|The Trials Of Two Marys
GENRE: Fantasy drama.
STATUS: In pre-production. Casting completed (see “Casting” to follow). Principal photography is scheduled to commence in early March, 2024.
LOGLINE: Mary McDougal Axelson, the famous writer who inspired the Hollywood hit, “Life Begins,” is dead and is on trial in heaven for her failures as a mother to Mary Ivonne Axelson, her daughter, who is also on trial back on earth for the murder of her mother.
COMPANY NOTES: This is based on the stage play, “The Death Of Birth,” by Larry Bartley, who also serves as executive producer. This story is an adaptation from the original screenplay of the same name, which is at the heart of another movie project that YBS has in development. See The Death Of Birth for more information about the Axelson story.
12 characters appear in The Trials Of Two Marys. These roles have been cast with the following actors (view the photo montage below from left to right and top to bottom). Marty Wong plays Mary McDougal Axelson. But instead of being an 81-year-old – which was Mary’s age at the time of her death – she will appear in the prime of her life, neither too young nor too old, within the ethereal plane where time does not exist. Lola Conlan plays Mary Ivonne Axelson Cropper. Steven Royal plays the prosecutor, Robert Kaye. Steven Mackenzie plays the defense attorney, Max Kogen. Mark J. Bush plays the judge, Ralph Ferguson. Rick Bernico plays St. Peter. Malia Aiello plays Liveda. Mary Ann Vasaturo plays the nurse, Helen Adams. Neal Milner plays the doctor, Franz Stewart. Executive Producer Larry Bartley plays the psychiatrist, Arthur Stillman. S. Rick Crump plays another psychiatrist, Sanford Jacobson. Jake Mel plays the Bailiff. (Note: Not appearing, Director Eric Nemoto will play the voice of Ivar Axelson).
An Outstanding Cast Will Bring The Trials Of Two Marys To Life
The Trials Of Two Marys is a LegacyVision Film of writer and Executive Producer, Larry Bartley. It will be directed by Eric Nemoto, who will also serve as lead producer. Dann Seki serves as an associate producer. Mark Ganialongo will be the production’s director of photography. Denny Hironaga and Nicole Sakaguchi will be additional camera operators. Tobi Nova will be the production’s sound engineer. Tori-Lynn Nitta will be a production assistant. Mia Yoshimoto and Kevin Murata will head up the makeup department. Allan Okubo and other yet TBD personnel will assist with added location scouting and wardrobe. Once filming is in the can, Christine Tsuzaki will be the movie’s editor, and Mark Bush will be responsible for final sound editing.
The Trials Of Two Marys is actually an extension of The Death Of Birth (see link above), which is another YBS movie in development, and reflects a new twist to the Mary McDougal Axelson story. Larry Bartley, who inspired YBS producer, Eric Nemoto, to join him in undertaking The Death Of Birth as a YBS project, subsequently adapted Eric’s screenplay into a stage play which he intended to pitch to TAG – The Actors’ Group, a successful Honolulu community theater, for which both he and Eric were members of its board of directors. Larry’s decision to rewrite the story was both practical and personal. Practical in the sense that if either of the screenplays written by Eric for the The Death Of Birth, were to be produced, it would require a substantial budget as it was a period piece saga, and involved multiple locations in the South and along the East Coast. It would take, one had to presume, a considerable amount of time to gain an investor or investors to come up with the funding. In the meantime, producing a stage version, would at least bring the Axelson story to light for the first time. This thought was not new. It was Larry’s original intention from the very beginning when he approached Eric to be the project’s initial writer, that a stage play would be the end result. But Eric, laser focused on continuing to build YBS and more specifically its LegacyVision Films movie-making business, was primarily interested in making movies. But upon reading up on the Axelson story, he chose to do what he does best, which was to write screenplays, in order to incorporate Larry’s project idea as a potential YBS movie in development. His thinking was that by writing The Death Of Birth as a screenplay in order to create a project in development, he felt his time and talent would be justified, for at least this way, the back story of Mary McDougal Axelson could be thoroughly depicted and at least be available for potential interested producing parties to view. The personal aspect for Larry was that given his extensive and copious research that he had done over the years – as with Marilyn Hoder-Salmon (see The Death Of Birth web page again), he may very well have become one of the foremost authorities on the Axelson family – producing something now would at least provide him with some measure of creative satisfaction. He could continue to perform research on the subject matter until the “cows came home,” and indeed he did (see the following The Research & Writing to gain a semblance of all that Larry did), but what would it matter if something creatively tangible could not come out of all this. Effectively staging it at TAG, it was thought, would provide this creative outlet. Larry envisioned an eventual stage production in TAG’s intimate Brad Powell Theatre, sometime in 2023 or 2024, would be the perfect time and venue to premiere this fascinating story for the very first time. This seemed the ideal scenario until reality set in.
