How the Mother of All Sequels Crashed and Burned
Ten years ago, Benedict Fitzgerald's screenplay helped turn The Passion of the Christ into the most successful independent movie ever made. Later, he wrote a follow-up script that he thought could be as bigand so did some drug dealers, money launderers, and kidnappers. Now, when biblical epics have once again become a thriving Hollywood business, this is the story of what happened to the mother of all sequels.
Byon July 25, 2014
Arturo Madrigal's cell phone rings and he doesn't recognize the number, but he can see that it's coming from his hometown of Guadalajara, Mexico. It's May 27, 2008. He's in San Antonio, where he's been living part time for most of the past two decades, launching one start-up after another: used-car dealerships, restaurants, lawn-care companies, rental properties. He thinks that once you know how to manage one sort of business, the skills are basically transferable. Case in point: Arturo recently, through a complicated series of events, acquired the rights to a film script written by a notable American screenwriter. It's potentially a very valuable script, and although Arturo has no prior experience in the business of making movies, he'd like to try to get this one produced.
He answers the phone. The voice on the other end of the line is tight and panicky.
"Arturo," he hears his younger brother say, "these motherfuckers have me, and they're going to kill me unless you give them the fucking screenplay."
Benedict Fitzgerald arrives for lunch at the Fairmont Hotel in Santa Monica wearing a blue blazer over a button-down shirt and a battered baseball cap pulled down low. He never takes the cap off, and occasionally leans forward and looks around as he talks to make sure nobody's listening in.
Fitzgerald, sixty-five, is a good storyteller, and there are a lot of great old stories he could tell you about himself. He could tell you how when he was three, he snuck into the big 1940's Mercury belonging to his father, the former poet laureate of the United States, then slipped it into gear and drove it straight into a brick wall. And he could tell you how his family's sometime babysitter, who happened to be the author Flannery O'Connor, memorialized the incident with one of her perfect phrases, describing Benedict clambering out the car window smiling, "looking like Lindbergh."
He could tell you how when he was nineteen, he took his junior year off from Harvard and apprenticed himself to Marcel Marceau in Paris, then parlayed his pantomime skills into a gig as an occupational therapist at an insane asylum, teaching the fundamentals of mime to lunatics. And he could tell you how one afternoon, a giant Danish psychopath skipped up to him after class, beaming, then darted his hands around his neck and didn't stop squeezing until the orderlies pried him off.
He could tell you how when he was twenty-seven, he wrote a screenplay adaptation of his old babysitter's first novel, Wise Blood, and how he and his brother somehow convinced John Huston, the director of The Maltese Falcon and The African Queen, to come out of retirement to make it. And he could tell you how the resulting critically acclaimed film gave rise to a bohemian and star-crossed stint as a promising young screenwriter, which inevitably gave rise to more stories, such as the night he found himself watching Richard Burton put on an impromptu dinner-party recital of King Lear.
All these great old stories.
But the most astonishing story Fitzgerald has ever been a part of isn't an old one. It began a few years ago, and, well, it hasn't really ended yet. It's a story he's never told before today, a story that spans Hollywood and western Mexico and central Texas, a story fueled by ambition, tinged with desperation, and spiced with a kidnapping.
The story begins with a job offer from Mel Gibson.
How could he say no?
He had been living in Italy with his wife and three young daughters when the call came. It was early 2001. They'd moved to Perugia from Los Angeles two years prior, in part because Fitzgerald wanted to give his children the gift of bilingualism, but also because Italy was a cheaper place to live, and he wasn't exactly flush. Wise Blood had been a critical darling, but it hadn't made him much money. He'd carved out a shallow niche in Hollywood writing screenplay adaptations of heavy literaturetelevised versions of Moby-Dick and Heart of Darkness and In Cold Blood, among othersbut nothing had ever really taken off. The last project Fitzgerald worked on prior to departing for Italy was a failed attempt to adapt The Iliad into a miniseries. The project had been considered by Mel Gibson's company, Icon Productions, and Gibson and Fitzgerald had met briefly. They had hit it off, Fitzgerald thought, but he was still surprised when the phone rang years later and he picked it up to hear Mel's low Aussie burr in his ear, telling him he was planning to direct a movie about the death of Jesus Christ and that he wanted to talk to Fitzgerald about writing it. Fitzgerald flew to California and spent several days with Gibson hashing out their vision of how they could make the old story feel alive again.
