July 20th, 2012
THE ANGEL CHANNEL by Sheri Leigh Myers and Ed Kovacs
“The Angel Channel” is a gritty, magical fable about a desperate mom named Ella. She’s a nearly-great professional singer who’s just done two years in prison and is determined to make it up to her son, Danny. They’ve fortunately landed in a small town in Crowley, in the heart of Prairie Cajun Country. It’s full of kind, caring people who, despite their struggles, take Ella and Danny into their hearts. A mysterious glitch appears on Ella’s TV. People call it an angel and flock to ask the Angel for help. And sometimes miracles occur. Although they call her “The Angel Lady,” Ella does not buy the “miracle” thing for a minute. But she goes along with it and profits from it. Danny is all she really cares about. All that matters to her, is making up for those lost years and providing him with the chances to be great. `Til the night she’s in terrible straits, jammed into a deep ditch, out in the middle of nowhere.
The film will utilize the authentic beauty and charm of Crowley, Louisiana – a Prairie Cajun town that is timeless. The WPA courthouse, the Victorian homes, the rice worker shacks provide a classic canvas for our story. Louisiana music weaves through; from a radio tuned to the local station, to bars and hotel rooms and recording studios where our actor/musicians perform.
Gabriella Birney was blessed with the voice of an angel. Growing up poor in Mississippi, she sang solos in the church choir from early on. People compared her gift to Eva Cassidy’s. Like Eva, there was a shadow over Gabriella’s life. At the age of 15, Gabby got pregnant and ran away to Texas, where she raised her son Danny in a series of homeless shelters. Eventually she found steady work on a low-rent Mississippi River boat casino, dealing cards and from time to time, singing.
Billy Dixon, a brilliant blues player fighting demons and addictions (and losing) was playing the casino lounges along the River when they met. Nineteen year-old Gabriella fell under his dark spell; Billy promised they would be famous. For eight years the “Two Blues” toured small clubs across the South with Danny riding in the back seat. It was a life fraught with incredible music and a lot of drinking, drugging and bad behavior… on both sides. Their living hell ended in a Memphis recording studio, where Billy beat the crap out of Gabby and took off. Disappeared. Gabriella’s fresh hell was finding herself penniless with a 12 year-son and a heroin habit. Consequently she did some things she shouldn’t, to make rent and score dope. Then her “luck” ran out. She was caught and sentenced to two years at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility for check kiting.
Danny went into foster care. As he bounced from one mismatched “family” to another, he withdrew into the world of architecture. There, he latched onto Oscar Niemeyer, the designer of Brasilia – structures of poured concrete that seem to float in space. Danny’s fierce focus got him through a horrendous time but his brilliance and obsessive nature seems bizarre to other, “normal” kids.
OUR FILM BEGINS…
It’s a year after Gabriella’s release from prison; she’s changed her name to Ella Dolan.
Working as an itinerant waitress, she and Danny have been criss-crossing the deep South, staying in obscure towns, searching for a safe place to start over. Ella feels her time has passed (and she blew it), but Danny’s artistic career has yet to begin. Nothing matters more to her than staying away from the world of music and devils like Billy, staying clean, and providing that break for her son.
Today, on this hot Louisiana afternoon, a letter arrives that’s been trailing after them for two months. Astonishing, scary news – Danny’s been accepted into a six-week summer program for promising young architects in Chicago. Unfortunately, Ella’s got to come up with $5,000 in a month to hold his spot. She calls her son from Chubby’s Cajun Café and Lounge, where she’s got a lunchtime gig. Danny is in the high school cafeteria, twisting paper plates and snack bags to replicate a Niemeyer creation, trying in his awkward way to share his ideas with Therese Broussard – a pretty, 14 year-old Cajun. She lives next door to the “Dolans” with her Maw Maw, (Cajun grandmother) Marie Broussard.
Just as Ella feared, Danny’s reaction is over-the-top and dark. “It’s impossible! Forget it!” She vows to find the money for Danny to get to Chicago. It’s hard for him to take comfort, since nothing ever seems to work out for them. He goes home to sulk.
Minutes later, Ella hears a couple of the local bigwigs – Parish D.A. Rhett Rabelais (40) and Police Chief Bud Hebert, (63) discussing their weekly (secret) poker game and search for a venue. “Hey, I’ll host.” she offers, casually. They take her up on it.
