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Writer Marissa Kate Goodhill on 'Come Away'

November 27, 2020
3 min read time

Not many screenwriters can say their first-ever script was made into a film starring Angelina Jolie and David Oyelowo. But Marissa Kate Goodhill can. While Goodhill has been writing scripts for over 10 years, Come Away, which is a sort of prequel to Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland, was the first screenplay she wrote after graduating from USC.

“I never actually attempted my own screenplay until I sat down to start Come Away after I graduated,” Goodhill says. “I definitely regretted never having taken a screenwriting class at that point! But I found my way through, and by the time I was done, I was hooked.”

Goodhill re-imagines that Peter and Alice are siblings who are raised by their parents (Jolie and Oyelowo) to be creative free spirits. When tragedy strikes, Alice copes by going down a wondrous rabbit hole and Peter escapes reality by becoming the leader of “The Lost Boys.”

“I had been doing a deep dive into fairytales as a genre for a class I was taking at USC, and was captivated by how dark and profound so many of the classic tales are in their original forms,” she says in regards to the inspiration for the script. “In the midst of that, I was an artistic director of a college dance group, and we had decided to pair Peter and Alice together in a dance show, which led me to read the original texts of those two stories for the first time.”

Prior to that, Goodhill says she’d only ever seen the Disney animated versions of Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland. “But reading those books, I realized that J.M. Barrie and Lewis Carrol’s work had much more to do with the darkness of classic fairytales and less to do with the Disney versions.”

Goodhill says she was struck by how Peter and Alice embodied oppositional reactions to “growing up.”

“Peter is the kid who never wants to grow up, but has such a deep sadness and wisdom in him. When we talk about people who have a ‘Peter Pan syndrome,’ it’s often people who had to grow up too early in their lives who then later become stuck in a sort of child-like state. J.M. Barrie himself had some of that, and in fact, his own biography includes a brother who tragically died in his youth. That early trauma forced Barrie to grow up too fast, and inspired the screenplay I ultimately wrote.”

On the other end of the spectrum is Alice, who, according to Goodhill, is the little girl who is desperate to grow up. “To me, that kind of longing to grow up is much more innocent than a kid who understands how painful the world of adults can be, and, like Peter, is determined to avoid it. So they just seemed like perfect counterpoints to one another.”

Goodhill says the most significant question that drove the script was “the idea that these are two characters who fully escape into fantasy worlds, with one big difference: one comes back home at the end of her journey, the other doesn’t. I wanted to know why.”

For the screenplay, Goodhill says she outlined extensively and ultimately worked off of a forty-something page treatment “which was halfway between a script and an outline.” From first to final draft took about a year, including four big rewrites, in addition to a year of research and outlining beforehand.

“I knew early on that I wanted to look at these characters through a different lens than I’d ever seen them; as real people, with real lives and families,” she says. “ I wanted to write a family drama for adults, that just happened to have some connection to stories we know. My sister and I remember certain events in our childhood with an almost shocking degree of difference. So the ways that kids interpret their world depending on their unique place in the family structure is something I was excited to explore. I did want to create narratives for some of the iconic elements of Peter and Alice’s fantasy worlds, and I did want it to be a true origin story where we would see these kids grow into the characters we come to recognize. But mostly, I approached it as a small character drama about a family dealing with tragedy.”

When it comes to writing spec scripts, Goodhill's advice for other writers is to write the story you want to tell. “I wrote this as a dark fairytale for adults; it was not intended as a kids movie. I knew that would make it a tough sell, commercially. But I wrote the script I was moved to write, and the fact that it was unlike anything else people had read is ultimately what I think attracted this amazing cast. So, I think writing the movie you want to write, even if it doesn’t seem to have a clear commercial path, is something I’d advocate."

Goodhill goes on to note that it's important to remember that on "the flip side of that, however — especially when you’re writing a spec that you aren’t expecting to direct yourself — is that once you sell a spec script, it’s out of your hands. And especially if it isn’t a standard fare genre movie; that can leave a huge gap between what’s on the page and what ends up on the screen. This is always the case as a writer, but I think even more so when it’s a spec. Because with a spec, you’re not developing the project with the people who will be executing it, so there isn’t necessarily a shared vision for the movie that’s being cultivated throughout a development process. So that’s another consideration if you’re writing a spec that has any kind of unusual tone." 

Once you're done writing that spec? Keep writing. Goodhill has finished writing another feature script called Gun Love, which is being produced by Nick Weschler and Chockstone Pictures with Julie Taymor directing, and she's also in the process of developing a limited series project with Gina Rodriguez’s production company. "I’m also writing a new original feature," Goodhill states. 

Come Away is now in theaters and on demand.

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