After Fitzgerald returned to Italy, Gibson's company made him an offer. Fitzgerald's agent looked it over and advised him to pass. The age of religious epics was long gone, he said, and there was no way this one would be a success. Also, his agent thought the contract wasn't a good one, that there was too little money being offered up front and too little action on the back end. Benedict heard him out, but he knew he was going to sign.
He spent much of the next six months in his study, in his house in Perugia, on a hill above the Tiber. He read the gospels over and over. He steeped in religious history and studied the mechanics of scourging and crucifixion. Eventually he booted up Final Draft on his IBM ThinkPad and began to write. He wrote with energy and enthusiasm. He wrote too long and too messy, but he didn't know what to cut, so on a quiet afternoon almost halfway through September, he attached his first draft to an e-mail and sent it off to Gibson. Right after pressing send, he noticed that the television in his study was showing a news feed of a single burning skyscraper in New York City, and then he watched in horror as the second plane hit.
He didn't hear back from Gibson for several months, so in early 2002 he hand-delivered a leaner second draft to the Icon Productions office in Los Angeles, and a couple of days after that his phone rang and he heard Gibson's voice again, telling him the revised script had moved him to tears.
The next two years were amazing. The late nights at Mel's home in Malibu, sharpening the arc, cutting the fat. The stormy shoot in Italy, during which the actor who played Jesus was grazed by lightning and one of the assistant directors was hit twice. The day on a soundstage in Rome when Fitzgerald watched the crew film Gibson's hands in close-up as he used a hammer to drive a spike through Jesus' palm, an impromptu and uncredited cameo that the director explained he'd done because "there are two parts of me." The sheer exhilarating camaraderie of it all. The feeling that he was in the game again, working with top talent, on a story that mattered.
And the film was a hit. A huge one. The Passion of the Christ began making headlines even before its release, when its leaked script was denounced by the Anti-Defamation League for perceived anti-Semitism, but the controversy didn't keep viewers out of theaters. It opened wide in February of 2004 and eventually took in more than $600 million and became the most profitable independent film of all time.
The pope held a screening at the Vatican.
Fitzgerald's agent had been totally wrong about the film's potential.
He'd been right about the contract, though.
In the wake of The Passion of the Christ, Fitzgerald found himself in an unusual position.
He had just written a blockbuster, but it was so controversial that it didn't exactly lead to a flood of new Hollywood writing gigs. And he needed new gigs. Gibson had paid him $100,000 to write the script and also advanced him a $75,000 production bonus prior to the beginning of the shoot. He did receive additional payments when the film hit theaters and went to DVD and cable, but they were smaller than he'd imagined, in part because the contract Fitzgerald signed denied him the standard Writers Guild of America pay scale, since he was residing outside of America when he signed it.
Fitzgerald needed money. He had no job and no prospects.
But he had an idea.
There is a common misconception about the Immaculate Conception. Most think it refers to the conception of Jesus Christ inside his mother's womb. After all, his mother was allegedly a virgin, and virgins are symbols of purity, and to describe something as pure is just another way of saying it is immaculate. So wouldn't an immaculate conception be one in which no sex took place?
But the Immaculate Conception refers to the conception of Jesus' mother, not Jesus himself. This doesn't mean that her parents did not have sex. It just means that she somehow managed to grow from zygote to child-rearing age without acquiring the original sin that afflicts everyone else. She was an immaculate woman, which made her uniquely suitable for bearing the son of God.
How could Fitzgerald follow up the huge success of The Passion of the Christ? He would write a prequel.
