A correction was made to this article on June 14, 2006.>
When Bill Mastrosimone was first asked to come up with his take on the TNT/DreamWorks mini “Into the West,” it just wasn’t clicking for him.
“I couldn’t get a good picture,” he says. “I was ready to throw in the towel.”
Then, the night before his pitch meeting, he dreamed of two wheels. One was a wagon wheel, the other an Indian Medicine Wheel — and his story fell into place. He decided to focus on a family of settlers moving West and another family from the Lakota Indian tribe.
“It’s really about the clash of two ways of life,” he explains.
Mastrosimone got the job and wrote the first, fifth and sixth episodes as well as the series bible, no small undertaking. With 20 major characters, 65 years of history and myriad plotlines to cover, he put the major characters and storylines in place, then passed it along to the other writers.
“We were free like jazz musicians to riff around the general theme,” says Kirk Ellis, fourth episode writer and supervising producer of the series. “We were able to play around.”
The trick, even with room for individual creativity, was to not veer off the path and not write something out of sync.
Cyrus Nowrasteh, writer of the second episode, had his script shot first, so he found himself in constant contact with third episode writer, Craig Storper, to ensure their stories and characters lined up.
“It really was pretty smooth, all considered,” Nowrasteh says.
All of the writers were committed to being as accurate as possible about historical events and people, particularly the Indians.
Compared with earlier epic films, such as “How the West Was Won”, they wanted to give the Indians a voice. So much so, the Indians spoke in their native language.
“The last thing (executive director Steven) Spielberg said to me before I wrote the first script was, ‘I don’t care where the chips fall, it just has to be true,’ ” Mastrosimone says.
(A note: The indigenous people Mastrosimone dealt with told him they preferred to be called “Indian” rather than “Native American.”)