“He Flew Too Close To The Sun” Kevin J. Hynes Talks ‘Heeled’ Podcast, ‘Dirty John’, and HBO’s ‘Perry Mason’
In the 1990s, Kevin J. Hynes never considered a future in screenwriting. “I was a prosecutor and then later a criminal defense attorney,” recalled Hynes. By no coincidence, “Both of those jobs have to do with storytelling.”
“Whether I was telling a story to a jury to get them to help me convict or defend somebody, or arguing a legal claim to a judge and telling him the facts that fit into the legal theory I was arguing, both of those things have to do with being able to tell a story.”
Hynes’ father was also a trial lawyer who taught his son the importance of storytelling. “I tell stories I experienced as a lawyer and then we turned those stories into what you see on the screen.”
As a writer/producer, Hynes has worked on TV shows like Scorpion, Proven Innocent, Dirty John, and Perry Mason (2020), but he’s also behind the new podcast Heeled: The Curious Case of Marla Trump’s Shoes.
Breaking Into Television
“My career transition into TV writing was a very personal story to me,” declared Hynes. “I had gone from being a prosecutor to a criminal defense attorney, and then I went back to prosecution where I reinvestigated Robert Durst.” Durst was a real estate heir in New York, was suspected of murdering three people, including his wife. “That was the most interesting case I was ever involved in. During that investigation, my son was diagnosed with autism.”
Hynes’ wife advised her husband that the family should move to Illinois to be closer to a specialist to work with their son. “In that period of time, since I couldn’t practice law in Illinois, I stayed home with my son, and at the same time, I was watching The Sopranos.”
The prosecutor knew The Sopranos was writing authentic television because he had worked with crime families in the past. “I knew it was authentic, so I sent away for a book that had five Sopranos scripts. After reading those scripts, I wanted to try and do it.”
Hynes opened a Word document and wrote a 50-page screenplay about a lawyer in the DA’s office. “I was very excited but I had nobody in the business to show it to, so it just sat there.”
Eventually, a friend mentioned knowing a technical law consultant on Criminal Minds. The two had dinner where the consultant eventually shared the script with a few contacts and then Hynes got a call from Mark Gordon (The Patriot, Saving Private Ryan). “I flew out to LA and met Mark Gordon. The rest is history.”
The Personal Spec Script
The script about a lawyer in a DA’s office that helped launch Hynes’ career was very personal to him, which came out in the work. “I tell young writers all the time it’s really important that you bleed on the page, that you bring something very personal into your first script that you’re going to use as a calling card on how you write.”
The screenwriter said this also helps you explain why you wrote the story because you have the personal connection built into it. In his story, he thought about his childhood, where his father was the elected District Attorney in New York.
“I’m the oldest child and he had always told me, ‘You’re going to become a Prosecutor in the Manhattan DA’s office.’ It’s almost like the story of the shoemaker’s son becoming the shoemaker. I did that, but the story I told in my pilot was about a guy whose father was the prosecutor but then he went to become a criminal defense attorney.”
“The script is about his struggle of being a Defense Attorney, but also some alcohol problems he had. Then you fast forward and he ends up in the Westchester DA’s office, where there’s a corruption that takes place.”
Creating the Heeled: The Curious Case of Marla Trump’s Shoes Podcast
Heeled is the bizarre true-story about Chuck Jones, dubbed “The Shoe Bandit,” who had an unhealthy fascination with Marla Trump’s shoes. “Chuck Jones was Marla Maple’s publicist, who became obsessed with her and started to steal shoes from her apartment.”
Hynes continued, “The Chuck Jones case was dropped in my lap in 1992. I was trying violent crimes and this was a burglary. When they searched [Jones’] office, they found thirty pairs of Marla’s shoes. What makes him interesting? It certainly was bizarre. But, also, he was married, had two young children, lived in Connecticut, had a million-dollar house, and a successful PR business.”
Hynes added, “He threw that all away to steal Marla’s shoes, but we also offered him many plea bargains for the case to go away if he would just agree to stay away from Marla Maples and stay out of trouble for six months. He refused.”
Marla Maples was a television personality and actress, who was married to Donald Trump from 1993 until 1999. “In a time where there were ten to fifteen homicides a day in New York City, the press became obsessed with this particular case.”