That night, as Ella prepares her shabby home for the poker game, she sings along to the radio. In the living room, Danny switches channels, frustrated. Their old TV is dark, except for a small rainbow-colored butterfly-shape pulsing in the middle. He finally gives up, turns off the set and takes out the trash. Tab Theriot (40) the town playboy and owner/publisher of the Acadian News, pulls up front in his 507 BMW. He’s immediately enchanted by the gorgeous sound of Ella’s voice, and when she appears, her wild beauty and sensuality. He even likes her off-hand attitude. She’s not impressed that the Golden Boy of Lachepas thinks she’s cute. She’s got a card game to run. No, she says, with an edge, she’s not a singer. “Oh yes, she is,” Danny whispers to Tab. “But, it’s all a question of what you believe… isn’t it?”
Meanwhile, in a bad, darkened motel room, a man with a caved-in face and fierce eyes plays his guitar, and sings his raw blues.
A little later, in her cozy kitchen, Ella’s all business as she plays poker with Tab, D.A. Rabelais, Chief Bud, and Happy Luk, the easygoing, irreverent Asian American who owns and runs “Happy Chow” in town. On her counter-top TV, they watch D.A. Rabelais, (who is running for Mayor) vow to rid the town of “questionable charities.” His poker pals tease and mock him. It’s fine getting razzed by guys he’s grown up with, but Ella’s witty quips are not appreciated. After she accidentally spills a drink on his linen suit, beats him at poker and collects a nice pile of winnings, he leaves in a huff. All the rest of the guys (especially Tab) are eager to return.
Later Ella counts $300 in winnings, a great start for Danny’s Chicago fund. Danny’s disgusted and fearful. He saw her switch decks to defeat Rabelais. Cheating isn’t worth it and she can’t make enough to cover the tuition, he says, and he wants her to stop. She can’t, and won’t. She’s vowed to get that money together for his future.
The next morning, Danny is banging on the TV to get rid of the electronic disturbance. Therese observes with a giggle, that it kinda looks like an angel. Ella wakes up and gives Danny permission to call the repairman. She also sends Therese over to her maw maw’s to see if there’s any problems on her TV set. Maybe there’s bad weather somewhere. Next door, Marie and five elderly ladies – a gospel group called “The Acadian Queens” – are making crawfish pie and singing. Missus Riva, Evangeline, Glenora, Marguerite and the fragile Miss Amie all brighten when Marie announces that Therese has seen an angel on the TV set next door!
Over at Ella’s, the cranky TV repairman Al Landers declares that it may well be an electronic glitch, but he doesn’t see any point in taking the TV apart. Nevertheless, he demands his $100 for house call. As Danny pays the bill with Ella’s winnings, a heated dispute arises. Not only is Ella swearing at the uber-religious repairman, she’s accusing Al of taking advantage of them. He stomps out, to meet the Acadian Queens, who are excited to see the Angel on Ella’s TV. Al’s enraged. “ God’s messengers don’t come forth as Saturday morning entertainment!” Ella brushes him off and invites the gals inside.
The Queens settle in front of the set, mesmerized by the undulating, rainbow-winged glitch. Marie asks permission to stay and pray to the Angel. Ella thinks it’s a nutty idea, but relents. One Queen makes an excited phone call to her sister, who’s getting her hair done at “Treasured Looks.” The Lachepas postal carrier happens to be there.
Ella’s living room is soon crowded with local folk peering at the glitch. Even Tab Theriot arrives, with Randy Babineaux, his cub reporter from the paper. Ella’s secretly happy to see Tab. They flirt. Their attention shifts when the crippled Miss Amie, guided by Marie, takes steps without her walker to the “Angel” and even does a little Cajun two-set. People are ecstatic and tearful. Danny’s astonishment is tempered by his mother’s cynical take that there’s no miracle here, just a psychosomatic healing. Happens all the time. The only miracle Ella has witnessed is the bowl of cash donations that’s filling up in front of the TV. She introduces herself as The Angel Lady and invites everyone back.
That night, as Ella exuberantly counts the donations and makes plans to set up a snack bar, Danny voices his fierce opposition. If she truly doesn’t believe, it’s not right to take advantage of people by posing as some goody two-shoes “Angel Lady.” His mom’s not to be deterred; she’s going to get Danny into the program by milking this cash cow. “It’s not worth it. Lies always catch up to us!” he yells. Distressed, wondering if he might be right, Ella’s taking stock out in her back yard when Marie comes over with crawfish pie and thanks. Ella won’t talk about her troubles. Marie advises, “Ask your Angel for help. It appeared on your TV, for you.” Well, lying to a roomful of strangers is one thing, but Ella really loves Marie and she can’t fake it. Marie won’t hear that the TV Angel is not real. She figures the only problem is Ella’s faith. She has to believe.