Myriam, Mother of the Christ.
An immaculate woman coming of age in a sinful world, fleeing her home with her husband and her baby, shielding the child from brutal legionnaires and a jealous king. It made for a great story. Maybe it would make for a great movie, too.
Fitzgerald's motivations were not immaculate, of course. But they were not entirely mercenary, either. Even the name of the project, his decision to call her Myriam, which is the original, Hebrew version of Jesus' mother's name, had a certain noble motivation behind it. For one thing, it is the name by which the Koran refers to her. The Prophet Muhammad actually placed Myriam above his own daughter, Fatima, making Myriam a shared object of worship between two religions, Islam and Christianity, that historically have had trouble finding much common ground. Add to that the fact that Myriam was basically the ultimate nice Jewish girl, and Fitzgerald thought that a movie about her, if it were as successful as the one he had just written about Jesus, might actually do some good at forging bonds among the three major monotheistic religions. This was maybe naive, but it wasn't mercenary. Likewise, Fitzgerald planned to allocate a portion of the eventual profits of the film to fund the Little Sisters of the Poor, a group of nuns who care for the needy elderly around the world.
If everything went well, he stood to earn a great deal of money, and maybe even do a little good while he was at it.
Everything did not go well.
He leans across the table, lowers his voice.
"A lot of bad people got involved," he says. "A lot of very dangerous people."
Arturo Madrigal is wearing a black jacket and a checkered shirt and he wants to sit at the far end of the empty café in San Antonio where we meet. He asks for water, not coffee. He's got short, thick dark hair combed back, a vague widow's peak, and a smile that doesn't really carry weight because of the sheen of nervous sweat he's got going.
"I don't trust nobody," he says.
He puts his phone on the table. It's in a red-and-black case with a Ferrari horse logo on it, and he's placed black electrical tape over the holes for the front and rear cameras so the lenses can't pick up any light at all. This is to keep the DEA agents he assumes are listening in on his phone conversations from being able to see him. It's the day before Christmas Eve, 2013, and most of his family is down in Mexico, and if things were normal, he would be down there with them, but things haven't been normal for a long time, ever since the thing with the movie.
For Madrigal, the thing with the movie began on May 16, 2006, in a Tex-Mex restaurant on the north side of San Antonio, when he and three other men sat down to make a deal.
They were a motley crew.
The flashiest man in the room was Mauricio Sanchez Garza. He had a thing for nice suits and expensive watches. He was from Guadalajara, Mexico, though now he divided his time between there and San Antonio, flying back and forth on his family's private Learjet. His father was a prominent real estate developer, and the family had long been suspected by the U. S. Justice Department of being actively involved in laundering drug money for the Guadalajara cartel, though the suspicions had never led to formal charges. In recent years, Sanchez Garza had become the frontman for his father's growing business interests north of the border.
The quietest man in the room was Arturo Madrigal, the serial businessman who was also from Guadalajara. Recently, many of his business investments had been made in partnership with Sanchez Garza.
The most cheerful man in the room was Jorge Berlanga. He was the former husband of a Mexican pop star, Rocío Banquells, and had a lot of friends in the entertainment business on both sides of the border. One of them had made the introductions that made this meeting happen.
And the most hopeful man in the room was Benedict Fitzgerald. This meeting was the culmination of his two-year-long attempt to secure financing for his prequel to The Passion of the Christ. Unlike the first film, he was hoping to hold the reins on this one and to reap more of the rewards if it became a success. He didn't pretend to be an expert at the movie business, but he trusted his longtime lawyer, who had agreed to help Benedict get this film made in return for a 50 percent stake. His lawyer had introduced Fitzgerald to Berlanga, and Berlanga's friend had introduced them all to Sanchez Garza and Madrigal. Fitzgerald wondered a little bit about the source of the Mexicans' wealth, but he didn't wonder too much.