Jones also used his connections in the media to try and create a narrative that Donald Trump (currently still married to his first wife, Ivana) [Marla Maples was his second wife]) and the Mayor and DA were in “some sort of conspiracy to ruin his life.”
“It just wasn’t true, but if you read the press at the time, it sounded like it could have been true. Chuck Jones was a strange guy, but his thirst for media attention led to his trial, his conviction, and him eventually being sent to prison.”
A Tale of Celebrity Obsession
“We didn’t fictionalize anything in Heeled. We didn’t need to. Everything I say in the podcast actually happened,” clarified Hynes. “Truth is always stranger than fiction. I think the analysis of his psyche is probably correct.”
The screenwriter went on to say Donald Trump was the biggest celebrity in New York in the 1990s, so Chuck Jones somewhat fell into this wake of the obsession surrounding both Marla and Donald Trump.
“When he was arrested, that was taken away from him,” said Hynes about Jones. “When the Trump organization decided not to deal with him – because of his fetish and obsession – he lost his celebrity status. He flew too close to the sun.”
“Then, he created his own celebrity. He became the Shoe Bandit. He became the person people wanted to talk to and it wasn’t just about Marla anymore, but Chuck Jones, and I think that became intoxicating to him.”
The case dragged on for eighteen months due to this obsession with media and celebrity. “I wish I could tell you what was going on in his mind, but I never approached the case as trying to find out what made this guy tick. As a prosecutor, I wanted to know, was this a crime?”
In hindsight, however, the screenwriter had spent more time thinking about the celebrity worship angle, but for the most part, the impulsive fetish remains a mystery.
The Podcast Narrative
“I am a huge fan of true crime podcasts,” said the screenwriter. “What I found was that I was getting tired of podcasts on murder, rape, and robbery. They’re very dark and I knew this could be much lighter – kind of funny – and potentially use the podcast as a launching pad for a television series.”
Essentially, creating the podcast allows for the possibility of adapting it into a TV series because the podcast is now intellectual property, or IP.
“I had just come off of working with Alexandra Cunningham on Dirty John Season 1, which was based on a true-crime podcast, and that inspired me to do the podcast, so I would own the intellectual property. Then, if we sold it, I would have more control over it.” They also made the decision not to take advertising revenue, so people could live in the story without interruption.
Logistics aside, podcasts are clearly different from writing a television series or film. To make this leap, Hynes put together a team of people who were really interested in podcasts as a storytelling method. Then, he took some time to think back on what he likes about certain podcasts.
“There are a couple of elements that go into it. Number one, can you tell a good story and break it down into different episodes? In this case, it came out to be seven episodes. Then, to go deeper, I liked the sound of the story.” By sound, he means the narrative voice with his co-host Trisha Lafache.
“We decided to do it as banter like we were talking over coffee. What’s also really important is adding the right music. In many of my favorite podcasts, I didn’t notice the music, but the music sets the tone.”
Finally, as icing on the cake, the creators found audio clips of Trump, Maples, and Jones to incorporate back into the story. “This also provides time and place. People spoke a certain way in the 90s and there were different things going on when compared to today. This was the 90s in New York.”
Constructing the Podcast Format of Heeled
“During pre-production, we talked about different ways to tell this story. We discussed the idea of reaching out to Marla Maples and Chuck Jones, but we decided it’s better told as a story between two friends.”
As such, the story is told from Hynes and Trisha’s point-of-view. “It’s a crazy case with all these twists and turns, except we don’t pop out to discuss other points-of-view. We kept coming back to the idea that when I have told this story before – in the writers’ room or in a bar – everyone is captivated with just me telling the story.”
Each episode is nearly an hour-long, so there’s a lot to tell over seven episodes. “We didn’t want it to sound scripted. We wanted it to feel like you were hearing a conversation about it for the very first time.”
For this to work, they had pre-production meetings every Tuesday where they discussed an alignment to discuss what to keep and what to expand on. “Trisha [LaFache] would then rewrite the outline. We’d talk on Friday, then Saturday morning we’d do multiple takes with the Producer’s help. Then, we had Editors come in and tweak any sound issues.”
“Heeled was a team effort, but I think paring down the interesting stuff was what was important. That’s why it’s not thirteen episodes,” said Hynes. “It could be thirteen episodes if you built on the characters, but those are television elements, not something you need to discuss on the podcast. It’s more like, ‘Tell me what you remember,’ so we could stay tight on the story.”
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