The true story of the militant suffrage leader imprisoned in 1917 for picketing the White House and given 48 hours to prove her sanity or be committed to an insane asylum.

    The Passion of Alice Paul

    Singularity Posted on February 26, 2016 in Drama.

    Working title: The Passion of Alice Paul

    Alternative logline:

    When a radical suffrage leader is imprisoned in 1917 for picketing the White House she must prove her sanity to avoid being committed to an asylum.
    (27 words)

    I’m inclined toward “The true story…” lest a logline reader think I’m making it up.   I’m not.  It actually happened.

    on May 15, 2016.
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    10 Review(s)

      I think it’s potentially a great tale waiting to be told, and i think your alternate version is closer to the mark. My issue is this —  was it her goal to actually “Prove her sanity?” (and if so, HOW would she specifically go about doing this?) In the asylum she goes on a hunger strike to continue her protest … Isn’t it her goal more along the lines of fighting the current (in 1917) chauvinistic government/ society to influence the amendment to allow woman to vote in the in 1917 General election?… All from the confines of an Insane Asylum..? To me, having her locked up in an asylum and still being prepared to fight the good fight has the potential for deep emotional ground, as opposed to her trying to escape being locked up in an Asylum (which paints her goal as more personal, as opposed to altruistic…)

      Either way, I think you could include a specific antagonist she must fight against (either in prison or the asylum…) to personalize/ humanize the logline/ story more — is there someone  in this story that could wear that mantle?

      Below is just my spin, but it’s running on her actually getting committed etc.. (and obviously not your story…)

      “Sent to an insane asylum for picketing the White House, an impassioned activist fights torturous conditions and a chauvinistic system in an effort to allow woman a vote in the 1917 general election. (Based on a True Story)”

      Anyway — best of luck with this DPG.

      Samurai Answered on February 27, 2016.

      You are correct in that in real life, her objective goal was to overcome male bigotry and win the vote for women.  That’s how the history books tell her story. But in reel life, we are choosing a shorter term, more urgent goal for the purpose of a plot.

      One  lesson we have learned in adapting this  history to a movie is that the real life  goal doesn’t always work well as the reel life goal.  Particularly when the history is as messy, complicated and full of  contradictions as is the story of Alice Paul.

      Why we have made that dramatic choice I could expatiate at length. But I will (uncharacteristically!) resist the urge and merely point out one messy fact in adapting  this history to drama:

      The go-to  antagonist, the personification , the “face” of the male bigotry, is the President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson.  Can you have a greater antagonist  in an historical American drama?

      But his role is more complicated than that.  The suffragists need him, the power and prestige of his office, to win suffrage.  So he’s not just the major obstacle, he’s also  the must-have “MacGuffin”,  the man women need to get the vote.   But he refuses to support woman suffrage  through a Constitutional Amendment.

      Anyway,  thanks for your feedback.  Best of luck, Tony,  with your projects.

      on February 28, 2016.

      This is so correct. I am adapting a real life mysterious pandemic into my novel and have moved it from Northern China and East Russia to Haiti and the time from 1977  ( I do mention the earlier 1976 outbreak that caused the 1977 accidental release) Nothing about the real life events remains the same except the fact that a REAL pandemic was caused by a lab accident  and some government hid the information, choosing to blame it on a natural event. I took that one grain of  truth and decided that would make a great story. I do wish you lots of luck on this plot, I do recall it from my own reading of history and that era was filled with many rebels. I would love to see the logline for ‘Hell on Wheels’; Chinese laborers are exploited by evil magnates to build the first intercontinental railroad.

      on March 27, 2017.
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        Providing the premise deals with the socio-political agenda I think best to keep the story outside of the asylum, otherwise it runs the risk of needing a male version of Nurse Ratched and establishing a whole new set of conflicts.

        Considering what asylums back then were like and the fact that she would no longer be able to fight for women’s rights, the risk of being committed is enough to give the story high stakes.

