EXCLUSIVE: Oscar-nominated Birdman co-writer Alexander Dinelaris Jr has set up his next script, The Year Of The Monarchs, with Mandalay Sports Media and Mike Tollin. Inspired by elements of his own life, Dinelaris Jr has scripted a story of the struggles of a father and daughter in a dying town that used to measure its success by a booming industrial economy and the boxscore of its baseball team. A bit of magic helps their adversity. Tollin will produce and Dinelaris Jr. will be exec producer with his Birdman co-writer Nicolas Giacobone, and William “Mickey” Conway, who partners with Dinelaris Jr in Lexicon. The idea was inspired by a story from Andrew Harris Salomon entitled The Carolina Waltz.
While Birdman—which Dinelaris and Giacobone wrote with Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Armando Bo—is a manic black comedy about ambition and insecurity on the Broadway stage, The Year Of The Monarchs is a love story to the writers father and daughter, and the generational love of baseball. I’ve seen many movies try with differing levels of success from Field Of Dreams on down, to tap that nostalgic pull. Dinelaris Jr has come up with a device that is very promising.
A father and daughter struggle to make ends meet in their dying hometown, where things have gotten so bad that the baseball team’s beloved iconic announcer has suffered a stroke that has left him in a catatonic state. When the daughter visits him and pours out her story, something happens. The announcer begins calling the 1968 championship season from memory, game by game. Soon enough, the announcer’s broadcasts are transmitted to a bar, and the reminder of better days past, provides a lift for the dying city.
The structure of the script is very personal business to Dinelaris Jr. Raised within walking distance of Yankee Stadium on Audubon Avenue in Washington Heights, he was infused with the love of the Bronx Bombers and baseball by his father, a rabid fan and player who taught his son how to hit, field and throw.
“My father died in 2005 of pancreatic cancer at age 62, and my first daughter, Amalia Rose, was born in 2010,” Dinelaris Jr. told me. “I had been feeling wistful about my father, and how he never got to know my daughter, and this was a way to bridge that.”
In his research, Dinelaris focused on the year 1968 and the city of Detroit. Back then, the auto industry was booming, and the Tigers—anchored by hurlers Denny McLain and his impossible 31-6 record and Mickey Lolich–won its first World Series in more than two decades in seven games over the St. Louis Cardinals. Soon, McLain was suspended for bookmaking activities and traded, and Detroit’s dominance in the auto trade soon began to crumble. The setting of the film will be fictitious, informed by that city’s collapse.
“I looked at the small towns around Detroit after the semi-death of the auto industry, where generations of skilled auto workers were left with nothing, and what holds them together through that adversity,” Dinelaris Jr said. “It’s about a father and daughter who struggle to make ends meet, and how something magical happens that brings hope to beaten people.”
Tollin, a rabid Philadelphia Phillies fan who has produced sports-themed films that include Varsity Blues, Hardball, Radio and Coach Carter and has a Hank Aaron feature in development, sparked to the way Dinelaris Jr connected to an inherently American experience: how so many mark time in their own lives through the progressions of baseball seasons that start with the hope of spring training and progress through the summer and early fall, starting all over again the following spring.
“For me in Philadelphia it was Harry Kalas, in Los Angeles it’s Vin Scully and for Tigers fans it was Ernie Harwell, but you had these guys who provided the soundtrack to our summers, and Alex takes you on a journey with one of those guys,” said Tollin. “He has set it up in a way where this mystical thing brings a community together as only a pennant race can. There are wonderful roles here of the daughter and father, and a tour de force for an older actor.”
Dinelaris Jr right now has a lot going on. The playwright wrote the book for the upcoming Emilio and Gloria Estefan Broadway musical Get On Your Feet, and he has teamed back up with Inarritu and their Birdman co-writers to exec produce the MRC-backed TV series The One Percent for Starz, with Ed Harris, Ed Helms and Hilary Swank starring. The Year Of The Monarchs has some of its financing in place, and he and Tollin will be tying down the rest with help from their CAA agents. The movie is clearly very important to the scribe. “I basically paid to write this script, for my father and my daughter,” said Dinelaris.