“The Gosnell Movie” now has a scriptwriter. Having raised $2.1 million so far to bring their dream of a movie on the brutal crimes of Kermit Gosnell (see “Kermit Gosnell, Our Monster” ) in Philadelphia, Ann and Phelim Media now have a writer for their project, bestselling author Andrew Klavan. (Read my April interview with filmmaker Ann McElhinney here.)
I asked him some questions about the project.
KJL: The Gosnell story has to be one of the more unappealing domestic news stories of our time. Why would you want to write a screenplay about it?
Klavan: It is ugly, isn’t it? The challenge is going to be telling the story without making the movie-going experience torture. We don’t want to make a movie that no one wants to see. And yet, the story says so much about so many aspects of American life, it’s hard not to want to tell it.
KJL: What interests you most about Gosnell?
KLAVAN: There are crime writers who put most of their energies into their villains. I’m not one of them. What interests me most about evil is the reaction of the people around it. Who ignores it, who appeases it, who opposes it. In this case, the reactions were so varied, it’s inherently dramatic.
KJL: Who is Gosnell in history, and will your screenplay make that more accessible and hard to ignore?
KLAVAN: Well, think about this. This is the worst serial killer in American history, but when he went on trial, the press section of the court room was empty. ((See: “Life in the Ruins, and the Dangers of a Euphemism Addiction”) Why? What was it American journalists couldn’t face, couldn’t report? What was it they didn’t want you to know? Why did the state Department of Health ignore so many warnings and complaints? Why the conspiracy of silence? That’s the question I keep asking myself. I’m not looking for easy answers, or even any definitive answers. I just want to show what happened.
KJL: Will we get to know the women who suffered under his hand in your screenplay?
KLAVAN: I hope so. It’s early days yet, but that seems to me an essential part of the story.
KJL: What are you most looking forward to about this project?
KLAVAN: I’m really delighted to be working with this team. Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney and Magdalena Segieda are all good people, good filmmakers, and we all really care about getting this right. That’s a nice situation for a screenwriter to walk into.
KJL: Did you have any hesitations? Anything you wish you didn’t have to delve into?
KLAVAN: I won’t call them hesitations. More like areas of wariness: I don’t want to be gruesome or tendentious certainly. More than anything I find I feel a real responsibility to get at something like the truth. So many people suffered. And all those babies who never had a chance to live. You want to give them a voice somehow. It’s not like writing Spiderman 12.
KJL: Have you started putting pen to paper at all?
KLAVAN: No, I still have a lot of research to do.
KJL: How is screenplay writing a different creature from book or article writing?
KLAVAN: You just have a lot more support. Writing a novel is just about the hardest thing you can do with a keyboard. You have to create everything: the plot, the atmosphere, the people. Just describing your main character walking across a room can take two days of work because you have to invent every single bit of it. In screenwriting, you just type “He walks across the room,” because there’s an actor to bring the character to life and a set designer and a director. You’re making less of the whole.
KJL: What kind of prep will you have to do to prepare the screenplay?
KLAVAN: I’ve already gone through the Grand Jury testimony and watched some documentaries. I’ve got more reading to do and I’ll be traveling to Philadelphia to interview some of the principals.
KJL: What’s your timeline/deadline?
KLAVAN: I figure my part in it will be pretty much done by year’s end. What happens then is up to the producers.
KJL: Is this going to be a political/ideological tale you tell? A crime drama?
KLAVAN: A crime drama. It’s not that characters won’t discuss the issues, but the central story is about a murderous guy who operated virtually in plain sight for the simple reason that no one wanted to see he was there.
KJL: What’s most important to you about this story and makes you happiest about being a part of this project?
KLAVAN: I’m a crime writer. It’s a great crime story. But you know, I notice I’ve gone through this whole interview without saying the words “abortion” or “abortionist.” But that’s a part of it too, a central part. I’m in a sort of — I won’t say “unique” but certainly strange position on this. I’m a natural-born libertarian. With every fiber of my being, I want people to live the lives they want to live, whether it suits me or not. You want to be gay? Have a good time. You want to condemn gays? Knock yourself out. You want to dress up as Beyonce and get a tattoo of Louisiana on your forehead? I’m the guy who’ll buy you a drink and say, “Nice tat, Yonce.” I know a lot of women who’ve had abortions — people I like and love. I know a lot of people who are pro-abortion, likewise. But moral logic has convinced me that this is wrong — more than wrong – as wrong as a thing can be. It’s not about your feelings versus mine. It’s not about social conservatism. It’s not about libertarianism. And it’s not about feminism either or “women’s health care.” What nonsense that is. It’s an actual question of good versus evil. And listen, in the end, that’s what all great stories are about.