I went to the parking garage with the same shooter who had photographed the Great Lakes. We arrived around 2:15 p.m., and the black Lincoln was parked exactly where I had been told it would be. We drove up to the third floor, built the camera and framed the shot. And then we hid behind the wall and waited. After that we waited some more. It was a nervous wait, an edgy wait. Lots of time thinking about the rumors we'd heard that the man was a mobster. But then it happened just the way that shadowy political op said it would. At three sharp, the front door to the building opened and out walked the sheriff.
He got about twenty feet away from the building before he sensed that something was wrong. He looked straight up at us and froze. The camera was rolling, the lens zoomed in. We could tell from the fear showing on his face that he thought the camera had been a rifle, and he was about to be killed. Once his life passed before his eyes, once he regrouped and saw that it wasn't a rifle pointed his way but a camera, he stood there with his wheels turning. Should he run back into the building? Or should he sprint to his car?
He chose the Lincoln and sped off into the ruined cityscape. We threw the camera and tripod into the van and raced off--shaking, I remember.
That's how ACCESS TO POWER was born. First as a screenplay entitled HIDDEN AGENDA, which was optioned and read by nearly every production house in Los Angeles. In the first year of the TV series 24, Jack Bauer's sleazy CIA political contact was named Robert Ellis. It was no surprise to me because I knew how much the heads of production at both Fox and Imagine loved my screenplay. We had spent hours together talking about the project, but also about that day in New Jersey.
Obviously ACCESS TO POWER is a political thriller, not a mob story. But in its heart is the question that arose that same day: what if you made a negative TV ad, struck a nerve, and your opponent decided to hit back with a gun?
Writing this thriller changed my life. Once I realized the difference between a screenplay and a novel, once I realized that I could portray a character's thoughts and feelings and get into their hearts and minds, I never looked back. As my readers already know, I very much enjoy doing the research for my novels. In the case of ACCESS TO POWER everything about it is real except for the murders themselves. Every side story actually happened. I even walked through the entire climax; the tunnels underneath the Capitol, the secret rooms and staircases. If you take a close look at the dome, you'll see the ladder built into the side. I made the climb to the top from an inside catwalk just to make sure that the ending was possible.
What an ending. What a beginning. What a trip.
ROBERT ELLIS WRITERS BLOG