The Research & Writing
The research that Larry has conducted over the years has been nothing short of phenomenal. He has read countless newspaper articles, perused the personal diaries of both Marys, read books associated with the family, watched movies featuring the young Mary Ivonne, and reviewed photos, online websites, various court documents, as well as consulted with numerous libraries and their archival services, to eventually write his play, The Death Of Birth, on which this movie, The Trials Of Two Marys, is based upon. He has taken into account the comments of many who have provided him feedback, such that he has revised his work over 75 times, influenced also by whenever his additional research has provided him with more revelatory information. Painstakingly detailed in his desire to provide as honest of an assessment of the Axelsons as possible, yet also keeping a desire to develop his story into an entertaining motion picture, he has peppered his script with numerous references to factual data. The result is a fascinating multi-media play wherein citations to events – as depicted with photos, newspaper articles, and at times audio recordings – would appear on stage, either projected onto a screen, shown upon a scrim, or appearing as an image in some contraption relevant to the story, such as a television. What appears below is Larry’s own introductory statement that begins his play, which informs the reader of how to read his script so as to get a feel for specifically what he envisions.
The Waiting Line At TAG
The fact of the matter is that TAG – The Actors’ Group had come a long way from the avant garde creative curiosity that it initially was when it was first established in the 1990’s. The theater that used to always have more actors on stage than audience members in the risers, had, over the course of its 30 year history, developed into one of Hawaii’s most successful community theatres, and its Brad Powell Theatre was a venue sought by many playwrights. It wasn’t that Larry’s play didn’t meet any particular quality standard established by TAG’s play selection committee, it’s just that given TAG’s popularity, there were many playwrights ahead of him who had submitted their work to TAG and in particular to its artistic director, Brad Powell, and had patiently waited over the years. Still, the lack of feedback provided to Larry after he straightforward asked the board that the play be considered for production (save for one board member who gave her feedback, the rest either didn’t, or provided very limited comments), conveyed a seemingly lack of overall enthusiasm for the production. It was at this point that Eric told Larry that if his desire was to hold off premiering his play until it was formally accepted by TAG, he might be looking at years, if that. This was, again, no reflection of the play’s content, but more the reality of other plays that had been in the hopper before him. This point was fully confirmed with the announcement of TAG’s 2023-2024 season wherein the last play in the lineup meant that all of the production dates leading up to the final play to be held in August of 2024, at the very least, were taken up. It was against this backdrop that Eric, at the time having just completed another YBS production (Shikata Ga Nai), and in the process of beginning another (Find Me), offered that if Larry wanted to create something in the near future rather than the far, for a very basic micro budget, YBS could produce a movie version of his play and that it could be filmed later in 2023 or early 2024. Furthermore, it was Eric’s desire to film Larry’s play in a kind of hybrid (stage and film) manner, basically rehearsing it like a play and then filming the movie in the course of one day.