Faith or no faith, Ella takes to the role of “The Angel Lady” with zeal. As word spreads throughout the Parish and more folks forego Sunday church to sit in front of the glitch, the opposition to The Angel Lady builds. D.A. Rabelais is all too willing to pick up the sword of justice, attack the demonic Angel Lady and win the grateful Christian vote to get elected Mayor of Crowley. He launches a public campaign to investigate the Angel Lady and her devilish business. Ella is forced to respond on camera and fight for the right of folks to pray wherever they see fit. She’s got to see this thing through, long enough to get the tuition raised for Chicago. However, Danny’s coming under increasingly violent harassment at school. He wants to give the set away so the crazy crowds with their healing fever will go somewhere else. Danny dreads that, now that Ella’s in the paper and on TV, Billy will find them.
He has. Billy Dixon caught a glimpse of Ella on the news, as he was playing at some backwater dive. He shows up at their door late one night. Ella’s in the shower. Danny opens the door, realizing too late that it’s Billy. Danny flashes back to the last time he saw Billy, beating up his mom at the studio. He’s a helpless, frightened kid all over again. Ella hears the shouting, comes out of the shower, Danny runs out, suddenly it’s just she and Billy. He tells her he still loves her, he’s begging for her forgiveness and, he figures that since she’s the Angel Lady, she’ll give it to him. “Two Blues” needs to get back together, to capitalize on her new-found fame and cash in. As he sits and does a couple lines, he sips from his flask and outlines his plan; sell the TV Angel/Glitch to this megachurch pastor in Arkansas, who’ll give `em enough to get back on the road and revive the glory days. Cut a new album. He starts singing one of their old songs.
Ella plays along with his psychotic rant until she can reach her pistol. Then she threatens to kill him if he doesn’t leave them alone. She drills bullet holes into the fin of Billy’s caddy as he peels away, then tosses the gun, immediately scared and regretting she lost control. Danny’s gone. Billy’s out there. Marie and Therese come over and promise to call her if Danny returns.
Ella drafts Tab into helping her search, without giving the real details. He’s happy to help, to be near her. Although Tab has positioned the paper as a wry observer of the Angel phenomena, he’s been falling in love with the Angel Lady. Out of her mind with worry and frustration, Ella confesses that the Angel was made up. Tab is shocked. He never imagined she was a fraud; he believed she believed. Ella swears to tell him everything, and confesses that she cheated him at poker. But she doesn’t tell Tab about her drug-scarred past and the bad old lover she just nearly blew away, because Chief calls with the good news that they picked Danny up out on the highway.
Danny refuses to return home to his mother’s house. He’s sick of the chaos, and elects to stay at Tab’s home until The Angel is gone. Ella has no choice but to give in. Her heart is breaking. Her plan to get to Chicago to start Danny on a new, better path has gone horribly awry. Her troubles are about to explode.
Billy has taken his revenge by telling D.A. Rabelais that he saw a drug kit at the home of The Angel Lady, aka ex-con, Gabriella Birney. The Crowley police conduct a raid and Ella is tossed into jail. An angry Tab posts bail. Ella can’t talk to him about Billy, he doesn’t want to hear it. This is a new ring in Hell for Ella. The Angel Lady’s fallen from grace, her TV’s been confiscated with the coffee can full of Danny’s tuition money. And Billy’s still out there.
Strangely, D.A. Rabelais shows up at her door, offering Ella a deal. He will find a way to drop the drug charges if Ella will announce to the world that the Angel is a sham, give up the TV, and promptly leave Crowley. (Billy just informed Rabelais that the drugs the police found at Ella’s were his. The deal is, Rabelais can buy Billy’s silence if he gives him the TV.) Ella tells Rabelais she’ll think about it. “Don’t take too much time. You’ve got a court appearance tomorrow morning.”
It’s night and it’s starting to storm. But Ella’s on the move. She’s packing and rummaging through her closet for her secret stash of cash as we see Tab and Danny discuss with Chief Bud the likelihood that bad Billy left the drugs at the house.