The four of them eventually went to Sanchez Garza 's large house in an upscale gated community called the Dominion, where they gathered around a computer and hammered out a one-page "memo of agreement." The memobetween Madrigal and Sanchez Garza's company, Macri Inc., and Fitzgerald's company, Myriam LLCincluded a number of bullet points. Fitzgerald had a nagging feeling that he should have insisted his lawyer come along on this trip to review the memo before he signed anything. But he kept coming back to the fourth bullet point.
4. Macri Inc. will hereby guarantee that within 120 days it will raise the full budget financing for Myriam, Mother of the Christ, which sum will not exceed $30,000,000 (thirty million US dollars).
How could he say no?
Madrigal won't say today whether he and Sanchez Garza were already intending to wrench the script away from Fitzgerald. But within five weeks of signing the memo, he and Sanchez Garza filed a lawsuit against Fitzgerald in the Superior Court of California. The complaint was twenty-nine pages long and alleged a variety of transgressions, including fraud, breach of oral contract, and breach of duty to negotiate in good faith. The crux of the complaint was that Fitzgerald, after leaving San Antonio, had requested and received funds in order to secure Caleb Deschanel, the cinematographer of The Passion of the Christ, as the director of Myriam, and then did not secure those services. The complaint used this failure as grounds to demand that Myriam LLC return all the money it had received from Macri Inc.$340,000 at that pointalong with any "such other and further relief as the court may deem proper."
The case would drag on for two years. In the end, although there wasn't any concrete proof of fraud, the lawsuit itself was concrete proof of a failed partnership, and in order for Macri Inc. and Myriam LLC to be able to extricate themselves from the rubble, certain fiduciary issues needed to be cleared up. Specifically, the $340,000 would have to be returned.
The problem was that the money no longer existed. It had dispersed in various directions: A $50,000 payment had been made to Jorge Berlanga, representatives had been sent to scout locations in Israel, Spain, and Morocco, a former DreamWorks producer had been hired to draft a comprehensive production budget, and preliminary attempts had been made to secure various cast and crew. And most of the rest, ironically or comically or tragically, had gone into paying the lawyers' fees to defend the case.
Fitzgerald did not have the money to pay what he owed. But he did have something valuable. In late May 2008, after several sessions of court-ordered mediation, Fitzgerald agreed to sign over to Macri Inc. all rights to the script for Myriam, Mother of the Christ.
During the limbo of their slow-winding lawsuit, Madrigal and Sanchez Garza had plenty of time to discuss their plans for the movie. There was something great, they both agreed, about the fact that their first venture into Hollywood wouldn't be just some action flick or comedy. As Mexicans, as Catholic Mexicans, this was the sort of projecta movie about Madre Maria!that could make their own mothers proud.
But by the time the lawsuit was nearing its end, things had changed. Sanchez Garza no longer was as keen to go through the delayed gratification that accompanies making a movie. He'd found a potential buyer, a Hollywood producer, who was offering about a million dollars for the script. He thought that as soon as the script was in their hands, they should off-load it for as much as they could, sell the rights, and move on. Madrigal, on the other hand, wanted to keep the script and actually make the movie. The two argued, but it soon became clear that arguments were not going to sway either one of them.
On May 25, 2008, about the same time that Fitzgerald agreed to give up his rights to Myriam, Sanchez Garza phoned Madrigal and promised physical harm to him and his family if he didn't, in turn, sign over his portion of the screenplay. Madrigal refused.
Two days later, on the afternoon of May 27, 2008, Madrigal picked up the phone and heard his younger brother's tight and panicky voice on the other end of the line.
His brother eventually passed the phone over to his kidnappers, who instructed Madrigal to fax them a formal letter relinquishing the rights to Myriam, Mother of the Christ to a man he'd never heard of named Jorge Vazquez Sanchez. Madrigal sat down and wrote the letter, then went to a Kinko's to fax it. He remembers the fear and anger he felt standing at the counter, waiting until the little receipt came back verifying that the fax had gone through.
