Buffalohair, Dan Leonetti and the Screenplay “Woodpecker Waltz”

Dan Leonetti and the Screenplay “Woodpecker Waltz”

September 10th, 2007 by Buffalohair

Daniel Joseph Leonetti, born sometime in the early 50’s; gads he’s worse than a dame when it comes to getting his actually age. He was born in Trinidad, Colorado of Apache and Italian lineage. He was raised and attended grade school in Trinidad. Then in 1968 he enlisted in the Army and trained extensively in Intelligence and Communications before shipping off to Viet Nam. Once in Nam he was assigned to a classified intelligence unit and shipped to the Cambodian border. Much of his work was classified so there is little to tell. I sum up his journey in his own words:

dan leonetti“I saw a whole  nation get completely erased from the face of the Earth. I saw what man and his inhumanity could   do to other human beings. Death was everywhere since  life had no value.  My teenage eyes witnessed carnage beyond imagination as whole villages were destroyed and people executed. I saw the beginning of the Killing Fields of Cambodia first hand, oceans of mutilated bodies and the stench of death forever etched in my mind. My life would never be the same.”

After serving 6 years in the Army, Dan went on to college in 1974 to get associate’s degrees in Journalism, Psychology and Education. He earned a B.A. degree in English Honors at the University of Denver in 1979. He’s been a journalist and screenwriter ever since. For the other journalists out there, you know how bumpy the road can be. Feast or famine is the best way to describe this literary roller coaster ride, weeee! He was struggling with memories of genocide. Dan felt guilty for his involvement as a covert operative during the war. Dan told me he wanted redemption somehow. He wanted to right the wrongs he committed in Cambodia and he wanted to give something back to humanity. The hand that once held a gun now clutched the new weapon of choice, the pen. Dan decided that he was going to heal with words. He was going to ease the soul by tell stories people should hear so they may heal as well. This was going to be his way of giving back to mankind, the humanity he once helped destroy.  One fine spring morning, Dan’s sister Connie gave him news clipping about a book called Deadly Innocence written by Robert Persky. It was the story about Little Joe Arridy, a mentally challenged person with the mentality of a five-year-old kid. He was wrongfully executed for the rape and murder of a little girl. Sadly the real killer was discovered three months after Joe was killed in Colorado’s Death Row at Canyon City Territorial Prison.

The story struck at Dan’s very core and it took him back to a time when he was surrounded by death and the incomprehensible injustice to innocent people.  So he called Mr. Persky and asked him about the possibility of writing a screenplay about this travesty of justice. Mr. Persky sent him a copy of the book then Dan got busy. It took Dan about a year to further research and develop the story. He went to libraries all over the state gathering data, news articles of the day and the histories of everyone involved in the Joe Arridy story. For Dan it was a mission of mercy to right the wrong committed to a little boy named Joe who was murdered for nothing.

In researching the story he discovered many wrongs within 1930’s era American society. Eugenics’ was the talk of the town back then as the US and Germany was vying for the purest nations. In the US scientists were promoting the “American Race” and Germany, “The Master Race”. The US was using mentally disabled people for experiments; there were experiments in sterilizing the feeble-minded and there was a movement to “colonize” the mentally disadvantaged as well. Only in 1939 did the US halt this eugenics and American Race concept. At least it went underground anyway.

It was this mentality that had Joe executed and this ate at Dan knowing this wrong never was corrected. For Dan it was more than just a prison story it was an epic journey into the evil that raises its ugly head in society. And it was also about redemption—redemption for a person named Little Joe Arridy. And it was a chance for Dan to find a little redemption as well. Dan was going to champion Joe’s cause and get him a pardon posthumously.

The screenplay was finished and Dan got rave reviews. The screenplay won the Words From Here Screenwriting Contest in New York, and caught the interest of Hollywood producers. Everyone wanted a copy of the screenplay. But by now, Dan was well prepared for all the hot air that seems to swirl around in ole La La Land. John Cusak was interested, for a while. Then a few other productions companies optioned the story for a few years but let the options run out. The Woodpecker Waltz was around for a few years before the Keller Entertainment Group came up to bat. They optioned the story twice and on the second option they decided to do the flick.

After watching all these big talking Hollywood goons over the years I was jaded as well since I remember one clown stealing a screenplay from Dan and trying to peddle it elsewhere. Other dorks would come over and blow all kinds of smoke with other screenplays Dan had, and nothing. But they did get some kewl ideas though. Hollywood has always been known for thievery of works and all. So I was very happy for Dan when Micheline and Max Keller came onto the scene. Unlike the goons we’ve dealt with in the past the Kellers were very gracious, forthright and honest with him and myself. Ah, I got in on some of this action as well. My production company is doing the “extra’s” for the film and if need be, I’ll drive Miss Daisy around if I have to eh. Gaff, Grunt, Goon, don’t matter to me, I love working on location and All Dat Jazz. Post production is also a hoot and hopefully Dan, Antonio and I will get in on some of that stuff as well.

In May, Crag Severa of (A.R.C.) Colorado Springs, and a good friend rallied people and organizations to contribute money to buy Little Joe a gravestone. You see, all the convicts’ graves at the prison cemetery had metal crosses. The reason for metal crosses was quite simply. In the old days they used wooded crosses but the woodpeckers would zap the wood in no time. So they replaced them with metal ones. Anyway Crag figured since Joe was innocent he should have a regular gravestone. That was the very least he could do. There was a ceremony at the grave and there were a few dignitaries there including the production company to say a few words. It was a humbling time as I videotaped the event and subsequent interviews with all the participants. I got some kewl footage of the event and some priceless interviews including Robert Persky.  I personally met some of the most wonderful humanitarians; truly this screenplay has taken on a life of it’s own. From prison reformers to advocates of developmentally disabled people, Wooodpecker Waltz has center stage.

Production is set for October but it maybe a little later than planned. The movie is set in the winter months so in all actuality, filming will begin sometime this fall or early winter. Course I will have photos from location almost daily if I’m not way to busy. Dennis Quaid signed on with the sole intention of winning an Oscar. The script is a very dynamic and moving piece. I venture to say it should win an Oscar as well. And THIS TIME Antonio and I will bring our Tupperware to the banquet. I hear them folks at the Oscars put on a hefty feed bag. And nothing us crusty ole Injuns like better than FREE FOOD.

So is this a Native flick or a flick written by a Native. It could be a Native flick since it’s a story as seen from a Native’s perspective. But then again it’s also a flick written by a Native. Hmmm, maybe it can be both. In any event, I’ll keep you posted on this films progress. Dan has a few other screenplays; Confessions of an American Black Widow, The Man Who Killed Custer, Inherit the Earth, The Ludlow Massacre Story and several others. The deal with all these screenplays is the fact they are socially redeeming as they tell a story about the human condition. Not much on Chi Chi Chic flicks or Mind Sop fore the air waves are chock full of mindless “Boob and Bomb” movies anymore. Hopefully the viewing audience will come to enjoy more quality films in the future. There is some scuttlebutt about movie goers and trends moving towards more family oriented films and entertainment. That would be a welcome trend indeed. But like everything else in this industry, I’ll believe it when I see it. After all it’s all about selling popcorn and soda when it comes to the bottom line in the industry.

That’s show biz………………..


Posted in BUFFALOhair – Somewhere between sanity and dementia, Featured Articles |

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