development

THE HIGHWAY KIND

SHORT SYNOPSIS:

Two loners meet on the American highway: JACK, a cantankerous aging trucker running from his past, and WILL, a heartsick young veteran in search of a future. Thrown together by chance, the two men clash, but ultimately work their way across the country in search of the girl Will met in the airport the night before he deployed to Afghanistan – only to discover that the farther they travel, the closer they come to finding a way back home.

EXTENDED SYNOPSIS:

“The Highway Kind” opens with a fragmentary flashback: WILL TIERNEY (23), a crisp all-American boy in his Army Airborne uniform, sits stranded at JFK during a blizzard. Across the terminal he espies KYLIE SPENCER – the kind of woman a young man regrets not talking to for the rest of his life. Will charms his way through Kylie’s defenses. We get the feeling that cocktails will ensue.

Sixteen months later: Will, emaciated and haggard, lies in bed back home, listening to a CNN report describing the joy felt by soldiers returning from abroad. Will doesn’t appear particularly joyful. Will picks up a photostrip: he and Kylie laughing into the camera during their night at the airport. On the back: a hand-written Los Angeles address. Will exits frame.

Titles. Music. A Peterbuilt 18-wheeler truck drives south through Virginia. We meet JACK HARPER (67), an isolated, craggy man. We will learn that he’s a combat veteran of the Vietnam war. Jack delivers his cargo. Stopping for the night, the truck strikes a dark figure – Will. Will insists he’s unharmed and limps off into the darkness.

The following day Jack picks up a load in Raleigh, but his lame knee gives out. Jack topples from the top of his flatbed trailer and is delayed. It’s unclear how he’ll continue this kind of work. Jack retraces his path north through a thunderstorm and is snarled in traffic when he sees a familiar figure alongside the road. It is Will, wet, miserable, and numb. Jack reluctantly stops to pick him up.

And so it begins. “The Highway Kind” is a platonic love story that follows these two isolated characters as they travel, each towards his own destination. In exchange for Will’s much-needed help, Jack offers the young man a ride as far as Salt Lake City. As they work their way cross-country, Jack learns that Will hasn’t spoken to Kylie since his return. Afraid that Will’s in for a broken heart, Jack aggressively tries to convince him to abandon his quest. Will clings to the hope that Kylie will remember him.

Meanwhile, Will learns that Jack is a former major league baseball player who lives in his truck and is entirely estranged from his family. When Jack’s mother unexpectedly dies, Will forces Jack to return to his hometown to attend the funeral. There, Jack meets his eight year-old grandson and takes a tentative step towards reconciling with his daughter.

It’s only after Jack faces his past for the first time in three decades that he realizes Will also must follow through and find Kylie, regardless of whether she’ll be waiting for him. Jack decides that he must take Will to Los Angeles himself.

“The Highway Kind” tells the tale of two loners who realize, for a moment, that they are not alone. While in the end neither man gets exactly what he wants, through their brief friendship each gets what he needs to reconnect with himself and move back into the full stream of life.

MISSION STATEMENT:

“The Highway Kind” is a character-driven road movie about two veterans – one of the war in Vietnam, the other of the conflict in Afghanistan. It tells the story of two loners who realize, for a moment, that they are not alone. In the end, the two men in “The Highway Kind” part company, but for the brief duration of their friendship they truly connect and decisively impact each other’s lives.

The direct inspiration for “The Highway Kind” is a close friend who recently returned from combat duty in Afghanistan. He’s struggled to re-enter civilian life, and in particular has had trouble reconnecting to his former friends and lovers. He encouraged me to write a film not about “veterans” – for him, the media’s use of that word has come to suggest a clichéd type – but instead about two humans who have experienced war and then struggle to return home, both literally and metaphorically. The questions surrounding “home” — where it is, what it is, and can one ever return – are ones we all face, not just returning soldiers.

Stylistically, I’d describe the overall approach in “The Highway Kind” as “lyrical realism.” Landscape and locale will play an important part in the film. The dream – potentially impractical but to be adhered to when possible – would be to shoot the film in chronological order, driving across the country with a small crew, starting on the East Coast and shooting our way through Tennessee, Colorado, Nebraska, and on to Salt Lake City and the wilderness of Northern California. The recreation of the characters’ journey during production will create a vivid sense of continuity and emotional build for the actors and crew.

Visually, “The Highway Kind” will be lyrical but gritty. I’m interested in shooting wide when space permits, using mise-en-scene rather than cutting to tell the story. The palette should be desaturated and cool, but with punches of vivid color. Vilmos Zsigmond’s work in “Scarecrow” and Robby Müller’s images in “Paris, Texas” are models. The cinematography in these films is simultaneously expansive and intimate but not romanticized.

In terms of casting, the roles of Jack and Will offer exciting opportunities for actors, and I look forward to working with the performers to fully develop the characters within the framework established by the script. While the film could work well with unknowns, several roles, particularly Jack Harper, have enough heft that they might benefit from the associations that come with a recognizable face.

My paramount intention in the making of the “The Highway Kind” will be to dig for and maintain the deepest possible level of emotional honesty. This will be a film not only about veterans returning from war, but also about the sense of displacement we all feel at times. It will suggest that, if only for a moment, two strangers might help each other to return to someplace like “home.”

(U.S., Drama, Pre-Production 2013 – Script Available Upon Request)