WASHINGTON – World audiences were mesmerized by Steven Spielberg’s “Bridge of Spies,” the 2015 movie about a mild-mannered New York lawyer, played by Tom Hanks, thrust into Cold War tensions when he defended a Russian spy.
And it is that $165 million box office success to which a new WND Books release, “Missileman: The Secret Life of Cold War Engineer Wallace Clauson,” is being compared by Hollywood executives.
They are guiding an effort by WND Films Vice President George Escobar to develop a screenplay treatment.
Among a dozen other feature films and documentaries, Escobar is best known for “Alone Yet Not Alone,” an Oscar-nominated film, which he co-wrote, co-directed and helped produce.
“What’s amazing about ‘Missileman’ is how Wallace Clauson managed to maintain a triple life: first, as an IBM salesman to the world; second, as a good father and husband to his family; third, as a top secret weapon for his country,” Escobar said.
Clauson’s secret life is about to become an open secret.
“It’s not an exaggeration to claim that Wallace Clauson was America’s top secret weapon during the Cold War,” said Escobar.
“Not only did Clauson work with leading scientists and engineers to develop advanced radar systems during World War II, he then helped his mentors, Albert Einstein and John von Neumann, create a missile defense system at the beginning of and throughout the Cold War.”
Clauson’s efforts earned him membership to von Neumann’s exclusive “Nuclear Brotherhood.”
“And yet Clauson’s greatest achievement and contribution was still to come,” said Escobar. “He worked for NASA to bring the U.S. into a leadership role during the space race.
“Finally, Wallace helped to save the world from annihilation during the Able Archer nuclear missile exercise in 1983,” he said. “This event was a nuclear arms escalation between America and Russia, now considered potentially more lethal than the one experienced during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.”
Escobar talked about how books such as “Missileman: The Secret Life of Cold War Engineer Wallace Clauson,” written by John Clauson and Alice Sullivan, get adapted into a screenplay:
My approach is probably similar to others, but also a little bit different than most. The first step for me is to pray for wisdom and discernment. If I’m entrusted in depicting the heart and soul of a man, such as Wallace Clauson, I pray that God would reveal to me how He worked throughout Clauson’s life. I wanted to know how Clauson was able to sacrifice his own personal freedom so that others – his family, co-workers, countrymen, could be free from danger and tyranny. The key to Clauson’s life of dedicated service wasn’t only his patriotism. It must have been greater. I wanted to solve and illuminate that mystery.
The next step is to portray conflicting worldviews between the central characters. Stories don’t just come out of the void. There are always multiple worldviews at play contending for the allegiance of the audience. In “Missileman,” there are layers of this. There are the political forces: democracy versus communism; theological: Christianity versus atheism; familial: personal versus community; and historical: Western civilization versus the East.
From all of these elements, I must then distill a person’s entire lifespan down to its essence. What were the seminal moments of Wallace Clauson’s life? What critical decisions did he confront and make? What did Wallace value and risk most?
Finally, I have to ensure it’s a page-turner, respectful of a real-life person’s history, yet punctuated with dramatic license to make it entertaining.
It takes me about six to nine months of research, which includes interviews with author John Clauson or others, historical fact-finding, watching other similar films, documentaries and new accounts, reading other screenplays, novels, letters, biographies of other historical figures. I have to completely saturate my mind to the era(s) that I’m going to be writing. In my mind’s eye, I have to live in the 1930s, ’40s, ’50s, all the way through the 1980s.
For “Missileman,” I’m the beneficiary of author John Clauson’s firsthand account of his father’s life. It’s rare to have this close proximity to the actual subject. And John is a great storyteller himself, full of anecdotes and insights about his father and family.
After my research, I start to outline the story multiple times. The outlines are driven by character interactions and intentions. I put the characters in various critical situations and events. If I’ve done sufficient research, these characters come alive almost by themselves when put in these situations. They inform the actions and dialogue of the screenplay. It’s almost as though I’m just a note taker witnessing history unfold before me.
These character-driven situations I subsequently write into treatments. Many treatments, in fact. This allows me to get a sense of the style and tone of the narrative beyond “this happens, then that happens.” These treatments are between 20 to 40 pages each. The outlines are 10 to 15 pages. I’ve developed a comprehensive story spreadsheet that I use to MAP OUT the entire screenplay based on the final outline and treatment. My spreadsheet has every scene, character tick, page budget (assigned for the scene), the function of the scene, and the questions raised by the scene for the audience.
Once I start writing the actual screenplay, the spreadsheet tells me my writing assignment for the day. Writer’s block is a myth using this approach. The first draft typically takes three to four weeks, sometimes shorter. The rewrites take another six months to a year. I’m not happy until about the fifth to seventh draft.
The completed first draft of “Missileman” is now in the hands of major Hollywood producers who have produced several Academy Award-winning films.
Confidentiality agreements prevent disclosure of these producers, but according to Escobar, “I’m in awe of their talents and abilities to further develop stories like ‘Missileman.’”
The screenplay is now being “packaged” for film financing, and Escobar has already begun his rewrites.
In addition to “Missileman,” Escobar is also working on a WND Films movie project about the true story of Holocaust survivor Anita Dittman, based on the book “Trapped in Hitler’s Hell” by Dittman and Jan Markell.
Ditmann was a Jewish teenager in Germany, abandoned by her Aryan father and raised alone by her Jewish mother. She became a Christian during the Holocaust through the ministry of Pastor Ernst Hornig. With God’s grace and providence, Anita escaped twice from Nazi prison camps as she boldly fought to reunite with her mother, who had been sent to a faraway death camp.
The books “Missileman: The Secret Life of Cold War Engineer Wallace Clauson” and “Trapped in Hitler’s Hell: A Young Jewish Girl Discovers the Messiah’s Faithfulness in the Midst of the Holocaust” are available at the WND Superstore, Amazon and in bookstores nationwide.