IndustryCentral ScreenWriters Exchange: Drama: The Pass
As dawn breaks over the great Sierra mountain range between California and Nevada, all the eye can see for miles upon endless miles is a sheet of wintry death. It maybe wrapped up in the disguise of snow, but for the members of the most famous wagon train in history, it was a slow, antagonist that drained all useful energy out of your body and then discarded you, like a child who has lost interest in a toy. For the members of The Donner Party, the Sierras were to become a constant reminder of the terrible forces that nature could conjure up, when she wants to.
George and Jacob Donner's family along with the Reed's set off from Springfield, Illinois on a journey they thought would bring them to the land of milk and honey only to go down in history as a lesson in futility. They had wagons, oxen, cattle, horses, food and plenty of hired help. They had everything, except luck and good judgement.
Along the wagon trail, they teamed up with other's heading out to the Golden State. Soon, the wagon train had a hundred wagons and families plodding slowly forward towards the setting sun. Each day brought new discomforts and obstacles that the settlers had to overcome. They encountered floods, Indian raids, sickness, dangers, and loss of livestock, thirst, hunger and death. All of these events even before they were caught in the Sierras. The trail was to be their proving ground to establish the survival of the fittest. The trail tempered the Donner Party and gave them to chance to endure the hardships that they were about to confront.
"The Pass" relives the horrors, pain, sufferings and anguish that the Donner Party went through to gain a foothold in California. But, much more than that it gives back the humanity that these historical figures have lost over the years. Above all else, this compelling story is about man's perseverance to overcome huge odds and to triumph against the biggest snow storm of the century with just their wits and cunning. Strip of everything else, except their humanity, these people endure months of deprivation and came out of it holding their heads high. It's a touching story of a woman's love for her husband and children and how that love made them all survive.
The Donner Party was made up of many individuals with a variety of backgrounds. But, through the diversity they found a common goal, that of survival. Few realize that two thirds of the men who began the trip, lived. Even fewer know that two thirds of the women and children survived the ordeal and began a life in California that changed the history of that state.
The Donner Party taught us and still teaches us that mankind is the dominate force and that when nature, calamity or adversity rears up it's ugly head, we will roll up our sleeves and take it on.
The Pass answers the basic question, "What would you do to survive?"
124 Roma Ave. Buffalo, NY 14215
THE PASS - Powerful subject matter and certainly the basis for strong emotional drama.
Two suggestions. (1) As I'm sure you know, you will need to focus on a couple of families. The horrors of the Donner party will dramatize best if seen through characters with whom we have become involved. Maybe the thread of a love story between teen members of the two families.
The reason I suggest a love story is that the Donner story can be a terrible downer. It's dark and it's grim. So my second suggestion is that you look for light threads in this dark tapestry - some yellows and oranges. Perhaps one of your characters can have a rich sense of humor; he makes jokes about their predicament. And the love story will certainly add some lightness.
At the end, we must feel that something positive has been accomplished - otherwise the story becomes a source of frustration. We need to throw the audience a crumb. Even in stories based on strict reality, you can add elements that will make your story more watchable.
I like this the best of the stories you have submitted. Good luck with it.
Critique by Alan A. Armer
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