A lifetime of searching for the truth
The Making of The Dome of Heaven:
"Dreams are dangerous."
Below is my descriptive journey into the making of The Dome of Heaven
The Dome of Heaven
The Making of THE DOME OF HEAVEN
I threw a stone at Goliath— the doubt I could make a film. 10/16/09
Dreams are dangerous. They uncover your bones. They bleed you. Dreams are a swarm of insects on a summer
evening moving over the yard. They fly independent of one another, yet belong together as a group. Their
cohesiveness is in their brokenness hovering on the edge of darkness and back. This swarm is what a film is.
My Aunt Martha has died. I have inherited some money. Not enough to make a film, but to start. To get into it. She
was an I-shall-not-be-moved-Methodist. She and Uncle Lou had no children. They lived a quiet, sparing life. That
was her word— we must be sparing. The dining room furniture they had all their lives had been his mother’s. They
were married over 50 years when Uncle Lou died. They would not approve of an independent film. I can hear them
say, DO NOT USE OUR MONEY FOR THIS. But I have a dream. A vision. At the age of 68, I have never made a
film. I do not own a camera. Well, a SONY Handycam that stays in a box in the closet.
Now I am at my small cabin on the Lake of the Ozarks thinking how to get into this. Off the gutter on the porch, drips
of rain fall on large, wet leaves like the snap of fingers— or like a rock in the tire tread that makes a steady snap
when the car is on the road. I hear a truck in the distance starting up the hill.
Everywhere I go, I think how to do this. I wake at 3:00 in the morning. What am I doing? What has caused me to do
this? Now I wake with a dream that my dock had separated from the land. But it was winter and the lake is low.
The dock didn’t get far. Sometimes the dock sits on dry ground or nearly dry ground. In winter, the authorities let
water out of the lake— To repair seawalls and other maintenances, my brother says. For several months, there’s
no water under my dock. Once my granddaughter fell from the dock when we were there in winter. I pulled her back
on the dock from a few inches of muddy water.
I will see it when I believe it. This film on the hot plate. So much against it. Funding, funding and funding are the
components of film making. But things begin to fall into place. People are willing to act in it. People are willing to
donate. I still wake with the mystery of how it will be met. I am needy— I am needy— This is the supplication of
anyone making a film.
I have been reading CONQUEST OF THE USELESS: the Making of the Fitzcarraldo by Werner Herzog, about the
difficulties of film making, including moving a steam boat over a steep incline to the river on the other side. I also
feel like I am pulling a steam boat up a hill.
My parents and former husband would tell me I can’t do it, if they were here. I know I am against something bigger
than myself— something more than I can do. I visit my brother at the lake. Do it before you won’t be able to, he
says. Do it while you still can. Do it before I’m too old. Before I forget which side of the road to drive on.
I am on my way to the Red Dirt Book Festival in Shawnee, Oklahoma, to give a talk on film making, though I haven’t
made a film. A flock of birds flies over the highway. The birds are a small constellation in the sky— only they are
black and the sky is now light.
Along the road, I see the hedge apples in a tree. The leaves have fallen. The bright green orbs hang from the trees
like constellations in the sky— like a flock of birds caught in the branches there. They are that same swarm
formation I saw in the insects.
The nearly full moon remains in the sky as a salt lick for the cattle slaughtered that day.
I decide December 2-18 we will shoot an entire film. One actor has to leave the 15th. Another the 16th. Another
can’t arrive until after the 3rd. Another can’t arrive until the 7th. The airport in Oklahoma City is three hours away.
That is six hours for whoever picks them up. I don’t have drivers. I don’t have the camera crew. But I visit Vici,
Oklahoma. The Dewey County Sheriff, the assistant district court judge agree to be in the film. The Vici high school
principal says I can film there. The pubic relations officer at Southwestern Oklahoma State University in
Weatherford says I can film there. I visit the Vici nursing home to ask if I can use a room for Franklin’s hospital
scene. It is pouring rain. They agree. I visit the Vici Restaurant and ask if they can provide meals in their
backroom. They can. Housing is more difficult. There are no motels in Vici. The closest ones are 20-30 minutes
away in Leedy and Seiling. I don’t want to waste time in travel each day. I will look into trailer rental.
What if it snows? What if it is overcast for the 2 ½ weeks we are there? What if? What if? I think of all the lovely
days that have passed since I have wanted to make this film. Now I get into it again at the last part of the year,
probably the worst time of the year to make a film.
After I give the talk at the Red Dirt book fest. I meet students at SWOSU who will volunteer to be students in Flutie’s
classroom when we film. We talk. Reverend Harrell Davis from the Federated Church offers a prayer.
In Weatherford, Flutie stands at a fence on the north end of 7th Street looking back toward Vici when she wants to
run from college. I stood there at the rusted gate, seeing the rusted field of Oklahoma’s red soil in the distance. I
saw the wind bending the row of weeds by the fence, hissing through a gnarled tree, and the spruce bush. I tell the
cameraman, a former SWOSU student, to stand at the fence until he hears the earth.
