WRITER’S NOTE: Rick and I are are struggling with the outline we started with on “Lake Regret”, and while we try to come up with another project, we are providing you with insight on our script “According to Plan” and how we went from concept to getting the project optioned, and the craziness that ensued afterwards.
“According to Plan” (or “ATP”) had its start from a short story my daughter, Erin, wrote back in late 2013. The short story revolved around a grandfather with dementia who wound up taking a raft down the Mississippi River to avoid being put in a nursing home. It was a great story, but i found it wouldn’t work as a feature film. But I liked the idea of someone with dementia trying to run away from his issue, only to realize that he could never run from the actual problem.
So we set out trying to come up with a script that would incorporate both the element of dementia and the road trip. In this case we didn’t think it plausible for the protagonist, Nate, driving with dementia, so we brought in his grandson, Dante, and a neighbor, Carly, to drive him from St. Louis to New Orleans to find a treasure that Nate claims to have left there at his old home. We created some obstacles, like Dante’s father, Ken, telling Dante that there is no treasure and for Dante to stop encouraging his grandfather about it. Dante sneaks his grandfather away with Carly’s help when Ken is away on an overnight trip, and all sorts of problems develop during the trip that Dante and Carly aren’t prepared for.
The thought was to create a low-budget, family film that would appeal to numerous producers, and so that led us as we produced the original outline for the film. As I’ve stated before, Rick and I only use the outline as a guide and we change the beats constantly as we write depending on which way the story is going.
With that in mind, here is what we came up with in our original outline:
ACCORDING TO PLAN – BEATS
DANTE COVINGTON is a creative and quiet 12-year-old who lives with his uncle and grandfather in St. Louis. Recently, his grandfather NATE, who is 83, has been acting strangely as well as forgetting things. Dante’s uncle, KEN, takes Nate to see a doctor, who believes that Nate has the beginning signs of dementia, and recommends that Nate be placed in an assisted living facility due to his failing mental health.
Ken makes the difficult decision to put Nate in a nursing home against Nate’s wishes. None of Nate’s children across the country are willing or able to look after him and have Nate come live with them. Nate, however, tells Ken and Dante that he cannot stay in a nursing home; instead, he needs to go down to New Orleans to retrieve some treasure he buried many years ago. While Ken believes that Nate is losing his mind, Dante promises Nate he will help him find his treasure.
Ken places Nate in a nursing home, which is filled with older adults and staff who are odd and eccentric. One day in July, Dante goes to visit his grandfather, and is deeply saddened and overwhelmed by Nate’s living situation. Dante and Nate have a serious conversation about Nate’s desire to escape and travel to New Orleans. After Dante leaves, he realizes that he must break his grandfather out of the home, so that Nate can have his opportunity to find his treasure.
Ken’s next door neighbors, CARL and JENNA CEROTA, have a sixteen year old daughter, CARLY, who has been watching Dante during the day while Ken is at work. Dante convinces Carly to help him drive Nate to New Orleans when her parents go to Paris for their anniversary. Carly is hesitant, but he offers to pay her $100 from his savings, and she agrees.
Dante goes in the nursing home early one morning while Carly waits in the car. Dante helps Nate pack, and then Dante pulls the fire alarm. In the confusion Nate and Dante escape outside. Their plan is successful, and they quickly escape with Carly’s help.
While on the road, Dante has the opportunity to learn more about his grandfather’s past: his life during the war, his marriage to his late and beloved wife, his ungrateful children, the passing of his parents (Dante’s mother). Dante adores his grandfather, and he listens to his grandfather’s ideas on what makes one human throughout generations and changing societies: passion and identity and love against all odds. Carly and Nate argue over what true love really means.
At one point, Dante asks Nate what treasure is buried in New Orleans. Nate is coy and does not reveal his secret, but gives Dante a detailed description of where it is buried. Dante is unsure whether to believe his grandfather, or if his dementia is causing him to
As they stop to eat at a diner, Carly is approached by a teenage boy. Carly tells him to get lost. The boy bullies Dante and disses Nate. Nate starts to use this as a teachable moment, but goes into an incoherent ramble. It doesn’t matter, as Carly winds up punching the boy in the nose and they all get the hell out of Dodge.
By now, the authorities have been notified that Nate is missing. Ken discovers that Dante and Carly are not at his house like they’re supposed to be. He calls them on Carly’s cell phone, and confirms they’re okay before yelling at them to come home immediately.
Dante ignores the demand. As they near Jackson, Mississippi, Nate begins acting a bit stranger: he realizes he can’t feel one of his arms and becomes confused by Dante’s questions. He then is unable to see very well. Carly realizes that Nate is having a mild stroke. Dante tends to him, but Carly tells Nate he must go to the hospital. Nate, however, is adamant about making it to New Orleans, and orders Carly to keep driving. Dante must then choose between stopping their adventure in order to call an ambulance or allow his grandfather to continue the journey to find his treasure. It doesn’t matter, because while they are debating it, a state highway patrol pulls Carly over. The officer realizes that Nate is having a serious medical condition, puts him in his car and drives him to the hospital.
By the time they cop arrives at the hospital, Nate has passed out. It is unclear whether Nate will survive the stroke, and when Dante and Carly arrive, Dante is distraught at the thought of losing his grandfather. Dante calls Ken, who immediately heads for Jackson. Nate passes away just as Ken arrives. Dante and Ken reconnect, and after much persuasion from Dante, Ken decides to take he and Carly on to New Orleans.
Ken takes Dante to the spot just outside New Orleans that Nate described to him on their trip. Thirty paces from an oak tree near the home where Nate grew up and where he first kissed his late wife. They begin to dig, but after a lot of hard work, nothing is found. Dante is despondent. They decide to head back to Memphis, but just before they leave, Carly rereads the instructions he had written down, and realizes he was looking at it the wrong way. They go back, find the new location, and Dante, digging furiously, finally hits a chest, and opens it with uncertainty.
The chest contains pictures, objects such as his war medals, and letters from Nate from the past 10 years. Letters to and from his wife, letters he wrote for Dante. The last note Dante reads is: YOUR JOY IS WHERE YOUR TREASURE LIES. THANK YOU FOR BEING MINE. Elated at finding the treasure, Dante, Carly and Ken get in the car, and head for home.
With the next post, we’ll get into the writing of the script, and with succeeding posts, we’ll see how we made changes to the outline on the fly, disagreed with each other on the direction, finished the script, the ways we tried to market it, and how we finally got it optioned (twice!).