        After being sentenced to an insane asylum for protesting outside the White House, a suffrage leader has 48 hours to prove her sanity so she can remain free to fight for women’s right to vote.

        Singularity Answered on February 27, 2016.

        >>Considering what asylums back then were like and the fact that she would no longer be able to fight for women’s rights, the risk of being committed is enough to give the story high stakes.

        Exactly, Nir Shelter.  The stakes are personal for her and political for all women.  If she’s committed, given laws at that time, she loses her freedom for who knows how many months or years.  And the suffrage movement loses its most forceful and audacious advocate.

        Rather than start the story at the beginning of Alice Paul’s militant struggle in 1913,  our plot starts in media res, in 1917,  near the climax of her struggle to get President Woodrow Wilson to come out in favor of suffrage.

        (Spoiler alert)

        She avoids being committed, so there’s no flying over a cuckoo’s nest.  Woodrow Wilson capitulates, comes out in favor of suffrage–and then

        The 3rd Act reversal and twist as the real villain in the story is  unmasked and must be confronted.

        (Hopefully in a theater or streaming media near you in time for the 100th anniversary of women winning the vote in the U.S.)

        Thanks for your feedback.

        on February 28, 2016.
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          Fair point Nir — but again, I can’t see how she could “prove her sanity”, or that there would be ANYTHING she could do to stop herself getting committed — she wasn’t committed because the establishment thought she was insane… she was committed because she was taking on the chauvinistic establishment, and it was the way they thought they could defuse the Silent Sentinals (or from what I know of the subject, which is limited).

          My point is that the goal (in DPG’s posted logline) paints an almost selfish goal  — not that there’s anything wrong with that, it just doesn’t sit well with this particularly altruistic historical figure — your take does bring the goal back to her fighting for women’s right to vote.

          “… I think best to keep the story outside of the asylum, otherwise it runs the risk of needing a male version of Nurse Ratched and establishing a whole new set of conflicts.”

          … but even if it’s about avoiding being committed, isn’t there going to be a need for a physical/ human antagonist she contends with to avoid this?

          Again Nir, I get your point, I’m just confused about what “Prove her sanity” would actually entail.

          Samurai Answered on February 27, 2016.
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            Proving her sanity entails proving that certain powerful people are conspiring for her to be falsely committed. If she manages to expose the conspiracy then she will prove that there is no justification for her to be committed i.e not insane.

            As DPG elaborated she didn’t end up in an asylum and the the truth was surfaced one way or another, this means that the mechanism of the premise did work in reality and can make for a believable and interesting story.

            Her own suffering should be but the tip whereas the rest of the ice burg is the fight for the greater good. In the same way that Gandhi suffered for India, his personal suffering was just a small part of the fight for his whole nation.

            It’s these bigger stakes that will make the story particularly interesting. Therefore if the principle antagonist is a politician or rival chauvinist speaker and not a staff member in the asylum, women’s rights remain the stakes as appose to personal comfort.

            Singularity Answered on February 28, 2016.
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              Hey Nir and DPG —

              I understand what you are both saying — but I don’t get that  “prove her sanity” means  “…proving that certain powerful people are conspiring for her to be falsely committed” as you suggest it does, Nir.  This is a specific goal (proving certain powerful people are conspiring for her to be falsely committed), as opposed to a vague one in  “Proving her sanity”.

              For me, and excuse my lack of imagination, but “Proving her Sanity” creates images of her having to undergo a series of tests or medical exams as the main action to this story… I’m assuming, with such a rich and deep well of historical stuff to draw on that this would not in fact be the case — I don’t know, I haven’t read the script, could be completely wrong… but I just can’t envisage what “Prove Her Sanity” actually/physically/ objectively MEANS in terms of the REEL (or real) world.