I leave Vici in the afternoon to drive back to Kansas City— some eight hours away. I stop at the Salt Plains where
Flutie goes with her father and brother. I knew it had rained. The sandy roads seem hands that pull at the car. I
hurry over the wettest places to get through them. I see the return of clouds on the western horizon. After standing
at the Salt Plains, I drive to get back to highway 64 before it rains again and the car gets bogged down in the sand.
When evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. When he saw that they were
straining at the oars against an adverse wind, he came towards them early in the morning, walking on the sea. He
intended to pass them by. But when they
saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; for they all saw him and were terrified. But
immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”— Mark 6:47-50 NRSV
He walked on the sea, INTENDING TO PASS THEM BY. He was there because of their need, yet he would not have
stopped unless they called out to him. These contradictions— these versions of thought I mesh together like so
many insects flying in the yard.
Film making is a stroll on the sea.
Notes from a church bulletin 7/26/09 I find in my files—
What is the moral dilemma in THE DOME OF HEAVEN?
The proposal for a grant for film making I did not receive:
THE DOME OF HEAVEN is a contemporary film about the struggle for stability in a dysfunctional family. The wife is of
German descent. The husband, Cherokee. They have two grown children, Franklin and Florence, whom they call,
Flutie. It’s a boisterous, arguing family. Flutie gets pushed to the side. The film is about her struggle to find a voice,
to speak, in other words. She is so quiet at times, she feels as though she does not have a tongue. Nonetheless,
Flutie graduates high school and Southwestern Oklahoma State University in Weatherford, studying geology
because of the importance of the land in the film (the prairie, the Salt Plains, the Glass Mountains). The film is
about the struggle for education and economic survival. Franklin works with his father in Hampton’s garage in Vici,
Oklahoma, population, 792. It also is a love story between Franklin and his first wife, Geneva, and Franklin and his
second wife, Swallow, a friend of Flutie’s. Flutie also has Jess Tessman, and then Spoon, Franklin’s friend.
The story is influenced by the myth of Philomela, weaving her story from silence. Raped by her brother-in-law, he
cut out her tongue so she couldn’t tell her sister. But Philomela wove a tapestry and sent it to her sister. Her sister,
furious, killed their son, cut him up, into pieces and fed him to her husband. The rape is not the issue in this story,
but the inability to speak. As Flutie faces the silence of the land and the turmoil of her family, she feels she also is
without a tongue. Her brother, Franklin, meanwhile, steals auto parts from his father and then sells (feeds) his
father’s own auto parts back to him, eventually spending several weeks in the Taloga jail. When he returns to
Hampton’s garage, he has an accident. High on pain pills, alcohol, and frustration, he takes his hunting rifle and
shoots his room. He then accidentally shoots himself as he wrestles with his mother who is trying to get the rifle
away from him. At his funeral, Flutie realizes it was Franklin who didn’t have a tongue, who couldn’t speak about his
In 1998, I published the book titled, FLUTIE, about my experiences teaching in Vici for the State Arts Council of
Oklahoma. That same year, I received a fellowship to the Sundance Native American Screenwriting workshop
where I wrote a script from the book. It stayed in my files until I reread it, and felt once again it should be an
independent film. I changed the title to THE DOME OF HEAVEN because Vici is on a higher elevation than the
surrounding land in Western Oklahoma. The Western Oklahoma sky sits like a dome over the land. And Flutie,
after she overcomes her difficulties, achieves a higher ground, so to speak.
Other than the four main characters, I will use local people. This film will be a community project. In the end, the
film is about the significance of a small voice— the significance of ordinary lives under the large, western Oklahoma
Flying Without Wings
What are you looking for? What do you want?— Jesus asked in John 1:3. I want to make a film. I want to go to Vici,
Oklahoma with $40,000 of my own money and make a film that would cost at least three times what I have.
Two weeks ago, I was in Flagstaff on my way from Kansas to Los Angeles on another project. I had to stop for car
repairs at the Chevy dealer. I had been in contact with SAG because I wanted to use two of their actors. SAG
emailed me a low-budget contract. 39 pages. The printer ran out of ink before it all printed. I can’t handle this, I e-
mailed back. They sent an ultra-low budget contract. I signed it and returned it to the agents.
The rest areas in Arizona are closed because of the lack of state funding. It’s the old days I remember when there
weren’t places on the road to stop. Sometimes I pull off the road to rest when I’m driving across the country. If there’
s surveillance. If conditions are right. But now there’s no place to pull off.
I continue, almost beyond endurance. I have a respect for truck drivers. For those who do their job. Who keep their
trucks on the road. Who make the long hauls. Anyone else would give up. It takes an endurance I can see, but
cannot reach, much less sustain.
I can do nothing of myself, but what I see the father do— John 5:19. I don’t have funds. I don’t know how to make a
film. I don’t know how to direct. Where did this dream come from? What am I doing? Is this madness? Senility at
the end of my life? A wrong turn into the grandiose? Or at least impracticality. But in the Bible I find the impossible
can be accomplished.
Notes from a Monday night Bible study 11/2/09 I find on the table—
How could I tell this group I returned from LA to Kansas City in two days? 14 hours each day. These hidden things I
have known in secret. They can’t be blurted out. But they are the reason I think I can do this.
The lame will leap like a deer. The tongue of the dumb shall sing— Isaiah 35:6