Watch the Feature Screenplay reading of “TO DIE IN TENNESSEE” (the Lewis & Clark story)
NARRATOR – Holly Sarchfield
Lewis – Andrew Farr
Clark – Ryan Fisher
Various Roles – Geoff Mays
Various Roles – Andy Bridge
Matthew Toffolo interviews the winning writers Verlynn Kneifl & Laurie Larsen:
Matthew: What is your screenplay about?
Verlynn: William Clark recalls the perilous Lewis & Clark Expedition and its aftermath, casting a startling new perspective on the impetuous life and mysterious death of his fellow explorer, Meriwether Lewis. Lewis died on his way to Washington to defend actions he’d taken as governor of the Louisiana Territory. He was troubled. He was known to be ill, probably with malaria, which was not an uncommon malady at that time. He died at Grinder’s Stand, an isolated accommodation for travelers on the Natchez Trace. James Neelly, a man of dubious character, informed Thomas Jefferson that Lewis had died by his own hand. Neelly was later known to be in possession of some of Lewis’s personal effects, including an expensive set of custom-made pistols. No official investigation was ever conducted into Lewis’s death. Lost in the pages of history were the words of a witness, a black man who insisted until the day of his death that Governor Lewis was murdered at Grinder’s Stand.
Matthew: Why should this script be made into a movie?
Verlynn: Recently, a niece in California sent me a magazine clipping titled, “What is the most gripping true story you’ve ever read?” Answer: The Journals of Lewis & Clark. The story of the Lewis & Clark Expedition and its aftermath is one of the most dramatic events in American history, yet with the exception of “The Far Horizons” (1955), which fell far short of tapping the tremendous possibilities of the subject matter, no major film has ever been produced on this subject.
Matthew: If you can go for dinner with one person dead or alive, who would it be and why?
Laurie: Laurie (co-writer): Clint Eastwood. We have a business proposition for him.
Matthew: What was your favorite television show as a kid?
Verlynn: Nothing comes to mind. I was more interested in wandering the outdoors. I grew up on a ranch in The Devil’s Nest, an area of hilly, rugged terrain on the Nebraska side of the Missouri River. Here, on a hillside, a curious formation of trees and brush clearly spells out the word, DEVIL. (This anomaly is especially startling when viewed from the air.) According to Native American lore, outlaws Jesse and Frank James once hid out in this area. Our ranch was about eleven miles from Calumet Bluff, where Lewis & Clark met with the Yankton Sioux at the end of August in 1804.
Matthew: Who was your hero growing up?
Verlynn: Zane Grey. I checked his books out of the library, then went back and read them all over again. I think it was the first time I began to wonder what it would be like to be a writer.
Matthew: Where in the world would you like to travel to that you haven’t been yet?
Verlynn: Off the western coast of Scotland lies the isle of Bute. Here in ancient times dwelt the clan of MacRididh, later anglicized to MacKirdy. Five MacKirdy brothers were the only survivors of the 1666 English massacre of the Scottish Presbyterians. Coming upon an unattended open boat, they crossed the treacherous North Channel of the Irish Sea in a blinding snowstorm and found refuge in northern Ireland. The oldest of the five was my ancestor. He was a direct descendant of King James IV of Scotland. He married Margaret Stewart, whose lineage traces back to King Robert I, also known as “Robert the Bruce.” I’d like to walk in their footsteps and see some of what they saw.
Matthew: What’s been the best year of your life?
Verlynn: The year I attended Frederick Manfred’s creative writing class at the University of South Dakota. He taught me to believe in possibilities.
Matthew: Besides your writing talent, what else are you good at?
Verlynn: I won an art course from Art Instruction Schools in a Draw Me contest when I was sixteen. I learned to look at the world in a different way. The contrast of shapes and colors, the effects of light and shadow. I love the visual arts.
Matthew: Do you have a favorite possession?
Verlynn: I thought about material possessions, things I could probably live perfectly well without (and not have to dust every now and then). I decided to go for the intangible. Second to my family, I value my relationship with co-worker Laurie Larsen. Years ago, after I’d won an award for the first play I’d ever written, Laurie called me out of the blue. We belonged to the same church. I knew her as an accomplished area musician who’d played in Nashville. I was stuck in the worst case of writer’s block I’d ever experienced, but Laurie had an interesting idea for a play. We went on to write eleven plays. One of these has been earning royalties for over twenty years. Then out of the blue, Laurie gave me a book about Lewis & Clark . . .
Matthew: What influenced you to enter the WILDsound Festival?
Laurie: We liked what we read about WILDsound. After working with Matthew Toffolo on our screenplay, we’re not surprised to note WILDsound is now rated “Most Significant” at MovieBytes.
Matthew: What has been the best compliment you have ever received?
Laurie: When WILDsound read our screenplay and commented, “This story really needs to be told.”