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If I Wrote The Opening Scene to the Barry Levinson/Al Pacino Penn State Movie

Spoiler Alert:  I don't know Barry Levinson.

Also, I am not close personal friends with Al Pacino.

But I have been fascinated by the recent announcement that Levinson will be directing, and Pacino will be starring, in an HBO movie about Penn State, tentatively called "Happy Valley".

The official logline for the film reads: “After becoming the winningest coach in college football history, Joe Paterno is embroiled in Penn State’s Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal, challenging his legacy and forcing him to face questions of institutional failure on behalf of the victims.”

I don't know Levinson, or Pacino, and I know there's already three pro writers on this project already whom I also don't know personally (for the record, Debora Cahn (Grey's Anatomy), John C. Richards (Nurse Betty), and David McKenna (American History X)).  I also know that it's based on the book by Joe Posanski (called Paterno, released shortly after the Sandusky scandal came to light), another artist whom I also don't know personally.

What I do know, though, is that a great movie about Joe Paterno and the scandal can be made, and the opening scene should be what I wrote below - formed almost entirely from Paterno's own words.

(The opening credits come up on a montage of Penn State football highlights, playing in an old style auditorium with a wooden lectern.

Below, in frame, is PATERNO at a lectern with his iconic sunglasses and an easy smile.  He speaks as years of highlights play behind him, an adoring crowd of fans, mostly middle-aged men, laugh along with his speech.)

"You know, it’s amazing to come back to Carversville, let me tell you. I remember coming to a coaching convention in this hall back in 1951, and I think it was some sort of coaches convention or something like that. and we got in real late off the bus, or something, and I was just checking in and asked if someone could hold the elevator, I needed to put my suitcase in my room and come down for the main event.

"So I get in the elevator, huffin' and puffin', and suddenly I realize that the guy holding the elevator for me was Woody Hayes!  (Laughter; cigar smoke wafts from somewhere.)  I didn't know what to say.   I think my jaw dropped and I couldn't say a word. I was like a little dog, following him off the elevator, hoping he would say, ‘hey, want to go have a beer or something?’

(Knowing laughter from crowd)

"I was only an assistant coach then, still the resident counselor along side my good pal Paul Litwak."

(Cheers come up as PAUL raises a glass.)

"Paul, Paul, yes.  Remember when we were resident counselors under Rip?  I'll tell you, we hated the fact that all the football players were in their own dorm, making a kind of football ghetto.  Today I tremble when I think of some of the high-energy kids I had to contain there: Arnelle, Grier (claps), Tukicka (more applause).

"One clique of those pent-up athletes took to playing poker late into the night.  I closed down these games, but one night at 3AM, I heard faint echoes of laughter, but I couldn't find any of the players anywhere.  I looked and looked, but then I found the illicit game in the shower room!

(LAUGHTER turns dark and slow-motion shot of black-and-white shower scene.  Laughter becomes distant.  SANDUSKY in a shower stall, next to VICTIM.  Scene fades back to podium.)

"But I'm not here to tell you all about me.  (Crowd Laughter)

"I don’t know what I can say to you guys. I was saying to a couple of coaches that walked over with me, you get older and you get to a point when you start preaching too much. Some of the things that we’ve been able to do at Penn State is because we had the right people around us, we’ve had the right administration. "

(Black and white shot of VICTIM pushing away SANDUSKY and JIM TARMAN out of truancy hall, running into the dark night.)

PATERNO VOICEOVER: "And we have the right kids at Penn State, too.  We have kids that discover themselves - by discovering all the kinds of people they can meet among the thirty-seven thousand students on our campus.  Discovering himself is his main job.

(Return to podium)

PATERNO: "We want our players to enjoy football and their entire college experience.  We want them to learn about art and literature and music and all of the other things college has to offer. College should be a great time. It is the only time a person is really free. We don't want them just tied to a football program, so we keep on them to experience everything that Penn State has to offer them.  The purpose of college football is to serve education, not the other way around.

(Slow pan over the people sitting in the first row.  Recognizable faces among cigarette smoke, with camera lingering on SANDUSKY, nodding his head to what PATERNO is saying.)

PATERNO VOICEOVER:"I watch almost all of our players grow in the game, grow in their personal discipline, grow in their educational development, grow as human beings.  Of all the statistics that magazine writers hang around my neck, the one that means most to me is that 85 percent of all the players I've coached have earned college degrees.."

(Flash to SANDUSKY on sidelines with Penn State linebacking unit vs. Georgia, yelling instructions.  Shows him hiding his face as the action unfolds.)

PATERNO VOICEOVER: "including winners of scholarships, postgraduate scholarships, and National Football Foundation Hall-of-fame scholars.  And also players that have become winners in life.  That's a big, deep, lasting reward that counts more than winning or losing."

(Podium)

PATERNO: "Often I get asked to name the best team I ever had."

(Stock footage of KNUTE ROCKNE)

PATERNO VOICEOVER: "Knute Rockne was asked that long ago.  He said, 'I'll find out what my best team is when I find out how many doctors and lawyers and good husbands and good citizens have come off each and every one of my teams.'  That's always been my feeling, too.

(Podium)

PATERNO: "When I can look back and see what my squads have contributed to society, I'll have no trouble naming by best team."

(Switch to classic Penn State football footage)

PATERNO VOICEOVER: "What fans want most - as they should - is the visible part of football: the calling of a surprise play, the unstoppable run of a Blair Thomas or  John Cappelletti.  Coaches thrill over these moments as fans do."

(Fade from Penn State football footage to SANDUSKY in his car, engine running, late at night with campus police in their nearby cars looking at him)

PATERNO VOICEOVER: "But the main daily work of the college coach is invisible to the crowd: the slow, one-step-at-a-time molding of high school adolescents into mature men.  Utterly lacking in glamour - no cheers, no television, no Blue Band.  These kids bring talent and eagerness - but they are raw.  Molding players - the character of players as much as their skills - occupies the mind, the vigilance, the best moments of the waking hours of a concerned coach."

(Switch to PATERNO's back of the head looking out on crowd"

"What flour is to bread, the patient molding of character is to coaching."

* (NOTE: Much of the source material for this sample treatment comes from Joe's words in his book Paterno: By The Book and portions from an actual speech he made at Penn State, and a few other online sources, adapted and paraphrased from his own words.)

Comments

Anonymous said…
If Paterno had lived, he would be in jail.
Damn.

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