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Garrison Keillor (Prairie Home Companion Fame) - An Inquiry Never Sent
For many years, I had hoped to get in touch with Garrison Keillor…for there are few storytellers as talented as he. I tried contacting him while he was still actively involved in his long running show Prairie Home Companion, but had no success (if I can find that correspondence I’ll include it here at a later time).
However, with his recent personal issues regarding certain accusations about inappropriate behavior with women, I thought it best not to pursue him. Not that I wouldn’t gladly accept his assistance, but he, more like most people I’ve tried to contact, probably has more important things on his mind than to help a nobody like me…even though my vision might get the most important environmental message across to mankind that he will ever hear!
There’s a reference to a video that I was to include in the letter that was to be sent – via snail mail – to Mr. Keillor. Unfortunately, it’s not one that I can share here due to copyrighted materials. Consequently, the impact that this plea has on you, the reader, may not be as compelling as I hoped it would be with Mr. Keillor.
Dear Mr. Keillor,
I just read your OpEd piece When a red state gets the blues, and considering Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and the others in the Atlantic…not to mention the fires throughout western North America, a vital message to mankind must somehow demonstrate the frailties of our species and the need to alter our individual and collective behaviors to avert widespread ecological and social calamity.
What will it take for such a lofty ambition? Here’s what George Monbiot wrote in The Guardian: “You cannot take away someone’s story without giving them a new one. It is not enough to challenge an old narrative, however outdated and discredited it may be. Change happens only when you replace one story with another. When we develop the right story, and learn how to tell it, it will infect the minds of people across the political spectrum.”
Not to sound presumptuous, but I think I have the basis for a story that might - through a full-length feature film - get the average person to never see themselves, or their place in the environment, the same way ever again (in other words, engender a new paradigm). BUT, it’s got to be told correctly…and I don’t have the talent to do that. I just have the makings of the story and need a storyteller like you to help me winnow down a movie treatment from 20-pages to 10…and I’m willing to pay for those services.
The gist of the story is an unknown fish biologist living in the middle of nowhere driven to get the biggest environmental message out since Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring.
Although this story is based on my life’s narrative, in no way am I in this for me…if you ever get to know me you’ll understand that. I heard this quote the other day, and it applies to my situation: “It’s not a ‘me’ story, it’s a ‘we’ story, I just happened to be the guy who found it.”
From my perspective, the “we” here refers to mankind. If told properly, most of the audience will be able to relate and empathize, in one way or other, to some of the myriad trials and tribulations of the protagonist
It’s a story not unlike a Garrison Keillor yarn. In fact, this is the logline: This is a story about an unknown and unassuming - possibly delusional - fish biologist living in the middle of nowhere living a life no different then Dr. Joel Fleischman of the Emmy winning show Northern Exposure of years gone by. This biologist - known to some of his colleagues as “The Don Quixote Of Fish Biologists” - is perversely driven to make a difference by reaching the masses in a way that gets the individual to fully contemplate their place in the environment and never see themselves the same way ever again.
It’s a story not unlike a Robert Altman film; in fact it’s very much like Prairie Home Companion, which Altman directed. Speaking of Prairie Home Companion, this biologist’s narrative mirrors a Garrison Keillor News From Lake Wobegon yarn. The only difference is that the eccentric people in the biologist’s story are real…including every zany adventure and misadventure.
However, it’s mostly about his failed attempts in his pursuit of such a noble and lofty dream and the personal antagonists he’s had to overcome.
Ultimately, it's a story about psychology and mental illness and the need for the human race to “get in charge of itself psychologically” in order to avert unimaginable widespread ecological and social disruption.
Here’s the link for an article I had published in an online magazine that briefly discusses my plan for a full-length feature film (you should be able to link to it in the word version of this letter on the attached disk, but if not - https://bestselfmedia.com/a-fish-story-environmental-action/).
The description and logline in that article just scratch the surface of the complexities involved, while the included video hits the convolutedness that makes this story beg for the likes of a Robert Altman. You’ll see in the video that I include a clip from your movie PHC, among others to make my points. (I’m limited with trying to get my message out through social media because some of the best audiovisuals that support my assertions have copyrights - and I respect that).