              I am a laymen in terms of the actual history, and the logline doesn’t inform me of what her struggle is —  yes, ok, she has to “Prove her Sanity”, but to who? And given the context of her imprisonment I see her plight (again, as a laymen to the subject matter) as being completely futile — she CAN’T PROVE HER SANITY (and I’m starting to feel that we both — as in, Alice and I, have something in common here… 😉 ) — it doesn’t matter squat — If the chauvinistic powers that be want to shove her away into an insane asylum there is nothing she can do  – as I said in an earlier post, they aren’t threatening to commit her because she’s insane — THEY KNOW she’s not insane– they threaten to commit her because she is threatening their cosy positions as as masters of the Universe…. and therefore her goal to prove her sanity seems misplaced — surely she knows that she can’t prove her sanity to these people (whoever they may be…)..? All I see that she can do is along the line of what you Nir, have suggested — that she in fact has to prove there is a conspiracy against her — but again, this is not the same thing as “Proving Her Sanity”

              I’m sure the story is awesome — the logline, for me, especially as someone not that familiar with this historical figure,  feels vague, or  suffers from a misplaced goal   – that’s all….

              Sounds like the script is written DPG — I sincerely wish you the best of luck getting it made. Nir — I respect and appreciate your views and hope my rantings don’t come across as idiotic or unimaginative 🙂 — I’m at my day job and am bored as Hell.


              Samurai Answered on February 28, 2016.

              I take your point, Tony,  but truth is stranger than fiction.  They did try to have her committed.   Alice Paul later said she gave the greatest speech of her life to the shrink examining her — to escape being committed to the  asylum.  And  I dug into the archives at the Library of Congress and obtained a  copy of the  report Woodrow Wilson commissioned on her condition.

              The dramatic proof that she has persuaded the alienist — that’s what they called shrinks in those days — that she is sane is not only that he refuses to commit her, but that he reports that he was impressed by her remarkable lucidity and logic!  (Which, in fact, he did.)  

              All scenes in the script, needless to say.

              There’s a missing beat in my logline that I should have included that might clarify why they thought they could get her committed.  Here it is:

              When a radical suffrage leader goes on a hunger strike after being imprisoned in 1917 for picketing the White House she must prove her sanity to avoid being committed to an asylum.

              Picketing —> imprisonment —>hunger strike—> psyche evaluation.  That’s the chain of cause-and-effect.   And by the looser standards of that era, the burden of proof was more  on Alice Paul to prove her sanity and less on the government to prove her insanity.

              BTW: after they failed to get her committed, they tortured her with violent forced feeding, three times a day for two weeks. 

              on February 28, 2016.
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                I like the idea and the title but I can’t but the 48h deadline: it seems to me a very artificial device. I think that the logline must be clear about why she has 48hours (and not 24 or 72). Then I think that “to prove her sanity” is too vague, I honestly can’t imagine what she can do (the more she says she’s right about her cause, the more everyone will be convinced that she’s crazy).
                As far as I’m concerned I prefere the Tony version, not because it’s more historically correct, but because it’s more believable and well detailed it could be more detailed with a clear antagonist).

                Mentor Answered on February 28, 2016.
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                  FFF,  thanks for your feedback.

                  That you find the 48 hour tick clock to be dramatic artifice is why I initially leaned toward  “The true story of….”.

                  I’m not making up the  48 hrs.   The alienist (shrink) interviewed her over a span of 2 days and then made his determination.   He, and everyone else, was under the gun.  President Wilson demanded a report ASAP to deal with the bad publicity; the caca had hit the fan when her ordeal was  leaked to the press by sympathetic female jail wardens.

                  And  the burden of proof was on her to prove her sanity as I explained in my reply to Tony Edward.

                  >>> I honestly can’t imagine what she can do  (the more she says she’s right about her cause, the more everyone will be convinced that she’s crazy).

                  The answer is coming to a theater near you… some year…. hopefully.

                  Again, thanks for your comment.   Obviously, I need to do some more work to craft a logline that is concise, clear — and credible.