She walks over to Marie’s, where the Acadian Queens are baking and singing. They still believe in their Angel Lady; they’re holding a bake sale to help pay Ella’s attorney fees. Despite all their love and forgiveness, Ella is a wreck. She takes Marie aside to hand her a stash of cash for Tab, who posted bail. The plan is to get out of town, set up somewhere, and send for Danny. Marie begs Ella to stay and to face her demons, but Ella’s in a quandary. If she does what the D.A. asks, and confesses that the TV Angel is a fake, what happens to people like Miss Amie, who believe the Angel brought her a miracle? Ella can’t do it. Miss Marie pushes open the door to her bedroom and reveals Ella’s TV. “Ask your Angel.” Fortunately, Marie had a feeling that the bad guy in the Cadillac might return when Ella was out looking for Danny, so she switched TVs. It’s Marie’s TV sitting in the evidence locker. Ella, stonefaced, walks out with her TV. There’s that pastor with the megachurch in Texas who wants the Angel. Ella can cash in, and maybe despite everything, get Danny to Chicago.
As Ella drives through the bayou, miles away from Lachepas and any civilization, the storm intensifies. She loses control of her truck and plunges into a ditch. The TV comes loose from its moorings and pins her down. Ella can’t move anything but her lips. Finally, she asks for help, even though it’s clearly too late. Then, she blacks out.
Ella awakes to a bright white light pouring through the passenger window. It’s Marie, who energetically lifts off the TV and advises Ella that she has “all the tools she needs to save herself.” And wouldn’t you know, Ella’s broken tow cable is working! They manage to pull her truck back onto the road. Whereas before, Ella couldn’t believe that the TV Angel was real, now, she wants to believe. There must be miracles if her tow chain held and Marie found her! It’s a bitter shock when Ella tests the TV and the Three Stooges comes on. Marie consoles her, “Maybe that glitch was not the Angel after all. Maybe we are Angels to each other. Maybe the miracle is that you asked for help. Because of that, I found you.” Ella understands that what was missing in her life was faith that miracles are possible in her life, too. Her gratitude is boundless. “What can I possibly do to repay you?” Marie responds, “Sing! Sing for me, sing for the people, sing for the world!” Then she drives off. She’s late for choir practice.
It’s dawn. Ella wakes up, bruised and bloodied, in the cab of her truck, in the middle of the road. The TV, still showing The Three Stooges, sits on the seat next to her. She turns her truck back toward Crowley and hits the gas.
At the Acadia Parish courthouse, where the “disgraced” Angel lady is scheduled to appear, all kinds of shenanigans are going on. D.A. Rabelais is in the evidence room, making secret arrangements with the Officer to hand over Miss Marie’s TV to Billy when he arrives. Tab and the Chief catch wind of this. Chief arranges to haul the TV up to the police lab for “fingerprinting” before Billy can get his hands on it. Tab turns on his hidden tape recorder and, posing as an assistant to Rabelais, tries to convince Billy they need him to plant more dope before he gets the Angel TV. Billy’s not playing. He’s coked up and hostile and looking to punch someone out.
The courtroom is packed full of Angel Lady supporters and detractors. The Acadian Queens are all there, except for Miss Marie. Ella has yet to appear. Her public defender is sweating bullets. Just as the Judge is about to issue a warrant for her arrest, Ella shows up, a bloodied and bruised sight to behold. Danny is tremendously relieved; her supporters are thrilled. Ella launches into a wild confession – yes, she was guilty of conning people with the TV Angel, but now she realizes that the glitch inspired people to have Faith. And because of faith, miracles can occur. And thanks to Miss Marie, that’s what Ella understands that it’s all about. It’s important what we believe. Cheered by her supporters, Ella proceeds to defend herself against the drug charges. Chaos erupts in the courtroom as her detractors shout insults and her supporters fire back.
Elsewhere in the building, Tab manages to dupe Billy into confessing that he set Ella up. There’s a fist fight, that Tab wins. In the courtroom, just as Ella is about to be arrested for contempt, Tab bursts in with the recorded evidence to expose District Attorney Rabelais’ culpability. Behind him, Chief Bud drags a beaten and handcuffed Billy. The case is dismissed. D.A. Rabelais is arrested. The crowd goes wild.
Moments later, Ella finds out from Miss Marie’s grieving friends that the dear woman died of a heart attack immediately after Ella left town… hours before she appeared to Ella on the back bayou road.
An astonished, tearful smile spreads across Ella’s face.
The last scene is the International Rice Festival, where Mayor Roux introduces “Ella and the Acadian Queens” to many thousands of people. Our Ella comes out on stage, her soul and brilliance on fire. She spreads her arms in the light and looks just like an angel.