2 May 2010 8 Comments

Selfish and Immature.

Truth: I get a little bratty sometimes. I can be really territorial; I know (maybe sometimes I only think I know) what is mine and I will stick out my lower lip in pouty protest when someone even moves to finger what is mine. Parking spots, for example. I get all kinds of bent out of shape when I’m about to turn into a spot and it gets stolen out from under me. In the past I’ve gotten downright brassed off when someone else’s play was chosen over mine for production. Or when actors would rather play a small part in the big show than a good part in a smaller show. And maybe I had to count to ten in my head when I had a student tell me he wouldn’t be able to see my show a couple of weeks back, but he was going to buyAvatar on DVD. Whatevs. There is no accounting for taste or, apparently, tact.

But sometimes I’m selfish and immature about things that I personally have no say, influence, or stake in because I make myself believe I have a say, influence, or stake in whatever it is I’ve become impassioned about. For example: I may have got a little livid whenAn Education didn’t win any Academy Awards and500 Days of Summer was shut out of the nominations. Maybe I threw a fit thinking that somewhere some movie exec would give a flying rat’s ass. No such luck. This morning I had another such fit. I believe I’m still having it now. So if I seem irrational in my argument — I apologize. Mostly.

There are several ideas going on in my head that have been there for quite some time; some for years now. As much as some like to think that you can sit down and write a feature overnight (and I’m sure there are people who do) I prefer not to do it that way. I let things percolate, I let them settle, and hopefully when those ideas come out they are actually ready to do so. Sometimes I have drafts that come out all at once, and very quickly — my play Little Happy Secrets came out basically in a weekend — but more often than not things come out in bits and pieces. Some are still just ideas waiting for the right starting place.

The events of this morning concern two ideas of mine. The first is a play cycle built around Hawaiian history. It’s fascinating stuff, and no one knows anything about it. Potential gold mine for this writer, yes? Bonus that I have a Hawaiian middle name (three cheers for my false ethnicity). But seriously. A royal family, a people struggling between the influences of their ancient ways and the looming presence of the West. (That was melodramatic, but you’ll get over it.) Political intrigues, territorial battles, people forced to choose what is popular over what they feel is right. Great stuff. And it doesn’t get talked about on the Mainland (the local Hawaiian nickname for the continental U.S.). Why doesn’t it get talked about? Because no one knows about it.

What do Americans associate with Hawaii? Surfing. Pineapple. Sugar. Surfing. Am I being unfair? Probably. Remember the part where I warned you I might get irrational?

Many people think of Hawaii as the United States’ permanent vacation spot, like that’s what was on the mind of Sanford Dole 120 years ago. So many never think about the fact that Hawaii was a kingdom before the Revolutionary War, and that each of the Hawaiian islands were independent city-states (for lack of a better term) before the Atlantic seaboard was even colonized. In fact, it’s possible that the ancient Polynesians who first came to Hawaii (most likely from Tahiti) may have made their initial emigration at roughly the same time that William the Conquerer was changing the face of British history (roughly 1066 A.C.E.). Most people don’t know that there is a royal palace on U.S. soil, let alone that it is in Honolulu.

'Iolani Palace


I love Hawaiian history. I grew up in Hauula, a small-ish town on Oahu, about an hour away from Honolulu. Like most history, Hawaii’s is filled with pretty fantastic drama, and when I was learning it in elementary school I ate it up. I am SO going to write it.

The second idea bouncing around in my head relates pretty directly to the first. So the play cycle, I’m thinking, is going to be a series of three plays that recount a major chunk of Hawaiian history. Maybe the dynasty of the Kamehamehas? I don’t know. That part of things is still percolating. But the second idea is much more focused, and has been in my head for going on a decade now. It’s a film about the life, love, and tragically early death of Hawaii’s last princess, Kaiulani.

Kaiulani was the daughter of a Hawaiian princess and a Scottish businessman; the latter came to Hawaii as a teenager and never left. Her uncle Kalakaua is known as the Merry Monarch, the king who built Iolani Palace and instituted a return to ancient culture and celebration. While Kalakaua was on the throne, Kaiulani was second in line to succeed behind her aunt, Liliuokalani (it’s Aunt Liliu who would be ousted by a coup organized by American businessmen in 1893). When Kaiulani was eleven, her mother, Princess Likelike, died. On her deathbed Likelike told her daughter that she had seen the future. She predicted three things: that Kaiulani would leave Hawaii for a long time; that she would never marry; and that she would never be queen. All three of these things did eventually happen. Tell me that’s not the beginning of a great story! The idea that there was once a rumored match between this little Hawaiian princess and the heir to the Empire of Japan… Can you imagine how differently the twentieth century might have turned out?