This video was intended for a Hollywood director by the name of Greg Mottola, who was a high school buddy of our local store manager. Two years ago, Vince, the store manager supposedly sent this video with a cover letter to Mr. Mottola’s mother back in New Jersey…assuming she would pass it along to her son. If she did, I never heard back from Greg.
But that’s what this story is about. A guy, in this case a biologist, perversely driven to make a significant difference regarding mankind’s future who encounters countless unsuccessful attempts at convincing successful authors and directors, to take the time to hear him out. In some ways, his story is like Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame who was rejected over 1,000 times before someone agreed to give his finger lickin’ good fried chicken recipe a try. So far, our biologist has been rejected only 1/10 as many times as the Colonel; but if he has to, he’s not averse to surpassing the Colonel’s mark.
Mr. Keillor, can you help me find someone to work with me on this? All I’m asking for is for someone to refine my draft treatment, and maybe put it in the hands of the right people who can do this story justice…not for me, but mankind. Why am I fixated on a treatment? Because one well-known wildlife filmmaker asked for one over a year ago. Being naïve, I thought it would be relatively easy to produce one…at least with the right help.
No, that hasn’t been the case. Much to my dismay, I haven’t been able to convince those who write for a living to take my money. Here’s a recent rebuffal from six months ago (is that a neologism?): “I took a quick look at the treatment because I wanted to make sure it was something I could help you with and didn’t want you to wait 3 weeks to find that out. As I suspected it’s too early to work with a story consultant like myself. What you really need is to work with a screenwriter to develop the story, then the treatment and then ideally the script. At this point you’re still finding the heart of the story you want to tell. It looks like you’ve got lots of great ideas and a certain vision but need help coming up with the actual narrative structure of the piece. This is where a writer comes in. I can give you feedback but without a writer to help you execute the changes to the treatment I don’t know how useful my feedback will be.
My suggestion would be to find a writing partner to collaborate with (this may need to be someone you hire) and see where that takes you. While the project is too early for me to get involved I do want to encourage you to keep moving forward. You’re definitely onto something timely as is your approach of weaving in your personal story. It’s a good way to go and I’m hopeful with the right writer you’ll have a great piece.”
Why do I, “need help coming up with the actual narrative structure”? Because many of my stories have stories within them - I hope you can understand that. What’s needed is for all of them to be woven nicely together.
A few weeks ago, I thought I was close to finding the help I’ve been searching for. An acquaintance of mine knows a screenwriter for the The Inspectors, and after E-mailing him we chatted on the phone for nearly an hour. I then sent him a follow-up E-mail and here’s he responded with: “Write the script, Dave. Take your passion for the project and create a great piece of art. People love passion.”
Given that this is a story about my inability to find help, I’ve included an anecdote on the disc of how someone right here in Aniak - a village of only 600 people - offered to help edit my writings…but as you’ll see, it’s not the help I was seeking. This just demonstrates how quirky and convoluted my life really has been. I’ve got plenty more sagas that have me often asking, “Why does this shit happen to me?”. As you’ll notice in the video, I tend to record many of the more interesting happenings in my life…and this memorable night was no exception; otherwise people might think I’m embellishing.
Here’s a short “bush Alaska” story that involves you and your show. I’d recently moved to Aniak in July of 2002 and went out fishing on the Kuskokwim River on a glorious Saturday morning. I returned to the local sunlit beach in midafternoon, and as I was pulling into my boat parking spot I noticed an old faded yellow, beat up, Datsun pick-up truck with the doors splayed open several feet from the water’s edge. There was a native woman fishing along the shoreline for silver salmon within earshot of the truck; she had the radio going. As I looked her way, she smiled, shrugged her shoulders and cocked her head, and proclaimed, “I can’t miss my Prairie Home”. It was then and there that I knew I made the right choice to quit the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and move to Aniak to be the fish biologist for the local native organization.