Let’s be clear about one thing: this is most definitely NOT a “passion project.” That overused Hollywood cliché totally misses the mark when it comes to describing what this project has meant to us over the past seven years. A better descriptor would be OBSESSION. Yes, obsession. And we say that not solely due to the several thousand hours we’ve spent writing, talking about, and literally dissecting the sad and strange tale of Aaron James Bassler. Nor is it primarily a result of the FOUR separate page one re-writes (with an equal number of title changes) we’ve imposed on the story during that time. Rather, the reason why we’ve become obsessed – and the reason why we’ve never been able to properly let this project go – is because of Aaron himself. If it seems a little strange that we’ve become so intimately attached to this obscure, mentally ill man who neither of us had ever met (or ever will meet) -- it’s because, well, it IS pretty strange.
For one thing, there was a time when our focus was on delivering a Hollywood thriller centered on the 36 day manhunt that swept through the redwoods of Mendocino County in the fall of 2011. To this day, it remains the largest manhunt in the history of the great state of California. Indeed, after traveling to Ukiah and interviewing Sherriff Tom Allman in person, we were steadfastly convinced that the manhunt itself was the key to landing this story. We had the dangerous killer in the woods with Aaron. Then we had the Tommy Lee Jones-esque lawman in Sheriff Allman whose job it was to track him down. It’s a thriller that practically writes itself, right? This incarnation was suitably titled, Redwood. But after three drafts, including some creative delivery methods to procure our Bassler vs Allman mano a mano showdown, something still felt a little off.
One thing that felt off about Redwood was the unmistakable lack of a female presence in the narrative. As in: there was hardly ANY female presence whatsoever. Consequently, we decided to right that wrong in a big way by introducing a female protagonist. A second aspect that we felt needed more attention was that of mental health. Or, more specifically, America’s flawed mental health system that helped make the tragedy in Fort Bragg a reality. Through the character of Shel Severi, the reader is thus taken on a journey that puts Aaron Bassler into a more accurate perspective: less a monster and more of a hopelessly sick man who can’t get the help he needs. By focusing our new draft on more of a mental health angle, we decided a new title was also needed. As a result, Schizo was born and ended up as a finalist in three screenwriting competitions.
Still, despite the noticeable leap forward from Redwood to Schizo, something was still missing. Some stone left unturned and words left unwritten. It wasn’t until we’d received a mound of industry feedback while taking some time off to work on other projects that we realized what it was: a powerful, human connection with Aaron himself. Our obsession became such that we wanted to get inside his head. NEEDED to. For this reason, the idea was born that rather than telling Aaron’s story through Shel’s eyes – we would tell it through Aaron’s own eyes. And instead of simply focusing on the two murders he committed, followed by the infamous manhunt, we made the decision to go all the way back to the beginning. And by “beginning,” we literally mean back to the day he was born. What has resulted is a tale of two Aaron’s, a duality, in which the younger, healthier boy comes face to face with his older, schizophrenic self. With Inborn, we’ve gone down rabbit holes so deep that at times it’s felt as though we’ve truly become just as obsessed as our characters at uncovering some hidden clue, unlocking some unsolved aspect of this story. Now that we’ve finally came up for air after several months of intensive (psychotic?) work, we feel that we have a product that comes as close to wholly and accurately capturing the essence of this obscure little tale as is humanly possible. Or, as close to humanly possible as the two of us can ever hope to get.
We were humbled in a major way when The Black List featured Inborn on its exclusive Trending Screenplays list in the spring of 2019. And to you, the reader, we thank you in advance if you decide to take the plunge with us. In so many ways this isn’t even our story at all. It’s Aaron’s story. And if you happen to connect with him in some way, in ANY way – then we’ll feel as if we’ve done our jobs bringing his story to you.