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Writing Crime

The “Wonder” Behind My Screenplay Development
By Caitlin McCarthy
Posted on 8/18/2020 8:28 AM

It’s official: my feature screenplay WONDER DRUG is taking off with producer Stephen Nemeth (Founder and President of Rhino Films) and director Tom Gilroy (critically-acclaimed features SPRING FORWARD and THE COLD LANDS).

What’s not in the headlines: it took 15 years for me to reach this stage of development. While I wrote other scripts, won awards, and landed an incredible manager in the meantime, I always kept coming back to WONDER DRUG. It’s more than a screenplay to me: it’s a personal mission.

Inspired by actual events, WONDER DRUG chronicles the story of DES (diethylstilbestrol), a groundbreaking form of synthetic estrogen that became one of the most devastating drug disasters in history, affecting millions worldwide. DES is often referred to as the “hidden Thalidomide.”

I know all about DES because I am a DES Daughter. But it’s incredible how many people have never heard of the tragedy, even with growing evidence that the DES Grandchild generation has been adversely impacted.

As a screenwriter, I have an opportunity to entertain, enlighten, and educate audiences through WONDER DRUG. To make this opportunity happen, I’ve had to get creative over the years.

For my “survival job,” I work as an urban public high school teacher in Worcester, Massachusetts. I didn’t grow up with Hollywood connections or a trust fund, but I did inherit a tremendous amount of drive from my parents.

My initial research for WONDER DRUG required a trip to London, England, which I financed by winning the Super Bowl squares pool at school. My luck didn’t end there. Sir Ralph Dodds, son of DES creator Sir Charles Dodds, signed on as script consultant. Through Ralph, I learned about Charles’ life story and reviewed photos, letters, and other documents about his experiences in developing DES. I also conducted research at The Royal Society and The Worshipful Society of Apothecaries of London, and returned home with a suitcase full of photocopies.

My research was far from over.

I spent the next year emailing, calling, and interviewing DES researchers, historians, and activists – all of whom will receive a “Thank You” at the end of WONDER DRUG when it’s produced. I even gained a scientific advisor, P. Harry Jellinck (B.A., B.Sc., M.Sc., Ph.D.), who worked directly under Sir Charles Dodds as a graduate student for a Ph.D. in the 1950s. 

I wrote the first draft of WONDER DRUG in a fever… literally! I was battling the flu, which I had caught at school. But I made the deadline to submit to the Hamptons Screenwriters Lab, and they accepted WONDER DRUG as an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation script. (The Sloan Foundation encourages filmmakers to create more realistic and accurate stories about science and technology to challenge existing stereotypes about scientists and engineers in the popular imagination.)

The Hamptons Screenwriters Lab was a big break for me. My mentors were Joshua Marston (MARIA FULL OF GRACE) and Tom Gilroy – yes, the director in my opening paragraph!

What can I say about Tom? He continued to mentor me long after the Hamptons Screenwriters Lab had ended. He even directed two live staged readings of WONDER DRUG: at the Hamptons International Film Festival, starring Steve Guttenberg and Alysia Reiner; and at the Manhattan Theatre Club, starring Alysia Reiner and David Alan Basche. And now Tom is going to direct WONDER DRUG, the feature film. It feels fated.

Speaking of fate… the way I connected with WONDER DRUG’s producer Stephen Nemeth is a story in itself. He has championed my screenwriting since the 2013 Squaw Valley Screenwriters Conference, but that’s not where we first met. Turns out we had crossed paths decades earlier, at Game 2 of the 1984 NBA Playoffs between the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers. I was an eighth grader at the time and beyond excited to find Timothy Hutton and (who I presumed to be) Andy Gibb sitting several seats down from me at the old Boston Garden. Before the game started, I approached them for autographs. Tim kindly signed my program while his friend shared with a smile that he wasn’t Andy Gibb. Flash forward to 2018. While talking with Stephen, Timothy Hutton’s name came up. I shared how I had mistaken Tim’s friend for Andy Gibb – and then learned that Stephen was that friend! He remembered this incident, too. Stephen is a rock star in his own right, as a mentor, producer, and human being.
  

WONDER DRUG is being made with the right people, at the right time. I’m very excited to share the film with the world. The screenplay has already won numerous awards and honors, including: Top 50 script/Top 10 female writer in the Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting; “Featured Script” on The Black List website; and honoree on The Bitch List (which features unproduced scripts that pass the Bechdel Test).

I have only one regret: Sir Ralph Dodds, P. Harry Jellinck, and my mother didn’t live to see this day. But I carry them with me in my heart, every step of the way with WONDER DRUG.

Paulo Coehlo once wrote, “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” I’ve found that to be true with the development of WONDER DRUG – and that is the “wonder” for me.

 

BIO: Caitlin McCarthy writes feature screenplays, one-hour teleplays, essays, and novels. Her stories tackle political and social issues with a wink, blending humor with heartbreak while always staying focused on action. She is represented by Barry Krost of Barry Krost Management.

As a DES Daughter and activist, Caitlin worked closely with the offices of former U.S. Senators John Kerry and Scott Brown on securing an apology from the FDA for the DES drug disaster. Thanks to this campaign, the FDA finally acknowledged DES as a “tragedy” in 2011, after 40 years of silence. Caitlin’s DES activism earned her two nominations (in 2011 and 2012) for a Presidential Citizens Medal; a Human and Civil Rights Award from the Massachusetts Teachers Association, and the “Service to Community” Alumni Award from Regis College in Weston, MA.

To learn more about Caitlin, please visit www.caitlinmccarthy.com.

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