by Edwin L. Carpenter, Editor – The Dove Foundation
Clark B. McMillian Jr. is the writer of a screenplay titled Reflections of a Motor City, and the story revolves around the great Motown stars of the sixties. This story, however, is different from many others, in that Clark always writes with the family audience in mind. His Christian roots go deep and his shining talent has been noticed by some independent filmmakers. As of this writing, Clark is attempting to get financing to get his first film made.
“I started writing as a kid,” Clark said in an exclusive interview with The Dove Foundation. “During summer vacations my parents would make me rewrite the endings to a recent book or the latest story in the Reader’s Digest. I wasn’t too happy about that when I was a kid,” he chuckled.
“The writing just took,” he continued. “I went to college and studied computer engineering; I wrote stories and plays on the side and I just kept doing it. “
“Did you receive encouragement from your teachers?” we asked.
“Yes, I did,” he replied. “My English teachers and my history teachers, if we had to give a speech in class, always enjoyed my topics. They always gave me encouragement about my writing, which was very, very surprising for me at the time. Mathematics was my thing and my strength. Writing was not something that I thought I would be good at. But I had these stories, and I had to get them down on paper.”
We asked Clark how much he wrote about real happenings in his life and how much he fictionalized about experiences he never had. “I would say about fifty-fifty” he replied. “Sometimes when I would go to church—the Bible has so many great stories, and lessons learned in those stories, and so much is communicated in those stories—I said, you know, that’s an interesting way to get a point across.” Clark elaborated that he would write stories based on sermons delivered by his pastor.
“But I could make a modern story,” he said, “and the parable could still be applied in today’s society. One of my favorite stories in the Bible is the story about the man who was paralyzed, and he heard Jesus was coming to a near-by town. He knew that Jesus would heal him and he told his friends about it, and his friends carried him on the stretcher. They lowered him down through a torn up roof. I remember the first time I heard about that. It was actually a guest speaker at our church.
“And he said that you have to have the right people around you no matter what. You have two kinds of people. You have the people who would have looked down the hill and would have seen all the people and would say, “Look, we have to come back another day. Maybe the next time Jesus comes to town we can take you. Or you have the type of people who say, ‘All right, let’s figure out a way to get you through this crowd. It’s standing room only in the house but that’s ok. We’ll figure out a way to get you in that house.” Those are the types of people you want to surround yourself with.”
Clark has taken the encouragement given to him, surrounded himself with people who believe in him, and has written a well-researched screenplay, the aforementioned Reflections of a Motor City.
“When I researched the story, I read Smokey Robinson’s autobiography, I read Stevie Wonder’s autobiography, I read Berry Gordey’s autobiography. There were similar stories they were telling. In looking at interviews, you kind of pick up on the personalities.” He used his imagination and has written a story based on fact but with some creative license involving dialog and some events. Many of the artists grew up with one another and this is reflected in Clark’s story. He added some humorous parts as well, including the part in which Smokey Robinson teaches Diana Ross how to drive! He included events such as Smokey Robinson attending Aretha Franklin’s father’s church, and after service Aretha sneaking out of the side of the church to take a puff off a cigarette! He also writes dramatically, including Smokey Robinson’s wife struggling with miscarriages and childbirth.
Clark has belonged to several writing groups, hoping to glean constructive comments from fellow writers, and unfortunately some of the critics have been less than kind regarding his desire to keep the family in mind when he tells a story.
However, Clark remains determined to get his story filmed and he has Michigan in mind. “I have a soft spot in my heart for Michigan,” he said, “because of what they’re going through right now. To see the jobs go away, the people there struggle; people shouldn’t say it’s a has-been town. The history that state has produced—not just in the motor industry but in the music industry—this was pretty much the center of innovation in this country. I saw that the governor (Jennifer Granholm) and the State Legislature recently passed the legislation for filmmaking (tax breaks, etc.). I thought this is great because some of the most creative people come from this region of the country.”
Clark also was very grateful to the Detroit Film Office, for the permits, encouragement, locations they showed him, and their overall spirit of cooperation in helping him when he contacted them recently.
Clark mentioned the natural backdrops of Michigan–the great lakes, and the urban settings, rural settings and industrial backgrounds, could be used and are “totally untapped”.
Clark has submitted his script and it has a director attached to it, and he agrees with The Dove Foundation that it would be poetic for a movie about Motown to be filmed in Michigan. He’s currently attempting to raise funds for this independent film. He is also looking at traditional studios which might be interested.
Clark’s goal is “for the parents and grandparents to come to the film” in addition to young people. His goal in making a film for the entire family fits in well with The Dove Foundation’s identical goal. Keep the name Clark McMillian in mind. This talented writer could very well have his name up in lights as the writer of Reflections of a Motor City as well as, hopefully, other future works.
Read Dove’s Review of “Reflections of a Motor City“