Princess Victoria Ka'iulani


Kaiulani is a fascinating person to me; she has been since I was a child and read her story in a picture book. Basically she was set to be queen of Hawaii at the time that the monarchy was dissolved over the price of sugar. She had no desire to go into politics, but knew she had to; she knew what was expected of her, and she spoke out for what she believed in. She went to Washington and befriended President Grover Cleveland. She was terrified of what she had to do and yet she did it anyway. She was beautiful and intelligent and cultured though most of the English and Americans who heard of her wrote her off as a barbarian. She was the last hope of a desperate nation, and when she died suddenly at the age of twenty-four it was supposed that the cause was a broken heart over the loss of her people and her country. I wouldn’t doubt it.

Tell me this isn’t a fabulous story.

I have planned to write a bio-pic of Kaiulani for as long as I’ve been writing drama. I have written scenes from it but I don’t have a whole script; like I said before, these things take time. This is a story I want to tell well, and tell right. Besides, how do you find the money to fund these things? Do you call the governor of Hawaii and say “I have a fabulous idea and you should help me fund it.” … … Maybe I should have done just that.

I have to figure out the funding question fast, because this morning I discovered this: http://trailers.apple.com/trailers/independent/princesskaiulani/



A bio-pic about Princess Kaiulani has been made and is being set for release.

What? WHAT?!

The trailer is distressing to me. It looks like it is trying to sell the history as a love story — a love story I can’t find in any of my history books. Where is Prince Koa? Who is this English kid that she’s kissing on the moor?What the freak show is going on?! I mean, the film looks pretty enough. But it also looks completely fire-free and historically wishy-washy. And I am distressed.

The immature part of me wants to cry out, pouty lip and all, “But — but — mine will be better.” I have no idea if this is true, but it’s comforting.

What is sad to me at the moment is that no matter what, mine won’t be the first. When I wrote about Anne Boleyn, I knew it wouldn’t be the first; I knew I had to put a spin on it, so I did. Mine couldn’t be the first; Shakespeare himself has a version. The same goes for Joan of Arc, or Alexander Pushkin, or Elizabeth Barrett Browning, or any number of historical figures who’ve lead fascinating lives. Even my adaptation of Persuasion is just that: an adaptation. The point is that you have to put a spin on it so that you stand out from the crowd.I thought I stood a chance for claiming the first shot at making a film about the Island Rose.

Apparently I don’t, and that sucks. That sucks a lot.


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  • Jacob

    Gah, now I see the reason. Sorry, Mel.

  • Th.

    .

    Yours will be better.

  • gregm91436

    I know how you feel: I’m still praying I get a chance to make either Sandman or Ender’s Game (or both, but let’s not be greedy), but those are adaptations. But yeah, people don’t remember the first one if it’s bad. You could do the first *good* one. Nobody remembers the bad gangster TV that came before “The Sopranos.” Or any of the numerous mortuary family dramas and comedies before “Six Feet Under.” 😉

    Also, if you do “Hope Falls,” you’ll be the first to put that particular spin on it. So hang in there!

  • sarahlucy

    This movie will be crap and no one will see it. It’ll be like yours is the first. Like, who remembers the first Lord of the Rings movies? NO ONE. It’s like Peter Jackson’s were the first.

  • Carrie

    That does suck! That sucks rocks! I’m sorry, Mel. Yours would be, no doubt, ten times better. You have a nack for telling stories and telling them well. The history part doesn’t hurt either. I think maybe you should write it anyway and see what happens.

  • I’ve had this experience before. I was just glad when I did strike first… Fading Flower was the first dramatization of David Hyrum Smith’s story, I believe. But then there are those territorial moments… I feel that way whenever I hear about an adaptation of Sleepy Hollow. Mine wasn’t the first, nor will it in any semblance of reality be the last stage adaptation, but nonetheless it makes my blood boil whenever I hear of anybody doing it. Rational? No. But, dang it, it hurts! I actually felt that way a little about your adaptation of Persuasion, since I had planned on adapting it at some point. Doesn’t mean I still can’t, but yours will end up being great, so why bother? ;]

    By the way, I totally thought you were part Hawaiian. Not the case then?

  • Oh, and I hate when a fictional character is created in a historical piece just to provide a love story or something (even though my first draft of Fading Flower did just that! Thankfully, I fixed that!). I loved _Copying Beethoven_, but wss disappointed when the woman studying under him turned out to be completely fictional! Oh, and the story of _Shadowlands_ is so much more interesting when you use C.S. Lewis’s REAL friends! Why would you cut out Tolkien in favor of a fictional composite character? What a let down! History’s so interesting without us interloping!

  • I saw the making of this film and the trailers and it looks fantastic!

    And to add to more historical background about the film and the people they portray we like to call it “Networking Family History to Hollywood”.

    There is another interesting story about the Princess Kaiulani
    movie which opens today at:
    http://www.hawaii247.com/2010/05/13/family-forest-links-first-family-princess-kaiulani/
    and also for more on that story at:
    http://familyforest.wordpress.com and
    http://familyforest.com
    for the family ties to President Barack Obama and the First
    Family!