By Alan Sorensen
Seeking housing: Los Angeles screenwriter seeks place close to Havre to crash for a few days while researching material for horse story. Reared in Texas and willing to do chores in exchange for shelter. Also looking for ranchers and horse breeders to interview.
Julie Michaels is indeed a screenwriter with a long resume of TV and motion picture production work.
"I worked for a year on production of Northern Exposure," Michaels said when interviewed Wednesday. "I stood in for the girl who played Shelly."
Michaels admitted remembering Fort Belknap native Sonny Nicholson from the show and insisted that he was always a gentleman. "He was really nice," she said.
Michaels has worked on projects from San Francisco to Seattle.
"I worked on a bunch of films in production," she said. "Then I've been working on commercials behind the scenes for that."
Michaels has been writing scripts for about six years. She and her husband have about 10 scripts between them.
Now she's trying to complete the screenplay her husband came up with a few years ago.
Originally intended to be about a girl from a dysfunctional family who finds tae kwon do, Michaels has decided to make it about a girl from a dysfunctional family and horses. She said she approached him about giving the project to her and was pleased when he agreed. "Not much has been happening with the script."
The working title is something everyone in this part of the country can identify with.
"The name of this one is DreamCatcher,'" Michaels said. "This was one of (her husband's) scripts. It's a young-girl-coming-of-age story. He was hired to write it about tae kwon do.
"I decided to pull out that back story and make the back story about horses instead."
Michaels said she is originally from Texas and knows how to perform farm and ranch chores. In an e-mail to The Daily News earlier in the week, Michaels wrote:
"Willing to do work exchange (not completely a greenhorn as I grew up in Texas :-) of whatever I can offer ... (not a bad trade, also as I can do massage!) also landscaping, cleaning, or personal consulting or barn work, of course. Also, to help fund my trip, am offering folks to come to them and do massage on them, on their animals (which is particularly great for injured or sick animals). There's nothing better than having to not leave your house for a massage! And, as I have been an acting coach in New York and Los Angeles want to offer the local high school, jr. high thespians the opportunity to work with me as well should they be interested, since I saw that Hamlet is playing I know there might be some interest."
Michaels said she has long been enthralled by the story of the Nez Perce flight through Idaho, Wyoming and Montana in 1877. She spent a lot of time in Washington and was captivated by Chief Joseph. But that's not why she chose to come to northcentral Montana to research her screen play.
"I have a good friend who lives in Billings, I was just really drawn to the Bear Paw Mountains," she said. "As I was mapping out my trip, I realized that, my God, that's where he surrendered."
Michaels has been staying with Lisa Cowan at the Cowan ranch in the Bear Paws but hasn't made it over to the battlefield south of Chinook yet.
"I really want to go there." she said. "This is just a kind of vision quest of my own."
Without revealing too much about the screenplay she's developing, Michaels did explain a little of what it is about.
"It's about a girl who's had some trauma from a really dysfunctional family. She ends up somewhere along the California coast, where she shut her heart down and pretty much retreated into being a teen-ager. There's a magician in town and he sort of engages her and takes her under his wing to help her. Then at some point, he says, I have to send you to somebody else' and (the somebody else) finishes the job. It's a wrangler, an ex-con who lives in that town. He's a reluctant teacher and she's a reluctant student and from there it goes to something more inspirational."
Michaels isn't picky about where she ends up, just so long as she has ready access to ranchers and horse breeders. In her e-mail, she wrote:
"Looking for another ranch maybe closer in town to stay on next week, around Havre or all the way down to Big Sandy. Or even anyone in town that has an extra room who'd be willing to put me up for another week or so, so I can get out to the local ranchers and do research."
Michaels wrote that her reasons for contacting the newspaper were twofold.
"Just thought maybe you could help me out and do a little article in the weekend paper on me as I am looking for rancher/breeders to interview and also to stay at their place while doing so."
Interested? Call the Cowan ranch at 395-4445 or Michaels' Los Angeles voice mail at (818) 754-4662.