When I began research for What If They Lived?, James Dean and Marilyn Monroe intimidated me. They were, and still are, legends, and how could I write about them when so much had been written about them already? So many biographies, so many essays, so many analyses of careers abruptly ended. What could I bring that hadn't been brought before?
As I read some of those biographies from beginnings to unfortunate endings, I looked around, and I was the only one reading whichever biography was in front of me. I was the only one figuring out how to shape my essay. I was the only one in that room learning more than just the tidbits that made them famous, a glimpse into who they actually were at times, the humans they were. It made it much easier because I wasn't looking to compete against anyone to be the King of All Knowledge of Hollywood Gods and Goddesses. These two were among 18 essays I had to write, and I couldn't worry about how I would be received among those who know so much about Dean and Monroe.
That experience makes research for my second book much easier. I know that the first movie I'm going to write about created a major trend in Hollywood. Yes, this was the one that started it all. But I'm not going to worry about how my writing might be perceived by film historians who perhaps have delved far deeper into this particular decade than I ever have and ever will. For one thing, these movies are generally forgotten against what came after them (and in one instance, what came before the three sequels) and what is offered in theaters today. I have as much room to maneuver as I want. I'm sure there are ideas for my book that I haven't even thought of yet, but which may reveal themselves as I keep reading, keep watching those movies, and outline the chapters.
I've been thinking about this because of my current workload: I have one more movie to watch and take notes on, forming questions to ask those who I find for interviews, and I think there will be a lot of people, based on my notes for the three previous movies, and the beginning and end credits for these movies, names that go far beyond "Director," "Screenwriter," and "Starring." I still have to re-read the novel on which the first movie is based. I read it many years ago, but want to again to get a good grasp on the material, and I have a major reason for doing so.
On Tuesday, I will be embarking on what I never imagined in all my years of writing movie reviews, in the eight years I've lived in Southern California. This feels like the pinnacle of my love for movies, like it's one of the reasons I wrote all those reviews, and my first book. It's not all downhill from there, but besides the interviews I'm hoping for, it's going to be damn hard to top this.
I will be visiting the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Margaret Herrick Library in Beverly Hills. They have scripts for all four of the movies I will be writing about, and they could very well have been used during production. I will be holding history that means so much to me. And that I've gone from watching these movies many, many times on videotape to watching them on DVD to holding these scripts come Tuesday is stunning. It'll prepare me if I get the interviews I want, to be stunned for a bit and then get right to it. Right now, I can be stunned for longer than that because Tuesday is the only day the library is open until 8 p.m. I'll be there quite early in the day (It opens at 10 a.m.), and I don't necessarily need all that time, but I do need a cushion of time because you're only allowed paper (notepads and notebooks count as that too) and pencil (Pens can leak, and there's movie history in that building!), and not only have I not used pencils in years, but my handwriting is still crap, which is why tonight, when I watch the final movie in the series and take notes, I'm going to write more carefully. Same goes when I re-read the novel tomorrow and take notes.
The library also has a transcript from a screening of the first movie that the Academy held in 2006 with actors from it. I hope to find treasure in those pages. And the scripts were written not just with theatrical exhibition in mind, but also television broadcast, because there was an hour or so of extra footage filmed for each of the three sequels that was for TV only. That footage has never been released on DVD. The executive in charge of the sequels was well-versed in television, so he knew how to get even more value out of these movies.
I'm writing this book for myself first. I want to know how various scenes were staged. I want to know how various actors coped with some of those scenes. I want to know the technical details because a lot of them are really a sight to see onscreen.
After I've found all that out and wrote down everything that I've found, then I'll edit for readability. A first draft is for me. A second, third, fourth, whatever, and final draft is gradually for readers.
I'm no different from any other author: I want my books to sell well. I'd like to make some money off of my writing. But I love that on Tuesday, I will be at the Margaret Herrick Library, holding history in my hands, both Hollywood and personal. I didn't start writing when I was 11 because of the thought of great gobs of greenbacks. I started writing because of that kind of experience. You can't get it any other way. It's the reason I still write.