Matthew Toffolo: What is your screenplay about?
Heather Farlinger: My screenplay is based on the life of Oliver Wellington Sipple, who was a decorated marine and wounded Vietnam veteran with PTSD, who heroically saved the life of President Ford from an assassin’s bullet. The would-be assassin, Sara Jane Moore, actually fired twice, and Mr. Sipple intervened, with no thought to his own physical danger. This one heroic act, a split-second reflex, landed Mr. Sipple directly in the crosshairs of history, with major irreversible and terrible consequences for his own life.
Living as a gay man in San Francisco in the 1970s, he was working for gay rights in perhaps the most transformative decade in American gay and lesbian history, especially in New York and San Francisco. That time in history was tense, with the US in the midst of a cold war with Russia, and there was much violence against members of the LGBTQ community. In many cities, gay people were denied their civil rights, and the police were often part of the problem, inflicting serious violence with impunity. In the state of Florida, there was even a Miami ordinance toward the end of the decade, banning gay people from adopting children, courtesy of Anita Bryant and her venomous crusade against the community overall.
Before the assassination attempt, Mr. Sipple was able to live a happy, quiet life in San Francisco, but at the same time, maintain his relationships with friends and family back home. In his conservative home town of Detroit, he knew that his religious family would never accept him if they found out the truth. When he saved Ford’s life, his first instinct was to remain anonymous, and even asked the police not to release his name, but they released it anyway. A few days later, his good friend, Harvey Milk, spilled the beans to a local columnist. To his great misfortune, at a tenuous time in history for minority rights, and gay rights in particular, he was outed and betrayed by the media, and propelled into the national zeitgeist, which destroyed his life forever. Sadly, his religious mother severed ties with him, and his father refused to allow Mr. Sipple to attend his mother’s own funeral, in accordance with her wishes. It’s a shocking narrative with themes that resonate today, such as the right to individual privacy versus freedom of the press, civil rights for minorities in general, and LGBTQ rights in particular.
At a time when basic human rights are once again being questioned in our highly polarized culture, my project screeched out of my head and onto my computer screen in a kind of fever dream, probably because when I first researched the story, I was completely gutted by it, and still am.
2. What genres does your screenplay fall under?
3. Why should this screenplay be made into a movie?
I can only repeat here what I just said above, but I think it’s worth repeating:
It’s a shocking narrative with themes that clearly resonate today, such as the right to individual privacy versus freedom of the press, civil rights for minorities in general, and LGBTQ rights in particular.
At a time when basic human rights are once again being questioned in our highly polarized culture, my pilot project screeched out of my head and onto my computer screen in a kind of fever dream, probably because when I first researched the story, I was completely gutted by it, and still am.
4. How would you describe this script in two words?
5. What movie have you seen the most times in your life?
Almost impossible to say, because I love so many different kinds of stories, but some films (probably in equal measure) would be as follows:
The Shining, The Wizard of Oz, and 2001: A Space Odyssey
6. How long have you been working on this screenplay?
About 9 months, if you include research.
7. What obstacles did you face to finish this screenplay?
The obstacles for this story were the same as all writers face, I suppose, when trying to convey the raw emotional truth of something, without being redundant or didactic in any way. Especially for historical pieces, there is an obligation to convey the time period in a cinematic way, without sugar-coating it or writing revisionist history to meet current-day world views, which are (thankfully) more evolved than the time period that the story occurs in. It’s important to understand how we got here, even when how we got here is often ugly, hateful and cruel. Stories are important generators of hope, which is something we all need now more than ever. My intention with this screenplay is to reveal a story that many people don’t know about, or have forgotten completely, and in some small way, I’m hopeful that we can learn from our mistakes as a society and engender greater empathy, understanding, and action that will create a better world for those around us, and for those who come after us.
8. Apart from writing, what else are you passionate about?
I’m passionate about life in general, but certain simple things really touch my heart these days, probably because we’ve all been in lockdown mode for a while now. Where I live, we have so many months of winter that we really need a break from it, and usually can’t wait until summer, so we travel to somewhere warm. Before the Corona virus, we were always planning our next trip, our next adventure, our next restaurant, our next project, our next … whatever. At the moment, I’m finding extra pleasure in basic things like nature, the Twitter writing community, our backyard, and the little wildlife creatures who live there! Thankfully, the weather is beautiful right now, so I’m trying to take advantage of it as best I can, before the cold sets in again, which will be way too soon. (I have to admit, however, that I’m sooooo looking forward to going to a restaurant again one day!)
9. You entered your screenplay via Coverfly. What has been your experiences working with the submission platform site?
I have found Coverfly to be excellent overall. It’s very easy to use in terms of submissions, and offers straightforward tools that provide insight if you choose to drill down into what the algorithm flags as being especially good, or similarly, areas that could be improved. I love it.
10. What influenced you to enter the festival? What were your feelings on the initial feedback you received?
I really felt that this story needed to be told, and I felt this was the perfect festival to participate in!
My feedback made me jump over the moon and back, I was so thrilled. To be received so well by the people I want to impress the most, who matter so much to me, and who are the backbone my story, well, there are no words to express my gratitude and joy. I’m getting misty-eyed just writing this. It’s the best feeling imaginable, and I feel so grateful to the entire team for taking the time to read my screenplay and honouring me with such positive feedback. My heart is really bursting over this entire experience, and I it’s so personally meaningful that this amazing festival endorses this project, it’s the best gift I could ever receive. I will never forget it!
Watch the Screenplay Reading:
In 1975, a decorated Marine and wounded Vietnam veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder heroically saves the life of President Ford, only to be outed and betrayed by the media, destroying his life forever. Based on true events.
Narrator: Allison Kampf
Wayne (M): Bill Poulin
Adrian/Patrillo (M): Geoff Mays
Billy/Coroner (M): Scott Beaudin
Ludwig/Sanchez (M): Allan Michael Brunet
Producer/Director: Matthew Toffolo http://www.matthewtoffolo.com
Festival Moderators: Matthew Toffolo, Rachel Elder
Casting Director: Sean Ballantyne
Editors: Kimberly Villarruel, Ryan Haines, John Johnson
Festival Directors: Rachel Elder, Natasha Levy
Camera Operators: Ryan Haines, Temitope Akinterinwa, Efren Zapata, Zack Arch