Scribes Gwyn Lurie and Gary Marks discuss their experience writing the new heartfelt drama The Music Never Stopped, a touching story of a father who struggles to bond with his estranged, and ill, son through the power of music.
Gwyn Lurie: I come from a close family. Sometimes painfully close. We fight, and we yell and we love and we laugh, and I feel blessed to have been raised in such an emotionally permissive environment where, even when harsh things are said, there is the assumption that there will always be another chance to make things right. But what if there wasn’t? That was the question that jumped out at me in 1997, when I was handed “The Last Hippie,” an Oliver Sacks essay. It chronicled the story of a rebellious young man who, amidst the exciting and chaotic times of 1967 – the Summer of Love – left home. The next time his parents saw him was years later, after he developed a life-altering brain tumor that made it impossible for him to form any new memories after 1970. My passion for a story is always born out of a theme I connect to deeply. In this case, I was moved by the idea of how we as human beings can cavalierly damage or push away relationships (often with the people we love the most), thinking there will always be time to make things right.
Gary Marks: Gwyn and I had been looking for something to do together. We’d been good friends since high school. She had been writing successfully for a few years, and I was an actor who had just begun to write. When Gwyn showed me “The Last Hippie,” the idea of taking this case study and concentrating on the father-son relationship grabbed me immediately. I’m a sucker for anything father-son. In acting class, if someone got up and did the Biff-Happy scene from Death of a Salesman, you didn’t even have to be that good to get me going. The words were enough. Anything like that: Quiz Show, Field of Dreams, Parenthood. If it has a father-and-son component, I’m in.
WHAT A LONG, STRANGE TRIP IT’S BEEN
The next thing we knew, we had successfully pitched the story to Sony (well, TriStar back then). It happened so quickly, we were sure it was going to be a straight shot to the screen. Leaving the pitch meeting, we stopped to look up at the TriStar logo on the building, so we’d always have that memory emblazoned in our minds. It took us 13 years from that moment to get the film made. The movie tracks a broken relationship between a father and son who, after 20 years, come back together through Grateful Dead music, so the fact that the movie’s own journey was a long, strange trip is perhaps fitting.
In the first drafts of the script, the story was linear. We thought it was important to nurture the primary relationship of the story thoroughly, so that the audience would be sufficiently invested by the time it blew up. But, over the years we realized two things. The first was that, because this is a movie specifically about memory, we could break a screenwriting taboo and rely on flashback. This freed us up to play with juggling time in a way that spoke exactly to that theme – that memories make us who we are, and yet no two of us remember the same event in exactly the same way. The other thing was pointed out to us by an actor who was once attached: “You can’t have your lead actor show up on page 30.” That simplified things for us, and that’s how it became a non-linear script.
THE MUSIC NEVER STOPPED US
Looking back, we were crazy to write a script that had, at its core, a music budget of several million dollars. But, what’s amazing is that every artist we needed read the script and signed on right away (we also had an amazing music supervisor in Sue Jacobs). And, that includes The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and, of course, the Grateful Dead. We had always hoped that those artists would identify with the healing power of music theme, and luckily, it seems that turned out to be true. The music is like a critical character in the movie, and the film couldn’t have been made without it. But, there was a meeting, early on, where someone originally involved with the development of the script suggested that we replace the Grateful Dead with someone more gettable, like … Air Supply.
THE BIG FIGHT SCENE
Many dramas have a big fight scene, but we were kind of dreading our big fight scene, because we knew the audience would be wondering what specifically these two people had said or done to each other that caused a 20-year rift. It had to be about something timely, yet relate to an audience today. So, while it’s about the burning of a flag in 1968, it could be any father going at any son for anything important to each of them. We knew the burning of the flag had to be a personal thing, not just a political one, so Henry tries to show Gabriel the magnitude of his desecration by shoving in his face the flag that covered his brother’s coffin (who was also Gabriel’s namesake). And, it had to be something that would seem so important at the time, but so regretful and trivial in hindsight. But, the trickiest thing was making it potent but not melodramatic. And, that, we also knew, would depend on two great actors. On that front, we lucked out, with J.K. Simmons and Lou Taylor Pucci. (Not to forget Cara Seymour, who has a difficult job in that scene.) As far as we’re concerned, they hit it out of the park.