If you chase your dream so long and so hard and it doesn’t come true, does it at some point morph into a nightmare?
Paul Elwell and Tom Hayes ask themselves that sometimes. Only when they’re at their lowest. But the moment always passes, and then they go back to their old selves, cracking jokes and bucking each other up: Don’t give up. Never give up.
Elwell and Hayes want to create an animated children’s television show, Beantown Pals, based on Bucky and Betty Bean, who are, well, beans. This is, after all, a story line set in Boston. Bucky and Betty are good beans and get into all sorts of hijinks, or whatever it is beans get into.
The story line is relentlessly upbeat, as is the Bean credo: Use your bean, trust your heart, build your character.
The problem for Elwell and Hayes is that, after investing their life savings, they don’t have the money to launch the dang thing. When you consider that both have tried to make a living doing stand-up, you realize why they’re broke.
“This thing has been in incubation for seven years,” Elwell said. “Every overnight sensation takes 10 years, so we’re still on target.”
Just where they’re going to get the $2 million needed to make Beantown Pals come alive is anyone’s guess.
Elwell is 45 years old and grew up in South Boston, but now lives in Dorchester. Hayes is 65, grew up in Roxbury and now lives in Southie.
“I was a white kid in a black neighborhood, so I’m used to difference, and what we’re trying to do,” Hayes says, indicating Elwell with a thumb, “is different than what a lot of people would see as prudent or wise.”
Hayes tends not to listen to people who tell him the odds are against him. When he was 13 years old, he lost his left leg to a type of cancer which at the time had just a 5 percent survival rate. As he lay in bed recovering from the amputation, Hayes told the doctor he had gotten a bike right before his operation and wanted to know if he would ever ride that bike again.
“No,” the doctor said curtly, “impossible.”
Three months later, Hayes rode his bicycle into the doctor’s office. Right into the guy’s office.
“See?” young Tom Hayes told the stunned doctor. “See?”
Hayes speaks to fifth graders, city kids, all the time. He tells them they will face obstacles, that they can go around them.
“If I can do it,” he says, pulling up a pants leg to reveal his prosthesis, “you can do it.”
That sense of defying the odds has been incalculably valuable as he and Elwell press on, looking for a backer with deep pockets.
Elwell’s wife, Cayley, tells him, “Keep going.” She gave him her savings to pay for a sample piece of animation.
Elwell shrugs when some critics suggest the show is too provincial.
“I say, ‘Oh, you mean like ‘Cheers?’ or ‘Good Will Hunting?’ There’s an awful lot of stuff from Boston that you could say is too regional.
But it’s a reflection of the people who live here, and last time I checked, people who don’t live in Boston are still interested in Boston.”
Hayes has no savings left, no left leg, but he has an implacable belief in the possible.
“When Paul and I started this, there was no YouTube,” he said. “There was no Facebook. There was no Twitter. All those things began after we started working on this.
And when people say, ‘How can you guys keep working on this, after all you’ve lost?’ I just say, ‘Hey, it ain’t cancer.’ ’’
And so they meet, again and again, at Hayes’s apartment in Southie, or, when they need some liquid encouragement, at a pub near Elwell’s house.
And they dream, because it’s better than the alternative.