                  Singularity Answered on February 29, 2016.
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                    Hi dpg, I was just lurking through your loglines to see if all of them were based on Classics, and found this. I’m not sure if you’re aware that there was a film based on this event: Iron Jawed Angels. A quick search makes it seem that it was TV film, critically acclaimed. It was released in 2004 and it covers everything you’ve included in this post. If you’ve seen it, what differentiates your version from this film?
                    After reading through the discussion, and having studied the event, and seen the existing film(granted it has been a few years), I do have to say I agree with Tony, that the goal presented in the logline is vague without historical knowledge. However, anyone who would be interested in producing this script would probably at least have a passing knowledge of these events. So, I do think that you should maybe try to make a bit more specific. I think maybe you should take out the specific timeline. That may be how long it took, but that’s not the time that she knew she had. She knew she had a short amount of time, but she wasn’t told that she had 48 hours(unless I’m mistaken.)
                    Hope this helps.

                    Summitry Answered on September 25, 2016.
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                      First of all, thanks for giving my logline a look-see.

                      I’m (too) well aware of “Iron Jawed Angels”.  My script covers more events and is truer to historical facts.  The truth of what really happened is stranger than the fiction of the HBO movie.

                      As the interviews (there were 2) progressed  Alice Paul came to realize that she was being examined for her sanity, not her health.  But she clung to her convictions and refused to “play sane”, stop her hunger strike. This is the decisive, pivotal moment in my plot. The stakes in those 48 hours are high, politically and personally:  if she is committed, the militant wing of the suffrage movement is decapitated.  And Alice Paul could be locked  up, denied her freedom and her civil rights for months, for years.

                      I am all tool aware that my logline does not conform to the standard form.  But I eschewed the standard form  because of the very point you raise:  most people are not aware of the climactic struggle for women’s suffrage in the United States.  I concluded a by-the-formula logline won’t do the job.  I gotta dangle a hook and the most alluring hook I can think of is that they tried to get her declared insane.  Hopefully, it is alluring enough to get readers to bite, read the script.

                      I’m always tweaking the logline.  Here’s one alternate version:

                      The true story of the woman imprisoned in 1917 for defying President Woodrow Wilson and committed to the insane ward for the “insane” demand that women be given the right to vote.
                      (32 words)

                      Better?  Worse?

                      [Clarification:  that version is technically true.  When Alice Paul went on a hunger strike, she was moved to the “cooler” of the insane ward in the (local) DC jail.  But after she had served her sentence for picketing the White House, they would have to release her.  So they conspired to commit her to the “deep freeze” of the federal asylum, St. Elizabeths.  Given the laws for involuntary commitment in those days, she could have been deprived of her freedom for, well, who knows how long.]

                      >>However, anyone who would be interested in producing this script would probably at least have a passing knowledge of these events.

                      The news hook is the upcoming centennial  in 2020 of the ratification of 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution giving women the right to vote.  And if Hillary Clinton becomes the 1st woman elected President of the United States — well, that’s a bonus news hook. She would be a capstone, an historical denouement of Alice Paul’s struggle and suffering

                      I greatly appreciate your feedback.   You’re right that most people aren’t aware of Alice Paul, and know little or less about the suffrage struggle. That’s  the primary obstacle to be overcome and for the purposes of the logline.  I see no remedy but to bait the hook with the most dramatic, “It really happened folks” chapter in Alice Paul’s struggle.

                      Singularity Answered on September 25, 2016.
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                        Well, I like the new version, and I think you’re right that you’ll be selling this completely on the true story angle. I think it might be better, but perhaps you need someone who doesn’t know as much about the event to tell you how much it interests them.
                        It truly is a shame that schools teach such a gilded version of American history.
                        You seem very passionate about this story. It deserves to be told(again).  Good luck with this.
                        Maybe you should try posting the new version on a new thread. 

                        Summitry Answered on September 25, 2016.
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