Gleason was living in Rochester, N.Y. in 2005 when a major storm kept him housebound. So he decided to download the abolitionist’s autobiography, “The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass.” The social reformer hailed from Rochester, piquing Gleason’s interest.
“Forty pages in, I thought, ‘why hasn’t there been a feature film about Frederick Douglass?” he asked. “I immediately started thinking of his story in terms of a motion picture.”
That thinking took a big step closer to reality this month.
The Colorado screenwriter says the script for “North Star: The Life of Frederick Douglass” was optioned to a L.A.-based producer. Gleason is confident the move will make the production a reality in the coming months.
Other films have touched on Douglass’ journey, like the upcoming “Sons & Daughters of Thunder.” Yet no major film tackles the historical giant as the main attraction.
Gleason’s script covers roughly 50 years of Douglass’ life, an ambitious narrative borne from necessity.
“His accomplishments were really spread out … the story as I see it has to begin as a child of 8. He made an observation that the path to freedom was through education,” says Gleason, who also wrote the novels “Angels & Enemies,” a supernatural horror yarn, and the techno-thriller “Heaven
Ride” (with John Eccleston).
The screenwriter finished his first “North Star” draft in 2008, but he later revised it after an author friend gave it a look. That version won Best Screenplay honors at the Buffalo Niagara Film Festival in 2009, starting the slow process of getting the industry’s attention.
That hasn’t been easy.
Gleason has spent his career in marketing, but that didn’t prepare him for cracking the film world.
“I’m still not sure what path you need to take to get your screenplay into the hands of people who can make it happen,” he says, adding he received many unopened screenplays back in the mail along the way.
More to Say on the Subject of Race
Gleason wants to see his screenplay on the big screen soon. He also hopes the movie inspires healthy discussions on race in America.
“The script touches on sensitive nerve endings we all have about very deep-seated emotions and feelings,” he says. “On some issues I hope it makes us investigate whether or not we’ve really overcome racism in our country … there’s still a long way to go.”
“North Star” is moving forward, but in Hollywood that doesn’t guarantee a screenplay with hit theaters in the coming months. The journey continues, and Gleason wants it to be as short as possible.
“My fear is that somebody’s gonna get out there and beat me to it,” he says of any Douglass biopic. “I do feel a sense of urgency to move on this.”
DID YOU KNOW: Kerry Gleason once worked with the PR firm which brought Clara Peller of “Where’s the Beef?” fame to popular culture. The Wendy’s star never appeared on “The Tonight Show” because her hearing aid was on the wrong ear, and she would have had to turn around to hear host Johnny Carson.