Private Project


Logline: Young, promising artist John James Audubon and his wife Lucy struggle with poverty and grapple with his destructive vanity as he pursues his passion for drawing birds.

In 1820, NATE POPE (30) arrives at a tumbledown lodge in Louisiana. He discovers LUCY
AUDUBON (32) and her two sons living in squalor. Nate shows Lucy a newspaper headline about her husband JOHN AUDUBON (34): “London Taken with American Woodsman.” Nate asks Lucy to go away with him to a better life in Philadelphia. She declines, determined to bring John back home.

Back in, Philadelphia 1804, LUCY BAKEWELL (16) catches JOHN AUDUBON (18) hunting quail on her family’s property in order to sketch the bird’s beauty. Love blossoms between Lucy and John as he reveals his love of birds.

WILLIAM BAKEWELL (42) admonishes his daughter for consorting with John because of his dubious family background and untruthful boasting. Lucy defiantly marries John. Driven to prove his worth, John enters into a partnership in a lumber mill in Kentucky.

Nine years later, John and a pregnant Lucy along with son VICTOR (5) live meagerly on the
frontier. John spends most of his time in the woods drawing with his apprentice NATE POPE (23).

When the mill’s steam-engine breaks, John travels to Pittsburgh to fetch an engineer. While John
is gone, a mob of angry investors confronts Lucy and burns down the family’s cabin. When heis gone, a mob of angry investors confronts Lucy and burns down the family’s cabin. When he
returns, John is thrown into jail for financial negligence. He shares a cell with Daniel Boone who is arrested for not paying taxes on land he claims.

By 1815, John ekes out a living by sketching portraits in Eden Park. Lucy knows of John’s
unhappiness at having abandoned his bird drawings and that he yearns for the outdoors. Artist
ALEXANDER WILSON (45) visits their cottage selling subscriptions for American Ornithology, his collection of bird drawings. Lucy recognizes that Wilson’s work lacks the authenticity of John’s sketches. Lucy takes John’s drawings to the library to compare with American Ornithology. She discovers that dozens of species are not included in Wilson’s book. DR. CONSTANTINE RAFINESQUE (46), a botanist, stumbles upon Lucy and is impressed by John’s work.

Constantine becomes John’s patron and cultivates efforts to publish John’s drawings. Constantine arranges for John to travel on an expedition down the Mississippi River in order to add new species to his portfolio.

While hunting, John is trapped in quicksand and rescued by Daniel Boone. John shares his
drawings, and Boone reacts emotionally, declaring that John’s work will be the only reminder of
the beauty of the diminishing wilderness. Constantine meets John in New Orleans so that they
can solicit potential investors. John's vanity gets the better of him, and he becomes an
entertaining figure in a French Quarter whorehouse.

Lucy grows anxious because she has not heard from John in weeks. She summons Nate and asks
him to go to New Orleans. When potential investors reject John’s work, Constantine persuades
him to take a tutoring job in St. Francisville, nearby. Lucy and the children join John in St. Francisville where they live a hard life in a ramshackle lodge while John tutors and draws.

Constantine arranges for John to present his portfolio to the Royal Institute of Science in London. Lucy, pregnant with their third child, expresses frustration at being abandoned again. After Lucy loses the baby, John leaves in pursuit of success.

In London, John and Constantine present John's drawings to the Royal Institute members. While
awaiting the endorsement, John becomes a celebrity courted by the rich -- not because of his art,
but because of his captivating frontiersman character.

Lucy arrives in London to confront John. She bluntly tells him that she had been willing to stand by him when he ignored his family for his art. Now, however, she will no longer stand by him as he ignores his art for vanity.

The Royal Institute declines John's work. The dejected John walks down Fleet Street and takes in
the deprivation and filth. This reawakens his yearning for the American outdoors. Constantine
tries to talk John into pursuing validation in Edinburgh. John encourages Constantine to go on
without him. John rushes to join Lucy at the London docks where they board a ship home. With
the help of his sons and Nate, John completes the drawings that constitute the landmark "The Birds of America."

  • Michael Begg
  • Barry Lemoine
  • Project Type:
  • Number of Pages:
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Language:
  • First-time Screenwriter:
  • Student Project:
  • 2014 Yosemite International Film Festival

    3rd Place Top Award Winner
  • 2015 Mountain Film Festival

    3rd Place Grand Prize Winner
  • 2015 Nashville Film Festival

  • 2016 Richmond International Film Festival

Writer - Michael Begg, Barry Lemoine