When she answers the phone at her office in Beverly Hills, Mary Aloe is talking as if she's already in the middle of another conversation, or a series of them. I finally manage to introduce myself, then she gets distracted by another caller and puts me on hold.
Our conversation goes on like this for a while, whirling in quick, tight, confusing circles, making no forward progress. Eventually, I string a few sentences together, let her know I'm working on a story about what happened to the screenplay of Benedict Fitzgerald's prequel to The Passion of the Christ.
Mary Aloe is the producer who, three weeks after Madrigal's brother was released by his kidnappers, agreed to purchase the screenplay from Mauricio Sanchez Garza and Jorge Vazquez Sanchez. She paid them $1 million along with ten points on the gross.
Aloe puts me on hold again, and when she comes back to the phone, she's managed to patch in her attorney, Richard Rosenthal. The two of them immediately start telling me that I shouldn't waste my time on the story. It's ancient history, they say.
I tell them that I don't see how the fact that a story happened in the recent past makes it any less of a story.
Aloe apologizes but says she's got to catch a plane to London and that we'll have to talk at another time. And then she is gone.
I try to get in touch with others who know Aloe and had been involved in the project. Shortly after one such attempt I receive an e-mail from Rosenthal insisting that my reporting "CEASE AND DESIST."
Over the next five weeks, we make several different interview appointments, and she cancels each at the last minute. Finally, we connect and are able to talk. But first she wants to make one thing absolutely clear: She wasn't part of the Cartel, had nothing to do with the kidnapping, and was blindsided by all that stuff.
"You don't go out and purchase a religious script thinking that you're going to have Scarface show up," she says.
Mary Aloe is forty-five now. Her career in entertainment began when she left the University of Southern California in the late 1980s and began writing for magazines, including Us Weekly. She soon left print journalism to work as an associate producer for Geraldo Rivera, gathering skills that she eventually put to use producing projects on her own. She executive-produced her first movie in 2001The Princess and the Marine, about a romance between a Bahraini Muslim and an American Mormonand followed up with an eclectic string of pictures such as Numb, a 2007 romantic comedy with Matthew Perry, and Battle in Seattle, a dramatization of the 1999 WTO protests. None of her films have had more than cursory theatrical releases. It's easy to imagine the excitement she felt when she heard that the rights to the prequel to the most successful independent film of all time were on the market.
She recalls that her first meeting with Mauricio Sanchez Garza and Jorge Vazquez Sanchez took place in a lavish suite at the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas. Vazquez Sanchez never spoke, at least not in English. Sanchez Garza, however, charmed her. She remembers him gushing about his family, about his wife and kids. She was under the impression that he was some sort of real estate magnate. She never entirely understood how he and his silent business associate wound up in control of Fitzgerald's script, she says, but it was very clear that they were looking to make a deal.
Aloe returned to Los Angeles and hired a copyright attorney to research the provenance of the script, and after three and a half months of due diligence he came back and said it was clean. Aloe had a second meeting with Sanchez Garza, this time by a fireplace in the lobby of the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills.
She made the deal.
One of the first things Aloe did after securing the rights was to change the name from Myriam, Mother of the Christ to Mary, Mother of Christ.
More accessible, more familiar.
Then she dug into the script.
Fitzgerald's telling of the story was somber and cerebral, and his action scenesfor example, the scenes depicting Myriam and Yosef and Yeshua fleeing Bethlehem just ahead of the Roman legionnaires storming in to kill all the newbornswere punctuated by recurring verbal sparring between the Archangel Gabriel and the fallen angel Lucifer. Aloe, on the other hand, envisioned the film as a young-teen adventure story. In a written summary of the project, she described the film as "a linear ticking clock, high-action drama, faith-based, youth-based biopic."
