Allan Durand’s original screenplay “Willie Francis Must Die Again” is an amazing real-life story and a script that won Allan a 2012 Nicholl fellowship. However the story behind the story is also quite remarkable, one I’m happy to share with you through this interview.
I will be posting the whole interview over the course of this week, and for those of you who think the only people who break into Hollywood as screenwriters are young USC or NYU grads, Allan’s saga will dispel that myth quite nicely.
Today in Part 1, we cover Allan’s interesting sojourn through the film business and into screenwriting:
Scott: Congratulations on the Nicholl.
Allan: I don’t think there’s a thrill ride anywhere around like the Nicholl.
Scott: First of all, I understand you’re a lawyer. Is that correct?
Allan: That is correct.
Scott: What type of law do you practice?
Allan: I have a master of law in taxation, and I do some tax work, but it’s pretty much a general civil practice with an emphasis on tax and litigation.
Scott: You’re in Louisiana, is that right?
Allan: I am in Louisiana.
Scott: Born and raised there.
Allan: That is correct.
Scott: You were involved in the 1986 movie, “Belizaire the Cajun.”
Allan: I produced it, and we ran out of money before we finished hiring all the actors, and me and the director flipped a coin and I lost, and so I had to play the priest. [laughs]
Scott: Did you have an acting background?
Allan: No. Well, I’ve stood up in front of a lot of juries. I don’t know if that counts. [laughs]
Scott: How’d you get involved producing that movie?
Allan: The writer/director Glen Pitre ‑‑ P‑I‑T‑R‑E ‑‑ he had helped me make a short film five years before that, based on an unpublished novel that I had written, based on a portion of it. The deal was, he was going to help me make my short film. I was going to do the legal work and help him get his next film made, which was going to be a big budget film, like $100,000. That turned out to be “Belizaire.” We worked a couple years, really wasn’t getting anywhere. Then out of the sky came the long hand of Robert Redford. The Sundance Institute picked us up for the Sundance June Film Lab back then. We went out to Sundance for the month of June and worked with Sydney Pollack and Mr. Redford and Robert Duvall, a bunch of people who had volunteered their time.
We went out and made “Belizaire the Cajun,” which I think was the only American film that was the official selection that year to both Cannes and Sundance.
Scott: Did you catch the movie bug at that point?
Allan: No, I was born with it. I don’t ever remember not having it. I called it my disease and my addiction. When the Nicholl thing came out, my local TV station was interviewing me, and the reporter was talking about my obvious passion for screenwriting. I said, “No, look, let’s be honest. Passion is a virtue. What I’ve got is some damn addiction. I can’t help it, I can’t not do it.” That doesn’t mean I want to live in an attic while I’m writing, so that’s why I kept my day job.
Scott: After 1986 when “Belizaire” came out, did you have any further involvement in the film business?
Allan: Yeah, “Belizaire” cured me of wanting to work with actors. After that, I started making documentaries for public television. I’m on my third one, working on my third one now. I had written a sequence of scenes for “Belizaire,” which turned out to be the opening of the movie, when “Belizaire” is in the confessional and the priest gives him five rosaries for penance. He starts negotiating with the priest in the confessional, trying to get his penance lowered, and I enjoyed it. Then I tried my hand at writing a screenplay, then another one and another one and another one.
Actually, first I made a documentary (“Willie Francis Must Die Again”) for public television about five or six years ago. At the same time, I had written a screenplay, thinking that the documentary was going to get noticed. I won three or four film festivals with it. I thought that was going to get it noticed enough that then somebody was going to want to say why don’t we make this into a feature film, at which point I jump out from behind a tree and say, “By the way, I’ve got a script.”
But it never happened, so I started entering screenplay contests, and it was a finalist in the Austin film festival screenplay contest, and it was a silver award winner in the Page Awards contest. It was second in the American Screenwriters Association contest. Then two years ago, in 2010, it was a semi‑finalist in Nicholl.
I said I’m going to give it one more shot before I quit. I tweaked it and made some changes, and then reentered it in the Nicholl in 2012, and got lucky.
Scott: Based on these competitions, you tweaked the script?
Allan: Yeah. I was always going back to it every few months and starting at page one, and tightening up this and changing that, taking out a scene I didn’t really think worked. Really, in the last two years, added another character that I think helped a lot. I just kept fooling with it until we got it right.
Tomorrow in Part 2, Allan provides background about “Willie Francis Must Die Again” and his unique connection to the real-life story.
Please stop by comments to thank Allan for taking the time for the interview and post any follow-up questions you may have.
To see Allan’s acceptance speech at the Nicholl Fellowship ceremony, go here.
Allan is repped by WME and Madhouse Entertainment.