Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Shannon Moroney's "Through the Glass"

Shannon Moroney is the author of the memoir, Through the Glass.

Here she shares some ideas for an adaptation of the book:
In 2005, my life was beautiful. I had a rewarding career as a high school guidance counsellor and was on track toward education leadership. I owned my first home in a small community I loved, was involved in meaningful volunteer work, had a wide circle of family and friends, and best of all—I had just married my soul mate, Jason. My twenties were a decade defined by education, travel and adventure. On the brink of a new decade, I hoped my thirties would be defined by motherhood.

Then, while away at a conference, a knock at my hotel room door changed everything. It was a police officer, there to tell me that my home was a crime scene and that Jason was in custody after confessing to the kidnapping and brutal sexual assault of two women. Investigators were already saying he would spend the rest of his life behind bars. I felt the world I knew shatter and fall to pieces around me.

In that instant, I began a terrifying journey through shock, grief and confusion as I transitioned from being a respected educator, volunteer, homeowner and happy newlywed to being the wife of a sex offender.

In shock and confusion, I pictured Jason in a prison cell, a rapist. In agony, I pictured his victims. Where were they? Who were they? What were they going through? Their ordeal was my own worst nightmare as a woman. How could this have happened at the hands of my husband? I tried to reach out to them, but was told by authorities that I was on the side of the offender. Lines were drawn. As the news of the crimes broke, stigma, shame and judgement befell me. The ripple effect of crime and trauma was far-reaching. While Jason was taken away to solitary confinement, I became the target for blame, judgement and guilt-by-association, left to answer for him in his absence.

Through the Glass is the story of what happened that day and all that came afterwards—from the conversations with Jason in prison, the reactions of friends, family and the community, my estrangement from the victims, and the slow criminal justice process.

It’s also about what came after the sentencing, and the choices I had to make about my relationship with Jason, my community, and my future. Determined never to allow violence and betrayal to control my life, I made a personal commitment to find a positive path forward, to regain trust and to one day help others affected by the crimes and incarceration of a loved one. Throughout my ordeal, I had been unable to find a book that could guide me or offer solace. Yet, with thousands of people incarcerated in Canada and over two million in the USA, I knew I couldn’t be the only one on this journey. I decided that I would have to be the one to write and offer a voice.

My vision for a film adaptation of Through the Glass:

At its core, Through the Glass is a story of one woman on two journeys. The first is private and personal: I am trying to rebuild my life after my husband’s crimes and to overcome trauma, stigma and guilt-by-association. I’m trying to understand who he was and how he could have done what he did. The second journey is public and political: I am a citizen, bearing witness on a justice system that leaves victims out in the cold and a society that can be as stigmatizing as it can be compassionate. My eyes are being opened to the plight of offender’s families, the limits of a retributive justice system, and the vast need for systems that actually heal people.

It would be so easy to make a lurid, sensational and cheap film based on the most scant facts of my story. I say this because I’ve seen various media outlets do it: eye-catching headlines superimposed on crime scene tape, like “Tall, Dark and Homicidal: I married a Rapist”. They make me cringe. It would break my heart to see my book—and my life—made out in this simplistic, tabloid and fear-mongering way. My vision is a film with integrity, intelligence and complexity, one that is as much about the universal, human themes of love and loss, trust and betrayal, hope and grief, as it is about true crime.

I would be proud of a film made in the vein of Dead Man Walking or Erin Brockovich, as both capture so beautifully the lives of ordinary women who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances, called to active duty in battles they didn’t want or ask for. Although the women are played by glamorous Hollywood stars, they are not themselves glamorous, nor perfect. They struggle. They face criticism. They have self-doubt. Yet, somehow they discover inner strength and take on warrior roles in controversial, important causes.

Who would I want to write and direct Through the Glass?

I would want one person to both write and direct, ideally someone who shares my vision and who is willing to work closely with me as an advisor or co-writer. Alternatively, it would have to be someone I trust so much that I could relinquish control completely and not be involved at all.

I’d also want someone who would recreate scenes of violence with respect for the victims and the viewer. This doesn’t mean to downplay, but rather to be delicate and sensitive, as I aimed to be in writing my book. It should be impactful, but not gratuitous.

Last year I had the privilege of meeting Sister Helen Prejean, author and anti-death penalty advocate portrayed by Susan Sarandon in Dead Man Walking, and one of my personal heroes. She spoke about her experience working closely with writer/director Tim Robbins on the adaptation of her book, how unfailingly respectful he was to her, how little ego he had, and how much he wanted to “get it right”. This type of working relationship would be ideal for me, and likely the only way I could bring myself to actually sell my book and life rights.

So, for Hollywood writers and directors, my choices would include Tim Robbins (Dead Man Walking), Susannah Grant and Steven Soderbergh (Erin Brockovich). For Canadian writers and directors, I’d be honoured to work with Sarah Polley (Away From Her and Stories We Tell) and Michael McGowan (One Week).

Casting Through the Glass

Leading Roles:

Me, Shannon Moroney. The temptation is to try to think of someone who looks like me, but I actually think that is immaterial. It would only be important to me that the actor get to know my true essence as a human being: optimistic, life-loving and generally sunny. I think that these traits, bound up with determination, an intense work ethic, and support from family and friends, are what made me able to triumph over trauma, and eventually to turn my own experience into advocacy for others. Someone who can capture this optimism while accurately portraying my painful journey would be the person I’d cast. I’d have to base my selection on auditions, rather than past performances.

Jason Staples: My husband, best friend and soul-mate turned rapist and kidnapper.

So split was Jason’s personality that the actor wanting to play Jason has to be able to take on two roles—to portray two distinct characters without allowing one to show through the other. They must both be authentic, as both aspects of Jason were real: the creative and kind friend, husband, employee and neighbour and the terrifying, violent criminal. Throughout his trial, he showed intense remorse to the people who knew him—even empathy—but in court he was robotic and emotionless. Accurately portraying this duality is essential to the integrity of the story, but it is no easy task.

When pondering who could play Jason, I first think of casting the Jason that I knew—my best friend and soul mate, someone who I loved with all my heart. Jason was also very handsome, tall with blue eyes and wavy brown hair. Think Clark Kent, with his earnest demeanor. The harder task is to think of someone able to portray the deeply tormented Jason, the man who in his worst moments chose to torment others in a perverse and sadistic way. Who is brave enough to get inside Jason’s mind and understand the darkness that was there? Can he leave an audience feeling conflicted and stirred up by Jason’s contradictions?

I think the best candidate is Joshua Jackson, a talented Canadian actor best known for his role as Pacey on Dawson’s Creek, but more recently for his Genie-award winning lead in the independent film, One Week. He bears a striking resemblance to Jason, but moreover I believe he could carry both characters.

Supporting Roles: There are over forty people to cast, many of whom just appear once or twice and could be portrayed very well by good character actors. Here are a few that appear throughout the story:

My Mum: Helen Mirren

My Dad: Tom Skerritt

Detective Jeff Morgan: Brad Pitt (I want to reward Jeff for being a hero)

Defense Attorney, Connie: Juliana Margulies

Crown Attorney: Tom Wilkinson

Dr. Sue Gleeson: Julie Walters

Rachael, my best friend: Michelle Williams
Learn more about the book and author at Shannon Moroney's website.

--Marshal Zeringue