She also, unlike Fitzgerald, thought that the movie needed movie stars. Several big names emerged as casting possibilities. Al Pacino as Herod! Peter O'Toole as Symeon! Johnathan Rhys Meyers as Lucifer and Gabriel! Julia Ormond as Elizabeth! The financing agreements she circulated referred to the potential to "use or exploit" merchandising rights "of every kind and nature" related to the movie and all of the characters that appear in it. She brokered a deal with Joel Osteen, the most mega of American mega pastors, to add him as an executive producer. She admits she was focused a lot, maybe too much, on marketing and branding in those days. People who spoke with her back then recall her estimating that the film might net as much as a billion dollars.
So it's easy to imagine what it felt like for Aloe in 2011, in the thick of preproduction, when a couple of DEA agents flashed their badges at her, laid out photographs of Mauricio Sanchez Garza and Jorge Vazquez Sanchez, and started asking questions.
After his brother was kidnapped, Arturo Madrigal did something he knows Mauricio Sanchez Garza never expected him to do: He went to the cops. Madrigal doesn't want to volunteer exactly what happened next, but a 2011 DEA warrant to search Sanchez Garza's house makes things pretty clear. The warrant hinged on information provided by a confidential informant, identified only as CS1, who according to court documents "has conducted numerous consensually monitored and recorded conversations with targets of this investigation." Although the informant is not identified by name, the document notes that "Mauricio Sanchez Garza and Jorge Vazquez Sanchez, through the Sanchez money laundering organization, extorted the rights to a movie entitled, Mary Mother of Christ, also referred to as Myriam, Mother of Christ, from CS1, a business partner of Mauricio Sanchez Garza. Mauricio Sanchez Garza extorted the CS1 by orchestrating the kidnapping of and threatening to kill the CS1's brother." The warrant also notes that CS1 "has been a confidential source for the DEA since 2008" when the kidnapping took place.
The investigation eventually led to a wide-ranging federal indictment in 2010 against both men, charging them with extortion and funneling millions of dollars in cartel-sourced drug money into businesses and properties around San Antonio. In the wake of the indictment, Mauricio Sanchez Garza fled the country. He's still at large.
Jorge Vazquez Sanchez pleaded guilty and received a seven-year federal sentence for extortion. That sentence was later reduced, for reasons that are sealed, to four years.
The United States government also seized various possessions belonging to the two men: a Hublot Geneve Big Bang men's watch, a 9mm Glock pistol, a Bombardier Learjet, a variety of real estate around San Antonioand the rights to 10 percent of the future profits of Mary, Mother of Christ.
The government's involvement in the Hollywood-epic business, however, was short lived.
Madrigal quickly filed motions arguing that the government's stake in the film rightfully belonged to him, since it had been illegally extorted. On April 17, 2013, a judge agreed and ordered the rights transferred back to him.
Today, Madrigal worries about what Jorge Vazquez Sanchez might do when he gets out of prison this year, just like he worries that once the DEA begins to tap your phone, they never stop. But he says he doesn't regret anything. When Madrigal recalls the last telephone conversation he ever had with Mauricio Sanchez Garza, after all pretenses between them had dropped, he smiles broadly at the memory of the last words he ever uttered to his former business partner.
"Chinga tu madre," he said.
It's hard to get a movie made under the best of circumstances, and Fitzgerald's script had become hopelessly, impossibly tainted. Aloe resigned herself to the idea that it could never be made. This was not an easy idea to come to terms with. She had thrown herself into the project, had given it everything she had, and now was left with the prospect of nothing at all.
For a while, she wallowed. Then she decided to start over from scratch. She recruited a former nun turned screenwriter named Barbara Nicolosi, and together they wrote what they say is an entirely new script about the Virgin Mary. Joel Osteen remains as an executive producer, and he is expected to help market the film to his millions of followers. Now Aloe is in the process of pulling together a new cast and crew. She has signed on Lionsgate to distribute the film if she gets it made. She insists she has found investors and that the film is currently in preproduction. She's even got a poster, a tagline"You Will Believe"and a hoped-for release date: Easter 2015.