The story revolves around the mother-daughter relationship between two driven women – author, playwright, suffragist Mary McDougal Axelson and child-prodigy daughter Mary Ivonne Cropper (hereinafter Ivonne) and the history and events leading up to one of the most famous cases of matricide in American history. It starts with a hint of the basis of the story, the movie Life Begins (Warner Brothers 1932), which was based on Mary’s play, Birth, about the actual birth of Ivonne. During the final scenes of Life Begins playing on a television in 82-year-old Mary’s Coral Gables hospital room in 1973, daughter Ivonne visits from New York wanting money. Mary offers Ivonne money, but not enough. An argument ensues which ends with Ivonne severely beating Mary, while the “mother” in the movie dies during a Caesarean section. Mary dies the next morning, November 27, 1973. Nationwide newspaper coverage takes us to the April 1975 Miami trial of Ivonne for second degree murder. The charges are read and the hospital witnesses testify that Ivonne was the culprit but no one actually saw her do it, so Ivonne’s attorney, Max Kogen, moves for the charges to be dropped. Judge Ralph Ferguson disagrees, so Kogen changes Ivonne’s plea to insanity. In the one and a half years since Mary’s death, she has been waiting in purgatory for heavenly officials to decide her case. She is scheduled to eventually have a hearing in front of St. Peter for him to consider whether she can gain entry to heaven. Heaven officials postpone Mary’s hearing to coincide with the Miami trial of Ivonne, assuming that facts will come out during Ivonne’s Miami trial that will affect Mary’s outcome. St. Peter presides and the devil’s representative Liveda makes the case for Mary to enter Hell. St. Peter’s court can see and hear the Miami trial, but not vice versa. Ivonne’s insanity trial starts with testimony from the defense and prosecution experts. The defense expert swears that Ivonne is insane and the prosecution expert testifies that she is not. Real newspaper headlines fade in and out to add reality to the dialog. Prosecutor Kaye insists that Ivonne take the stand under oath, Judge Ferguson agrees. Diaries, letters, newspaper articles, and photos are entered into evidence and serve as the basis for much of the questioning in both trials. The prosecutor, defense attorney, and devil’s advocate refer to the same materials. Ivonne testifies that she had never been able to touch her mother, that Mary never gave her love. She insists that Mary gave birth to her only to gather information for her play Birth. Ivonne states that 37-year-old Mary’s days of suffrage, political, labor organizing fame were over – that only Birth restored her to the public’s eye. Ivonne describes Mary’s notoriety in detail and a little about her father, Ivar. She gives examples of how her parents pushed her into acting and singing at a very young age, depriving her of a normal childhood. Defense attorney Kogen introduces a journal of four-year-old Ivonne’s quotes and goings-on entitled the Psychological Record of Mary Ivonne Axelson, kept by her mother. Both attorneys have Ivonne read several quotes to make their cases for and against insanity.
We switch back to the trial in heaven where devil’s advocate Liveda questions Mary about the psychological record. Mary remembers that it was kept as part of Columbia University’s family support efforts because Ivonne was having hallucinations. Mary defends her choice to have a baby at thirty-seven, that she and Ivar really wanted a child and that the idea for her play Birth came after her seven-week hospital birthing experience. Liveda questions Mary harshly, bringing out diary entries that support the devil’s case. Mary responds effectively in her own interest. Mary flashes over family history, showing that the entire family was aware, disciplined, educated and energetic. Her parents were astute politicians and social movers. Father (Daniel McDougal) was a mayor and legislator, mother (Myrtle) was a great public speaker and organizer in women’s suffrage. She tells how her parents became super-rich discovering oil and gas in Oklahoma, and how she as a reporter who covered the 1921 Tulsa race massacre firsthand. Back at the Miami trial, Ivonne’s attorney is trying to prove her insanity. Both attorneys bring out facts and history from the mountain of evidence. They go through events and the family’s history living in Manhattan. These include when Ivonne was a young child, how her parents pushed her into the arts, and writing a play and dancing in a nightclub at six. Ivonne describes their 1938 move to Hollywood, the famous people they met, her exploits as a child prodigy playwright, director and actress with neighborhood children, her training at UCLA at seven, and being described as a genius with an “over 130 IQ” by her teacher. At this point there is a scene of Mary in a living room setting, opening and reading Ivonne’s extremely threatening and vulgar 1969 letters to her and Ivar. Ivonne’s remote voice reads the letters as Mary holds them and weeps. Ivar hollers from off-camera, “God help us.” In St. Peter’s Court, Mary describes how their relationship had deteriorated. That Ivonne had set fires in Mary’s house and brought heavies around to intimidate her parents. How they resorted to an armed guard living on the premises. St. Peter directs Mary back to her family history, her education and other endeavors. That she was a sought-after national suffrage speaker and campaigner for Woodrow Wilson. Mary describes the family’s vacations and interest in South Florida and the Everglades and how her father, husband and herself owned extensive land holdings in the Everglades and built part of the Tamiami Trail. She describes her association with Marjory Stoneman Douglas, the Saviour of the Everglades. Liveda relentlessly downplays and criticizes Mary’s good work.
