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I wrote Asphalt John because of my brother, who at the end of his life lived and then died on the streets. He was a great guy, smart, a talented artist, handsome and winning, and a drunk. This tale started with a real incident when Chuck saved a waitress from a knife-wielding crazy man. I never forgot that, and I will never forget him. He was my hero when I was a boy and I had to stand by and let him die, because to save him would have meant enslaving him. Slavery is worse than death.

Asphalt John isn’t about Chuck, though. It’s an action movie about a man who can’t live with himself, and can’t die, either. Still, Chuck lives within its pages, his heroism and decency are its fabric, and if you read it, maybe you’ll come to admire him, as I did, and do.

For more about ‘Asphalt John’ read the introduction to the script below.


It might seem obvious that screenplays, or for that matter all stories, begin with an idea, but it isn’t. Some screenplays are written because the author saw something that he liked created by someone else and copied it slavishly. Sometimes a script is written as an exercise, with the central idea already provided by someone else, or disregarded entirely in favor of form or execution, blank verse as opposed to rhyme. Some stories are the equivalent of MacBeth done as a gangster tale set in 1930s Chicago, or Robin Hood in New York. I have tale whose title I sometimes mention as part of a joke: Beverly Hills Fop, which would be about Zorro in modern day Beverly Hills (and rhymes with Beverly Hills Cop). That’s not really a new story idea. It’s a transfer, Robin to New York, Zorro to Beverly Hills, MacBeth to Chicago. The story at the center of each tale remains the same, but different (as they say).

When I wrote American Mythic, my screenplay about a U.S. Cavalry officer, his sergeant major, and his half-breed indian son and their adventures as a kind of cavalry force in India, I was heavily influenced by painter Frederic Remington, writer James Warner Bellah, director John Ford and actor John Wayne, and the trilogy Ford directed and Wayne starred in, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Fort Apache and Rio Grande. Still, at center was an original idea, and no, it wasn’t transferring American archetypes to India. The central idea that made Mythic new was the expression of the eternal war between right and left, conservative and liberal, father and son that formed the central conflict of the story, and the meaning of the concept of greatness. Greatness, as it turns out, is neither left nor right, but is an expression of our higher selves.

What is the new idea of Asphalt John?

My brother was once a street person before he died of alcoholism. Had he been a table, he would have been a wonderful table, but with one leg that was wobbly, a talented, kind, funny, charming, witty man who slowly drank himself to death as he lived on the streets of various cities. For a time I offered him shelter, but as you learn from AA and elsewhere, such relationships are codependent and mutually destructive. I learned from experience that you can help no one without being asked, directly, for help. If someone is determined to drop to the center of the earth, nothing, absolutely nothing will stop his ultimate descent. I could not stop my brother. He died.

Afterward, as I drove about Los Angeles and saw homeless people living under freeway overpasses and in cardboard shelters on sidewalks, I saw in them my brother, the man he was and might have been. It got me to wondering, who are these people? Could they be like my brother, people of honor and integrity, people with intelligence superior to yours and mine but for one great failing, an errant enzyme, maybe, or a switched-off gene, that sentenced them to death?

Asphalt John is such a man. He is braver than brave. He is smarter than those who mock him. He is kind enough, and brave enough, to place himself between a victim and a perpetrator. And yet John is headed to hell, slowly falling though the safety net we kid ourselves exists. And unlike my brother, for whom no redemption on earth was possible, Asphalt John might, just might, meet someone who can help to redeem him.

John’s heroism came from my brother. I recall one night years before his decline my brother and I were having coffee in an all-night coffee shop and talking-talking about every manner of subject when one of the patrons grabbed a steak knife and attacked a waitress. My brother leapt to his feet and rushed the knife-wielding man. I couldn’t let my brother get cut up, so I joined in and the two of  us subdued the man and took his weapon. No one was hurt, but the crazy man might have killed the young woman. My brother was often selfless in this way, a person of heroic proportions, though it was the kind of heroism the best among us have. Bravery without fear is not bravery at all.

Once Asphalt John’s big idea settled into my mind, a tale of a man who was better than those who judged him, the next question was how to tell his story. Most people don’t understand emotional illness. It scares them. I’m not sure that even if I’d wanted to, I could have told his story accurately. Instead, I needed to tell John’s story from the outside in, from the eyes of someone who was trying to understand him, and who needs redemption himself. Raoul was born, and later his mother.

Raoul is a fatherless boy whose mother is a reformed hooker. She now works as a waitress, her life reshaped by the love she feels for her son. Raoul sees John living in the alley behind his apartment building and recognizes him from a picture in a magazine — or maybe he only thinks he recognizes him — as a missing FBI agent the mob is allegedly looking to kill. Raoul needs protection from local thugs and hires John, getting in the process protection of the sort only a father can give.

Initially I intended not to explain at all how John became the man he was. Again, I don’t think any of us know the reason why people do what they do, why one man builds an empire while another collapses, unrealized and unexpressed to the earth. But a good friend of mine, Miguel Tejada-Flores told me that I had a responsibility to the audience to tell as complete a story as possible. I wrote a reason for John’s despair. Miguel was right.

I like Asphalt John a lot. Like my brother, he’s quite a guy. I wouldn’t bet on his chances, though. I am too experienced to be hopeful. I’ve seen a good man die. But who knows? I could be wrong.

   — Richard Taylor

   Cambria, California

   July 30, 2008

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