SPENT PAST WEEK IN PENN STATE AREA, WILL DISCUSS WITH DE PALMA NEXT WEEK
State College.com's Ben Jones caught up with David McKenna this morning, at the tail end of the screenwriter's week-long visit to State College, home of Penn State University, where he's obviously been researching Happy Valley, the film he is writing for Brian De Palma to direct. And it sounds like McKenna has a lot of material-- so much that, he told Jones, the project is still in the research phase. "I don't know if this is going to be a movie anymore, if this is going to be a miniseries, how we're going to sell it, because it's so extensive and there is so much going on," McKenna told Jones. "I'm going to go back and have some long talks with the producer and the director. This story has two very different sides, and so I'm in the process of navigating all of that and it's very difficult, so I'm going to have to see how everything plays out in the next couple of months."
When asked what made him want to do this story, McKenna replied, "Well growing up, I loved Penn State. I loved Joe Paterno, and I think that he was a great man and I think that he did a lot of great stuff and as I learned more about him after I read the book about him by Joe Posnanski [also a producer on Happy Valley], I think that he was a hero in many respects and I think that the Paternos have a case.
"I've read the critique of the Freeh Report and it's still a learning process. What I think happened to Joe is almost a mythical Greek tragedy, that's one thing, that kind of thing that attracted me to it, all the way to the statue being pulled down. It's pretty ridiculous that they would tear down a statue of a man [who] hasn't be afforded due process. Are you going to rip the library down too? So you have to draw the line on that. And you have villain and he's a truly compelling villain and what he did is truly diabolical. So those sorts of things attract you as a screenwriter."
Jones then asked if McKenna was concerned about the fact that the trials for some of the other players in the case have not yet started. "Yes," replied McKenna. "And that's something that I have to talk to the producers about, this is still the information gathering stage here though and I'm thinking a little bit about how I'm going to write the movie and how I'm going to handle the grand jury testimony, and how to talk about Joe's life and his home life and all the good things he did, and Jerry and all that. It's truly in the infancy stages of, so to think about the final project is almost inconceivable at this point."
McKenna told Jones that he is searching for the truth. "For that to happen," he said, "we might have to wait for all these reports to come out and these trials to conclude. There is a lot riding on this and I understand the pressure and I'm up for it."
When asked about a timeline for the project, McKenna replied, "Brian is a terrific filmmaker and next week we'll start having conversations about what we want to do and how we want to deal and handle the material. If we want to do it now fast, wait it out. It’s round one of a 15-round heavyweight battle. Seriously. So it's going to be an interesting ride."
Jones then asked McKenna, "Do you know why De Palma decided to make the movie? This story isn’t really in anyone’s wheelhouse but I was surprised he was the one to make this movie."
McKenna replied, "The guy is a legend. I truly feel fortunate that I'm in a position to work with him. I don't think anybody likes to be pigeon-holed in terms of style. I rewrote a Disney script last year because I have kids. I did American History X, Blow, and I'm interested in a lot of different subjects. I can't speak for him, per say, but I think what attracted him to this project is what attracted me. And we want to find out why and how and what's the process."
Jones pressed on, asking McKenna, "Is the movie scandal-specific?"
McKenna replied, "It's not scandal-specific at this point. Because I almost haven't gotten there. I'm mostly learning about Joe, learning about Jerry, meeting with families, getting more information. And information on the Internet and piecing that together.
"The truth is I don't know and I'm still in the gathering stages. I have a team and we'll take the information and work together to decide what we do with it. At this point we're being very very careful."
Jones said, "People might be concerned about this movie showing up down the road and having it be a gross misrepresentation of some of the facts. Basically, if people who are worried about what the movie is going to say walked in right now, what would you tell them?"
McKenna replied, "That we all look at Joe as a great man that did a lot of good, and we're going to try and capture all of that as well as find out what happened.
"I think that through our movie people aren't going to look at one particular thing, that one thing doesn't define a man and hopefully the world sees that and accepts that."