Switching back to Ivonne’s Miami trial, she goes through the end of their Hollywood life on to their new life in Washington, D.C. in 1941, where she becomes known as “The Little Helen Hayes” radio and event entertainer at thirteen. Mary gets Ivonne stage auditions and a film tryout with Columbia. Then oil is discovered in the Everglades on land near theirs, instantly skyrocketing the value of their ‘swamp’ holdings. The family makes their last move to South Florida to sell drilling rights and live in luxury. At 16, Ivonne takes an MGM screen test, graduates from high school, then heads off to attend several universities, ultimately graduating from the University of Miami in drama in 1950. At 22, she’s off to New York for a mediocre acting career and lands several roles on and off Broadway, but must resort to night club entertaining to survive. In 1955, Ivonne is accepted into Elia Kazan’s prestigious Actor’s Studio where she learned and worked with the great stars of the era and befriended Shelley Winters, ultimately her roommate. In St. Peter’s court, Mary describes Ivonne’s 1929 Caesarean birth in detail. In 1931 they are back in New York where Mary studies playwriting and writes the play Birth as a class project. It is a hit and Warner Bros buys the movie rights, turning it into the groundbreaking hit Life Begins starring Loretta Young. Then Mary gives her description of the Hollywood years, the 1939 remake of Life Begins, the people she knew, her scrapes with death and her relationship with her “driver,” Russell Bledsoe. Liveda spins everything negative. In the Miami court, Ivonne describes her mistakes and ultimate downslide into a low level night club entertainer. She tells of her marriage to Harry Cropper and the birth of their two children and then divorce. Prosecutor Kaye disregards the insanity plea and describes Ivonne’s six motives for a guilty verdict. But defense attorney Kogen brings up Ivonne’s insanity and her exposure to Primal Therapy. Ivonne screams in court. Liveda makes her case for Hell by outlining Mary’s sins. Mary makes her case for Heaven to the jury, based on her lifelong Christianity and good works. The closing statements of both trials are into the camera, as if the viewer is the jury. The verdicts are read by Judge Ferguson and then by St. Peter. St. Peter attracts the attention of Ivonne across the set, who now can see him. The other Miami players cannot. He motions both Ivonne and Mary to meet center-set. They hug, whisper, smile at each other softly and separate. The epilogue will be cameos very briefly spoken by each of the characters as to what became of them. It is noted, this is a real story with real people using their real names.
The Creative Challenge
In the 25 movies that had either been completed or had been associated with at the time of this movie project’s development, YBS was certainly no stranger to unique and challenging productions. It had filmed a movie with only one actor on screen, The Landline Detective, which subsequently became the company’s most successful movie in terms of views on numerous online movie platforms (15 million streaming minutes on Amazon alone). It had refused to stop producing during the onslaught of the pandemic, and instead filmed an entire movie, Covid Release, solely on Zoom, which subsequently became the only movie to date to pass the highly stringent quality control criteria of the online movie distribution company, Filmhub, without any corrections. It had created its first investor based movie, Natural Reaction, which was specifically produced for the investor, Ana Jimenez McMillan, who wanted to star in her own movie, a project that gave birth to the LegacyVision Films concept. In fact, when taking into account other movie productions for which it eventually became associated with in order to handle distribution, there were many other firsts. Jon Brekke’s Tis The Season – A Hawaiian Christmas Story, for example, could very well have been the highest budgeted Hawaii-based indie film production ever ($100,000), given the time period that it had been produced (the 1990’s, back in the days when incredibly expensive film was the only medium on which to make a movie). Jeff Katts was one of the first to “four wall” the initial distribution of his film, The Hidden Battle, by renting out an entire movie theater, the Regal Dole Cannery, in order to premiere the movie. Then there was Serenergy Productions’ Parts Of The Same Circle, which turned into a production epic that took one year to film, was shot at 60 different locations, and when the final tally was taken, involved over 300 people (cast, background artists, crew, and supporters). Indeed, when looking back, those associated with YBS didn’t tread on a uniform path to filmmaking. They were not afraid to step out of the box and follow the beat of their own creative drummers. Thus, in considering many of these “firsts” as indicative of what YBS does, Eric told Larry that one of the prime motivators for him with respect to this project, was to film the movie, after extensive rehearsals, in just one full day using multiple cameras; something that he had never done before (though he had originally conceived of it for another project), and moreover, was likely never ever done. It was this challenge that Eric found appealing and which fueled his creative desires. This is the process that Eric intends to produce Two Marys by.
