Monday, February 4, 2013

I have been a sports writer for more than 40 years.
When I write, I’m often making reference to places like Moose Jaw, Spokane, Prince Albert and Lethbridge.
One day last week, I had a conversation with a man who threw out names like Berlin and Cannes. He talked of film festivals. He mentioned TIFF and it wasn’t a picture.
You write a book, someone who makes movies for a living expresses an interest, and you learn there’s a whole other world out there.
As most of you will be aware, the book project with which I was involved – Sudden Death: The Incredible Saga of the 1986
Swift Current Broncos – has been optioned by Trilight Entertainment Inc. The Regina-based production company has plans to turn the book into a feature-length film.
All of this is completely new to me. I will say this book stuff has been an interesting ride and the movie stuff is just an extension of that. At least some of you may be interested in the process and I’m prepared to take you along for the ride.
We’ll start with a conversation I had with Shayne Putzlocher of Trilight Entertainment.
Asked how he came to be in the movie business, Putzlocher, a Regina native, says he has “always just loved it.”
He graduated from high school and was looking for his place in life when he saw an advertisement suggesting some courses that could lead to a career in movies. He took the courses and then “started from the bottom, picking garbage and sitting at the side of the road.”
He really did work his way up the ladder.
Trilight Entertainment, the production company, has been around since 2009. Putzlocher was involved in originating it after working on various productions, including the hit TV show Corner Gas.
Which brings us to Sudden Death: The Incredible Saga of the 1986 Swift Current Broncos.
“The first step,” Putzlocher says, “was securing an option.”
That was done through an agreement with Dundurn, the publishers of the book.
With the option looked after, the process of script development begins.
Putzlocher recalls that this isn’t the first time someone has worked towards bringing this story to the big screen.
Minds Eye Entertainment, another Regina-based production company, worked on a similar project about 20 years ago.
“There was a script . . . they were almost in production,” Putzlocher recalls. “They were financed and everything. Then the scandal hit and – BOOM! – that show went away.”
The scandal, of course, involved Graham James, the general manager and head coach of the Broncos who was charged with sexually abusing players.
Putzlocher said he has had this project in the back of his mind since he first heard that our book was in production. He says he “thought long and hard about” the earlier effort. But he wanted to wait until the book was out and he had read it before forming an opinion.
Leesa Culp, the main push behind the book project, made sure Putzlocher got a copy. He was in production on a children’s movie, Step Dogs, at the time, but found time to read Sudden Death over the Christmas holiday.
“There is obviously a story here,” Putzlocher says, “but how it gets told was how I had to look at it.”
That’s what was going through his mind as he read the book.
His vision is to “concentrate on the triumphs over adversity, and the team and the camaraderie, and people in the town, and what it did in those moments of the funeral and making the playoffs that year and everything like that.”
In other words, this won’t be a movie about Graham James.
The shaping of that story already has begun. Putzlocher talked to his business partner, Holly Baird, and the decision was made to find “a real good feature film writer.”
They found that person in Rob King, who had been involved in the Minds Eye project “so was very excited to do this.”
Already King is working to prepare what Putzlocher says will be “a 10- to 20-page treatment to say what the story actually is going to be about.”
“We knew this is a story we really want to tell so it’s worth investing in,” Putzlocher continues. “We’ll wait for him to do that. It’ll probably take him a good month or so to come back with a 10- to 20-page treatment . . . then after that, if we like the way he’s going, we might tweak a few things, then it’s ‘OK you can start writing a script.’ ”
If things fall into place, a script could be completed by year’s end, at which time they will begin to research the project, do a whole lot of fact checking, look after waivers . . . and on and on.
“It’s a lot of money in legal and it’s a lot of work,” Putzlocher says. “We’ll take our time with this whole thing and we’ll make sure it’s done right.”
While all of this is going on, Putzlocher and Baird will be starting the hunt for financing. It is going to cost big money to bring this story to the big screen, simply because it is a ‘period’ piece. No, not ‘period’ in the sense of, say, Downton Abbey. But the incident around which Sudden Death is based occurred on Dec. 30, 1986, meaning cars and clothes, just for starters, were rather different than what we see on the streets and on people today.
“Uniforms, clearances, buses, extras . . . this is an expensive movie and you have to try to do it right,” Putzlocher says, adding that he’s talking about as much as $7 million. “Trying to raise that money in Canada isn’t impossible, but we will need public money from Canada on board and foreign sales.”
There are various grants and some development money available, and the process of applying for those has begun.
Putzlocher will be in Berlin later this week for the Berlin Film Festival that runs from Thursday through Feb. 17.
In brief, here’s what will be happening . . .
In Berlin, the pitch will begin to sales people to “see if we can generate some interest just on concept.”
The Cannes Film Festival runs May 15-26 and Putzlocher will be there, too. By then, he says, there’ll be a foreign sales agent on board and that person will “start trying to sell concept.”
The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is scheduled for Sept. 5-15. By TIFF, he says, “we’d like to have some really good treatment and start going to Canadian distributors.”
In 2014, Trilight Entertanment will make the rounds again, this time with a script.
“And,” Putzlocher says, “we’ll start looking at cast, who’s going to be our director . . . we want a really high-profile director.”
This whole project, really, is about the art of selling. And were this simply a Canadian hockey movie, it wouldn’t have much of a chance. Putzlocher sees this as a whole lot more than that.
“Internationally,” he says, “hockey movies don’t sell that well. Just because we’re from Canada doesn’t mean everybody loves hockey. But this is more than just a hockey movie. . . . and we have to think of the international market.”
They also have to think about a theatrical distributor, and there are hopes that CBC will “take the TV rights after it goes theatrical.”
So what does all this mean?
If all goes well, if everything falls into place, Sudden Death: The Incredible Saga of the 1986 Swift Current Broncos could be coming to a theatre near you in November or December of 2015.
Now that would make for a Merry Christmas!

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