One of my earliest memories of TV was standing with my father in the family room watching the endless coverage of the Kennedy assassination. It was the day after the young president had been shot, and I had little understanding of the event other than the simple, sober faced explanation given by my father. "Some nutcase shot him." No one was really sure who this "nutcase" was. There was a name, Oswald, and there was the now-familiar word, "communist" being bandied about. But other than that, little had trickled down to my seven-year-old ears.
My father had been waiting, along with everyone else in America, to get a first real look at the "nutcase" as he was being transferred out of the Dallas police station. The scene, in the overly lit garage of the building, seemed oddly serene, even routine in its cold, sterile nascent medium of video. An entourage of men led the "nutcase" methodically toward the camera. My father, along with the rest of America, leaned forward to study Oswald's face for any clue as to what was in his demented mind. But he didn't look demented. In fact, he didn't look anything. Until, of course, he looked stunned, as a man in a dark suit thrust himself in front of him and fired one shot into his gut.
Looking back at this footage now, as I just have, I'm struck by how wrong it seems on so many levels. I can't help but look at it through the filter of my years as a TV producer. I've produced hundreds of hours of television, and I can honestly say that this was a badly staged and poorly produced scene. It certainly wouldn't have passed muster on either of my last two shows, Crossing Jordan or Heroes. Long before Jack Ruby made his self-conscious, 1920's gangster movie entrance, the director would have surely yelled "cut," as the whole gestalt of the scene just lacked pace and truth and any sense of reality. But it clearly didn't play that way in 1963. Through the eyes of a stunned nation, new to the advent of live TV, this shoddily-produced scene passed without critique.
Encompassed in this one scene is the DNA for why I wanted to tell the story contained in the novel Shift, the first book in The Gate Of Orpheus Trilogy. I've always gravitated towards stories that have a story beneath the story. As a screenwriter, I long to find that intersection between truth and lies, fact and fiction, myth and history, where nuance thrives in hearsay and innuendo. Those are the elements of a story that give it an elusive, slippery quality and provide the twists and turns and frustrations that captivate the imagination. With a subject like the Kennedy assassination, and the historical events and characters surrounding it, Shift, set in 1963, finds itself enveloped in these very elements that I love.
The research for Shift started with two key words in a Google search, "CIA" and "Conspiracy." What unfurled before me was a goldmine of information about a clandestine CIA project from the 1950's called MKULTRA. Well documented now, the goal of this project had been the search for the ultimate truth serum and the exploration of a kind of Manchurian Candidate-style mind control. As a result, the CIA, for a dozen or so years, sanctioned the dosing of thousands of unwilling and unwitting Americans with LSD. As I watched several hours of documentary footage, I was stunned by the incredible abuse of power, centering around a drug that played such a pivotal role in the counter-culture of my youth.
I followed the search with the key word "LSD." A couple of mouse clicks later, and it led me to the bizarre world of Timothy Leary. From there to the early 1960's bohemian and beat culture, to Manhattan salons and Boston Brahmin parties where LSD was a parlor drug for young intellectuals, to the counter culture and the anti-war movement of the mid 60s, and finally to the west coast, where a group of utopian thinkers and technology nerds were dropping acid and envisioning a world connected by a web of information that would put real power into the hands of "the people."
After several hours awash in this research, I came to the conclusion that one could trace the last 50 years of American history right along the psychedelic rail of LSD itself. The two were interwoven, filled with intrigue and twists and a myriad of colorful characters. I knew that I had found a vein worth tapping into. From this world of material, The Gate Of Orpheus was born.
Tim Kring is the author of "Shift: A Novel," co-written with Dale Peck, published by Crown.