the white prominent males — talk about racism.” Gerald remembered what his History Instructor told the class at Sierra College. “Written and spoken history is one person's interpretation of what happened. Just because you do not read about women outlaws, does not mean that there weren't any.”
Gerald was about to give up when he was just scanning, flipping, and cross-referencing a book, not one of the ten history books from the library, and came across a phrase “Jennie told him it was gold before she put it in her lye pot.” There was nothing else about this Jennie in the entire book. “That is it? Jennie told him it was gold before she put it in her lye pot? I screamed at the book, more like yelled, or scoffed. And at the other ten books. Then at the lazy history people. Jennie who? ”
Gerald searched online and he found that Jennie was Jennie Cloud Wimmer who was then Jennie Wimmer. Jennie was James Marshall's cook at Sutter's Fort in Coloma. Gerald felt a warm feeling of discovery and enlightenment through his soul. a breath of air was taken in and exhaled in relief. “I found you.”
Sierra and her dad now have the Wimmer's they could be related to, and be connected to the gold rush. The story came back to life. Sierra finds a journal written by William Wimmer, her great, great, great great? Uncle. The journal has clues to where gold could be buried.
22.214.171.124 Gunplay, Horses, and a Wagon
On Monday, November 16, 2009, Gerald had an eighteen page rough draft screenplay of The Treasure. “I realized it was too sweet. And it needed a better title.” Gerald added in some gunplay, as much as he was against it. He realized it was the way of life back then and the story wanted realism.
Saturday, December 5, 2009 Gerald finished the tenth revision. “I had a cohesive and entertaining story, although still rough, and still titled 'The Treasure.' ” It was 32 pages with 14 characters, real people represented in the story. It played as an outline of what happened during the gold rush, and not just in Sacramento. The gold rush in Northern California cannot be told without mentioning many other towns, cities, and counties such as Nevada County, Grass Valley, Nevada City, Placer County, Auburn, and Placerville to name just a very few places that played a major role in the gold rush of 1848 in California.
126.96.36.199 Western Slang, Lingo, and Phrases
Adding accurate historical events was not enough to make the story as authentic as possible, the way they talked is as important as the clothes they wore. Gerald also researched slang, lingo, and phrases of the old west through books, a few existing movies, and several websites, such as Legends of America, which has a more accurate library of material than any other history website.
Gerald spent many hours rewriting dialog to fit the characters and the era they were in. One character has one of Gerald's favorite lines. “Goney off his chump, gonna scratch with five beans in the wheel.” TRANSLATION: That stupid fellow crazy in the head, gonna fight with five bullets in his revolver. Of course, the Goney is the fellow without a gun against a gang of five outlaws.
188.8.131.52 Trimming Branches
On Friday, December 18, 2009, Gerald had written twenty revisions to the now titled Gold Rush Story that was sixty pages long. It included gunplay, horses, and a wagon — and much more. Gerald realized the Access Sacramento contest was only for a ten-minute film, which means he needs to cut the screenplay down to ten pages. Industry standard for a screenplay is a page a minute. Sixty pages would come out to be roughly an hour long film.
“I deleted characters, locations, props, and action that were not pertinent to the story. It was a hard task to do because, I felt I had some great writing, dialog, and action. I also had to delete things that I did not think I could secure the resources for and fit into the ten-minute time frame like horses, let alone acquire insurance for them. I also needed to trim down my delusions of grandeur since I had trouble finding actors for Paint 2006. No one knows me in Sacramento. I am not going to get that many people to help me or want to be in my film.”
Gerald cut so much that he only needed three actors to play young William Wimmer, a miner, and an outlaw. Gerald already secured his son, Aria Leven Davenport, to play older William Wimmer, his daughter Kyriè Sierra Davenport to play Sierra, and Gary Udell to play the dad.
Saturday, December 19, 2009, the screenplay was down to fourteen pages. “I know it should be more, but I write my screenplays with direction for the actors and camera which adds more pages to what really should be there. I write stories that camera direction is PART of what moves the story, and actor direction is to give the actor, and to remind me, the feeling or mood the character should be in at that time.”
“Some people, who think they are in the industry, tell me how I write my screenplays is not the right way to do it. “Never add camera or actor direction, that is up to the director and actor.” This I know. But when I will be the Director, Camera Operator, and Editor, I do what I want to do to MY screenplays. When I send a screenplay to a contest some, not all, of the direction is taken out — I leave the camera direction in as I write visual stories and if you take away the camera direction the story looses some excitement and meaning.”
Gerald reviews the fourteen page screenplay with Aria, Kyriè, and Tamara.
“The opening scene there is a miner, known as MINER, and two outlaws, or bandits, named ARLEN and BARTER who rob the miner.”
It may have been a subconscious use of Richard 'Rattlesnake Dick' Barter's name, before Gerald decided to use him as the actual character. However, it was not him being portrayed at this time.
“We come out of the opening scene with a 'Never Ending Story' feel to the present day with dad, known as DAD.”
