TARPON SPRINGS — Today the Statue of Liberty is considered one of the greatest symbols of freedom on Earth, but back in the 1880s the robed woman holding a torch was a monument very few wanted.
Elizabeth Indianos — artist, adjunct instructor at St. Petersburg College's Tarpon Springs campus and award-winning screenwriter — is about to tell Lady Liberty's story.
After a big triumph in fall at the 2013 LA Femme International Film Festival, where her script Libertaire won Best Screenplay, Indianos has now signed a partnership agreement with Hollywood film producer and festival founder Leslie LaPage.
During a phone conversation, LaPage said she is eager to help share the backstory on Lady Liberty, one that hasn't really been told before. The 107-page script is inspired by the true events surrounding the creation of the colossal copper monument.
The screenplay "has got a lot of wonderful elements, it's got wonderful characterizations, and it has an artistic bent to it," LaPage said. "There won't be any Eiffel Tower exploding on page 3, but there's a whole demographic out there that doesn't want to see big explosions on page 3. They don't want so-called 'reality' anymore. These audiences crave great, well-crafted stories."
Like the statue's sculptor, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, Indianos creates public art, some large-scale and site-defining. Among her many projects are wall murals in her hometown of Tarpon Springs, an installation at Tampa International Airport called "Birds Leaving the Earth", and a $1 million 13th Street Pedestrian Bridge in Gainesville that looks a bit like the molecular structure of DNA.
It was a wisecrack by David Letterman six years ago that piqued Indianos' interest in the statue.
She opens her script with a quote from the talk show host: "Ladies and gentlemen, it's so cold out there, the Statue of Liberty is holding her torch under her dress."
Indianos was intrigued. Why did she know so little about this national public art project?
She began her research on the statue by reading letters and diaries from the archives at the New York Public Library. Then came borrowed moments here and there as she crafted a script, fashioned intricate characters, and sweated over each line and punctuation mark with New York editor Annette Kaufman.
She enlisted the help of other professionals too, having a one-on-one consultation with story-writing guru Robert McKee in New York City and hiring Los Angeles entertainment attorney Keith Berglund to represent her.
The movie's plot tells the story about two men who made the Lady happen: Bartholdi, obsessed with giving a 151-foot tall statue to America, and Joseph Pulitzer, who went from eating out of garbage cans to owning and operating a New York newspaper, The World.
When the gift from the French was finally shipped to New York Harbor, Lady Liberty remained disassembled in 214 crates for months. The United States hadn't kept up its end of the bargain — to build a $50,000 pedestal for the statue to rest on.
According to Indianos, "Some people thought she wasn't sexy enough and should show some leg. The church was against it; they thought she was a pagan goddess. She was basically taken for granted by the American people."
It was Pulitzer who used to power of the press to urge middle-class America to fund the pedestal.
LaPage predicted that it will take three to four more years before Libertaire makes it to the big screen. Actors, a director, and other production personnel have to be hired. Locales, possibly in France, Canada, England and New York City, must be found. The movie has to be shot, edited and marketed.
"It's in Leslie's hands now," Indianos said. "She's a well-connected professional that can make it happen.
"I hope the audience is inspired, not only by the determination of my characters, but by the poor and middle classes in both France and America. The success of Lady Liberty was mostly due to the efforts of many — without the financial backing of governments and the rich. It is rare when people of one country give a gift to the people of another without the help of big money — it is a revelation."
Terri Bryce Reeves can be reached at [email protected].com.