She also says she wishes I weren't writing this article. She worries that drawing attention to what happened to Benedict Fitzgerald's script won't do her current project any good. And she wants me to know that the real story, the positive one I'm overlooking in favor of the muddy one about extortion and laundered money, is the story of how she and her team picked up the pieces and forged ahead. Like her film, Aloe considers herself in many ways reborn. "When I first got involved, it was more about branding and money and all of that," she says. "I had to find my own faith, and become a better person."
Almost everyone I've spoken with about Aloe has described her as being aggressive, abrasive, a pit bull. But nobody I've spoken with believes Aloe knew that the men she purchased Fitzgerald's script from were kidnappers and money-launderers. And by all the evidence, she has left that script behind.
In any case, one key element of the original project has definitely changed: After replacing Myriam, Mother of the Christ with Mary, Mother of Christ, Aloe has decided to shorten the title even further.
Now it's just called Mary.
The last few years have been up and down for Fitzgerald.
After losing the rights to Myriam, he found himself in the same shaky financial position as before, only worse. In 2008, he sued Mel Gibson, alleging that Gibson had paid him less than he was due for The Passion of the Christ. Gibson was ordered to give a deposition in the case, and when he showed up, he nodded at the man who'd written his most successful film.
"Hey Ben," he said. "It's been too long."
Then, just as the deposition was getting under way, Fitzgerald coughed. Gibson turned to Fitzgerald's attorney.
"Could you please ask your client to refrain from making noises while I talk," he said. "Ask him to act like a man, please."
Fitzgerald's lawyer questioned Gibson for two and a half hours. The conversation was a curious mix of ruminations about authorship and outright hostility. "I don't write," Gibson said at one point, before explaining why he nevertheless deserved credit as coscreenwriter on the project. "It was my vision," he said. "It's my film. I made it. It changed as I shot it. It would change, and that's writing." A little later he added that "any monkey can type keys." When Fitzgerald's attorney produced a draft of the screenplay for The Passion of the Christ and asked Gibson to indicate how it differed from Fitzgerald's first draft, Gibson said he couldn't recall.
"I've written a lot of scripts since then," Gibson said. "He hasn't. One of us is prolific."
"I'd like the record to reflect," Fitzgerald's attorney said, "that the witness, in a fit of anger, just flung the script across the table."
The deposition continued for a while longer, but during the next recess Fitzgerald left the room and didn't go back. In 2009, he and Gibson settled. The terms were not disclosed, but the fact that Fitzgerald filed for bankruptcy in September 2012 probably tells you everything you need to know about how much he received.
Today, Fitzgerald says he's trying to put it all behind him. He claims he has no interest in Mary Aloe's project. He wants to move on.
One thing Gibson was definitely wrong about: Fitzgerald has been prolific. He's written several new screenplays since Myriam. He hasn't sold any of them yet. But he hasn't stopped writing.
He recently finished a new script. Like his first-ever script, this one is an adaptation of another one of his former babysitter's stories, perhaps her greatest, "A Good Man Is Hard to Find." It's a story about a peaceful American family road trip that is interrupted by a serial killer. The screenplay is dark and brutal and sometimes even funny. Throughout there is the pervading sense that evil is never that far from goodness, and that sometimes both are sides of the same coin. He thinks it might be the best thing he's ever written.
He enjoyed writing about Myriam, and her son, too, but one of the challenges of doing so was that they were so pure, so perfect, so immaculate. Still, he feels that this whole rough passage he's been on has brought him closer to his faith, and to what he sees as its message of hope and forgiveness.
During the last few minutes of our meeting, Fitzgerald tells me about his dream project. His father, Robert Fitzgerald, the former poet laureate of the United States, was also a translator, and his most famous translation was of Homer's Odyssey. Benedict and his siblings own the rights to it. He'd like to turn it into a screenplay, or a series of screenplays. He thinks he can breathe new life into his father's words. He believes that he understands the trials of Odysseus on a level he never did before.
He also believes he knows the perfect person to direct it.
He'd like to try to set up a meeting with Mel Gibson.
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