The One Day – 4 Camera Shoot
The concept of rehearsing a production like a stage play and then shooting without stopping as the actors performed the “play” was not a new idea for Eric. He had originally conceptualized the notion when first considering the filming of “Revealing The Rapist,” which had been the original movie idea for Covid Release. Eric contended that after a dark night run of say six performances, the cast, would then merely have to be relocated to another place to shoot the movie, wherein, four cameras could be set up to capture the performance from four different angles. He envisioned two days of shooting where the angles would be changed for each of the two run-throughs. He completed very detailed shot diagrams (see inset photo left) which outlined how each camera could pick up certain members of the cast, and then adjusted so that over the course of two performances, there would be as many as eight different shots, affording an ample number of shots for any of YBS’ editors to sufficiently compile the movie. But as fate would have it, the pandemic of 2020 hit with full force and the dark night had to be scrapped completely. But this development brought on the equally unique filming (via Zoom) of Covid Release. However, now, with this movie project, Two Marys provides the prospect of finally taking this conceptual notion and turning it into reality. This time, the plan is to rehearse for a good six weeks, and then shoot the movie on one day with two performances. This is possible because Two Marys, as written by Larry, involves at least partially a set design occurring on a kind of ethereal plane, for which a large room (e.g. an assembly hall) can be utilized so that the setting is literally cloaked in darkness and the characters are solely lit by spotlights. Minimal set pieces (a number of chairs, some tables, etc.) will be needed as this movie will be produced as a kind of “black box” stage production, but only this will be a movie.
After a few drafts, Larry and Eric agreed to a contract on July 11th, 2023 (updated December 22nd, 2023). Through this, Larry would provide the sufficient budget that would cover the shoot and editing services. It was agreed that Larry could begin to seek actors to play the parts in the play (there are 11 roles). Active rehearsals would ensue in the fall first at Larry’s house in Kailua, until the final week where run throughs of the play would be done in the shoot location, leading to production in March 2024.
The Prospective Shoot Sites
Independent filmmaking and real estate share a common theme. It’s all about “location, location, location.” Movies can effectively be shot if the location can be controlled. In order to shoot The Trials Of Two Marys in the manner that is envisioned, it will require that the shoot take place in a large, and preferably empty, room, like an assembly hall or large meeting area. The large area is necessary to afford plenty of space so that each of the four cameras will not be detected by any of the others. It will also allow for darkness to mask the fact that the shoot is in fact taking place inside of a room. With enough depth and darkness surrounding the central area where the actors will perform, it will provide the proper darkened environment that will give the movie its surreal look. The site that fits the bill, a place where YBS has previously shot movies, is the Buddhist Study Center, or BSC. It is the center’s assembly hall where all of the courtroom scenes (heavenly and Miami) will be shot.
The Envisioned “Stage” Environment For The Trials Of Two Marys
Two other sites will be used. One will serve to film the hospital day scenes in which it is implied that Mary Ivonne ends up beating, and eventually murdering, her mother, Mary. And the other site for one day scene in which Mary reads a letter from Mary Ivonne, as well as two additional night scenes involving Mary Ivonne in a bedroom (deep in thought after the Miami trial in the opening scene, and waking and going back to sleep in the final scene). The former will be shot at the Armed-Forces Association of Hawaii, Inc., or AAHII, located at 891 Valkenburgh Street, Honolulu, HI 96818. The latter shoots will take place at executive producer Larry Bartley’s house, at 217 Ohana Street, Kailua, HI 96734.
The Shoot Locations – The BSC, The AAHII, And The House Of Larry Bartley
Advance Production Publicity
Sapulpa, a city in the Creek and Tulsa counties of the state of Oklahoma, where its population was 21,929 at the time of the 2020 census, is where the Axelsons – Mary’s parents and Mary Ivonne’s maternal grandparents – made a name for themselves. The Sapulpa Times, an online news outlet dedicated to telling the stories of Sapulpa, was founded in 2015 by Micah Choquette, who started the newspaper when he felt another local Sapulpa newspaper failed to adapt to modern times. The paper has gained a good online and social media following, and has found a niche audience by writing for the folks who live in Sapulpa and specifically talking about the issues that are important to them. The Sapulpa Times tells the everyday stories of the Sapulpa people, covering news, events and stories about Sapulpa and its surrounding communities. A couple of recent stories centered around the Marys – Mary and Mary Ivonne – and YBS’ intent to film a movie, The Trials Of Two Marys, about them.