Gerald already had Gary Udell in mind for the role. He worked with Gary on Detective A. Gerald liked his style of acting. He was easy going and did what was asked. Gerald felt, give Gary a professional production, he would be a great actor in any movie.
“Sierra, the daughter, the one that the story would follow on her journey to discover her ancestors.”
Sierra played by Gerald and Tamara's daughter, Kyriè Sierra Davenport. he character of Dad is based on Gerald and his enthusiasm for Genealogy and history. The character of Sierra, is based off of his own children who do not find genealogy interesting. So Sierra was not a far stretch from how Kyriè really felt about the whole family history and genealogy thing. Most of the dialog was pulled from real life.
“Sierra and Dad take a side trip to see Sutter's Fort.”
Gerald knew getting to lens at Sutter's Fort would be an issue, but he kept it in anyway hoping he could make it work somehow.
“After the trip to Sutter's Fort, Sierra, looks for clues and information in regards to their 'so called famous' family back in the gold rush. Not finding anything in all the old books that her great great grandmother Cecilia has, she sits down exhausted. At that point a journal drops from a hidden location next to her. She begins reading it and take a trip back in time to 1860, and we meet MARTIN.”
Martin might be played by Gerald and Tamara's son, Aria, or Aria might play one of the outlaws in the beginning — or both, only because after doing several movies in the area, Gerald knows how difficult it is to find actors. He figures Aria might have to play two characters as Gerald may not have enough interest to get three actors, which forced the shrinking of the screenplay from sixty to fourteen pages.
“We also meet Martin's younger brother BENJAMIN.”
Martin and Benjamin were based off of early information Gerald found about the Wimmer's. It was not a complete or thorough research as he should have done at this point in the screenwriting process.
The Gold Rush Story cast of characters and possible cast looked like this:
Barter = Aria
Dad = Gary Udell
Sierra = Kyriè Sierra Davenport
Martin = Aria?
184.108.40.206 The Title
Gerald finished with the rewrite to ten-minutes. Version twenty-five was ready to submit, but Gerald was not happy with the title "Gold Rush Story." Gerald read the screenplay to Aria, Kyriè, and Tamara. They discussed the flow, changes, their likes, any issues that might come up, and the title.
“William buries the gold near The Golden Tree.” Gerald mentions The Golden Tree several times and asked them what they think the title should be. Aria answered with “Dad, you said the title ten times already.”
Gerald noticed that the title had two meanings.
- The family found out that their family tree is connected to the gold rush.
- The gold that William buries is under a tree.
Gerald has observed many things in his life, and one of them is how to separate yourself from others — how to stand out from the crowd. One way to do that is to give your material a unique identity — a branding that stands out. He wanted the film's title to be an identifying signature. The font, color, and style of the title adds too that signature. He tried uppercase for all letters; it stood out, but was not unique. He tried a lowercase 'g,' but that just looked out of place. He then tried a lowercase 'd.' With the title written out as THE GOLdEN TREE, most people do not notice the lower case 'd' but they sense something unusual about the title. A connection is made to the film. If the title was written as The Golden Tree, it does not have any connection, ownership, or identifying signature.
What about the relevancy and connection to the story? Why is the 'd' lowercase? Gerald decided it had to be the way William Wimmer wrote it in his journal and on the map. The significance for that reason was to be revealed in THE GOLdEN TREEs — the continuing history of the gold rush. What is with the lowercase 's' ?
220.127.116.11 Version 25
On Friday, March 5, 2010, after a few more revisions, Gerald was pleased with version 22. He told everyone that he had completed the story.
Gerald added the factual Rattlesnake Dick character information in place of Barter, adding new and more exciting dialog to the story. On Monday, March 8, 2010, Gerald completed version 23.
On Thursday, March 18, 2010, as the deadline approached for the contest, Gerald had a few minor and significant changes to the story without making it longer or adding any characters. Gerald felt it kept getting better and better. “Aria, Kyriè, and I acted it out for Tamara, and she liked how it flowed. Watching Aria and Kyriè act out the parts showed me the characters coming to life, and I could not wait to see it on the big screen.”
It was Saturday, March 20, 2010, and Maureen's birthday, Tamara's mother, and they went to celebrate it at the Young's house. The Davenports volunteered Mathew, Tamara's brother, Gerald 'JJ' Young's son, to play Benjamin while they acted it out for Maureen's birthday guests. They loved it, and Mathew was pretty good as Benjamin.
Friday, April 2, 2010, saw a few more changes to THE GOLdEN TREE and version 25 — yes, twenty-five significant changes, not counting the hundreds of minor fixes and alterations. There were 24 revisions to the story since its inception on May 20, 2009. If Gerald was counting, there was closer to one-hundred and ninety-eight modifications made — if he was keeping count.
[^2]With some money saved for Aria's 20th birthday, Gerald asked if he wanted to spend it on him or use it to send it into the contest and the making of the movie. Aria answered, “Dad, send in the screenplay to the contest. I know it will win.”