03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Recreating the Vision of Tennessee Williams

The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond is a new drama based on a recently rediscovered original screenplay by legendary writer Tennessee Williams. Starring Bryce Dallas Howard and Chris Evans, the Paladin release will open in New York and Los Angeles in late December, with expansion to major markets following in early 2010. Academy Award-winner Ellen Burstyn, Academy Award-nominee Ann-Margret, Mamie Gummer, and Will Patton co-star in the film which was directed by award-winning short filmmaker and stage and screen actress Jodie Markell, in her feature debut.

This is the first dialogue scene in the film, The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond. Fisher Willow (Bryce Dallas Howard) is a wealthy, yet rebellious young woman who has driven all night from a debutante party in Memphis to her father's plantation in Mississippi to ask a young man, Jimmy Dobyne (Chris Evans), to escort her to the parties of the season so that she will not be disinherited by her Aunt Cornelia (Ann-Margret).

Fisher has just returned to the South after a year abroad to study in Paris. Now she says she feels "out of my element here" (as Williams himself did his whole life). She wants to enlist Jimmy who she sees as honest and full of integrity, to accompany her while she maneuvers through a world of artificial social conventions. Jimmy's father (Will Patton), who is clearly drunk even though the scene takes place in the early morning, works on the Willow's plantation; but the Dobynes were once a prominent family that has now fallen from grace.

In this scene, we also learn that Fisher is haunted by the sins of her wealthy and successful father who has blasted his levee and caused the death of several innocent people. His audacious greed may have increased his property value, but at the expense of his family's reputation. Fisher has been tormented by the memory of her father's crimes and she is scorned in Memphis society where they whisper behind her back, calling her "murderer's daughter."

I was intrigued by the fact that, although Williams wrote this screenplay in 1957 at the peak of his creativity and fame, he chose to set the story in the twenties when America was first adjusting to the modern age and the "Old South" was being replaced by the "New South." I discussed with the actors how each of their characters is coping with that transition. Fisher and Jimmy are trying both to define themselves apart from their respective families, and to understand who they are in this new world. Their search for something true in a provincial society is what eventually drives them together and yet sometimes pushes them apart. Their longing to connect is universal and timeless.

I grew up in Memphis, Tennessee and was always intrigued by the mysterious, ephemeral beauty that haunts the South. There are still remnants of its individuality and of its old idiosyncratic ways and I wanted to capture them on film before they are lost forever. Tennessee Williams once said that everything he ever wrote was about loss. Sometimes the South still feels haunted by the sins of the fathers. Williams also said that so much of his work takes place in the South because he wanted to explore those vices, (the "mendacity" he explores in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, for example) which ultimately lead to the destruction of a culture.

When gathering images for the language of the film, I was fascinated with the horizontal line of the levee against the sky. It is a hard, man-made, straight line juxtaposed against the natural wonder of clouds and sky- and something about that embodies for me the audacious greed that so characterized the early days of the New South. The levee is almost a natural thing but it is an illusion, it is not real. I had always felt it was important to visualize the levee sequence that is referred to in this scene.

In the shooting script, I chose to open the film with the events on the levee. And then, before we were to start production, Hurricane Katrina struck. Now even the most casual use of the word "levee" has taken on such emotional freight, and it made shooting on location in Louisiana both timely and intense as the world continues to watch the needs of the disenfranchised get swept away by the greed of the rich and powerful. The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond follows the journey of two sensitive young people as they struggle to find something to hold onto as they navigate the harsh waters of a complicated new world.