Following up with my post last week Friday on director Pierre Bagley's interview with Roland Martin, revealing the reasons for the delays in his film's release (that film being From The Rough, which stars Taraji P. Henson)...
As I said in that post, I was scheduled to chat with Mr Bagley this week on that very same matter, and I did just that on Monday afternoon.
First a recap on last week's post.
In short, the film's producer/financier, Mr Michael Critelli, has been the primary roadblock. As you'll recall from Bagley's interview with Roland Martin, he stated that Critelli believes that the film could be a wide-reaching, commercial hit, and he intends to act on some revisions that will "broaden" its appeal.
I should note that the film's release date has already been pushed back once (from last October to February of this year, although; as already noted, its February release never happened).
From my Monday afternoon conversation with Bagley, it's clear to me that he believes the film, as is, already has some broad appeal, given the international cast, which also includes Tom Felton - "Draco Malfoy" of Harry Potter fame - who, as I'm told, has quite a large following given the global success of that film's franchise. Although Bagley did say that the target audience for the film is the "urban female market," and it tested very well with that group in preview screenings of the film, scoring quite high marks.
It's also clear to me that Bagley wants to get the film released and in theaters without any further tinkering, and is doing what's within his power to see that objective eventually met, and hopefully sooner.
As I learned, while Bagley and Critelli equally own the production company created to produce the film (Gyre Entertainment), unfortunately Mr Bagley isn't in any position to override Critelli's plans, and has thus chosen to utilize whatever means are available to him, like reaching out to the press to tell his side of the story, where the matter might then be handled in the court of public opinion.
This is a battle that began last summer, around June; up until then, Bagley says that he and Critelli were clicking on all fronts; there weren't any problems; Critelli's desire to "broaden" the film's reach wasn't even part of the conversation then.
But something obviously happened along the way to influence Critelli's solo decision-change; and that something, Bagley told me, was Critelli's family - the wealthy family who coughed up the $6 million to fund the flick.
Overtime, Bagley says Critelli's position hardened; he couldn't quite articulate his position and intent, other than he wanted to "broaden" the movie, and he said he'd find someone to assist him on that, eventually bringing in Michael Uslan, who served as producer or exec producer on almost every Batman movie that's been made since Tim Burton's 1989 film. Although it's not entirely clear what Uslan's influence will be here.
The last cummunication between Bagley and Critelli was a few weeks ago, when the two were to meet an African American investor who was interested in financing the P&A costs for the release of the film (Bagley says they decided to handle P&A costs on their own so as to control that particular process). However, Critelli didn't show for the meeting, obviously because he didn't care for the current version of the film, as already established, and planned on revising it - a revision that includes recutting it.
Bagley of course wants final cut; it's his vision, and he believes that, unlike the business-minded Critelli, he, Bagley, has the necessary creative sensibilites, and is more in touch with the film's target audience. And so, as Bagley sees it, this has become very much a matter of that age-old industry question we ask from time to time: who gets to tell, or who has creative control over "our" (as in black) stories? Critelli is Caucasian; Bagley is Black, if it's not already clear by now.
I asked Pierre where it all stands currently, and he said Critelli has likely already begun work on making the changes he thinks will "broaden" the film's reach, possibly with Michael Uslan's assistance, as well as Critelli's family's influence (his son co-wrote the screenplay along with Bagley).
And what does Critelli have to say in response to all this? Read on below:
I am extremely passionate about the film and the story and want it released broadly, because of how Coach Starks indirectly made a profoundly positive difference in my younger son’s life. My son’s white, Swedish chess coach, who made him believe that anything was possible and inspired him to become a national chess champion, learned a great deal about how to coach young people from being one of Coach Starks’ golfers. I found this story in 2004, and, over the next 5 1/2 years spent several hundred thousand dollars acquiring the right to film it, developing the story, and getting multiple drafts of a screenplay produced. My older son ultimately produced the screenplay on which the film is based. It is a project that has engaged every member of my family, including my daughter, whose harp playing appears on the soundtrack. All of the $7.5 million provided to produce, edit, and promote the film has come from me. Because of how much I admire Coach Starks, I want her story to be presented on thousands of movie screens and to be seen by as many people as possible. I want the film to be as timeless as a Hoosiers is for basketball or a Remember the Titans is for football. I want it to honor her work as much as possible. Getting the movie to be as good as it can be is financially and creatively challenging. It is not a science, but an art, which is why more than 8 of every 10 films lose money for people like me who pay to get the film produced. One reason films lose money is that people in my position only begin to get paid after the theaters or other direct retailers to consumers get their money, after the distributors take their share, after the performers get box office bonuses, and, in the case of non-theatrical revenues, after performers and production crew members receive pension and residual contributions. Most of my investment also comes behind those who would propose to provide funding to get the film into broad-based theatrical release, which, in this case, is well over $10 million, and which we do not yet have. Given the exceptionally high risk of any film investment, I want to be as confident as possible that we have the best and most commercially viable film we can have before we release it. No external investor has made an offer to me to provide the millions of dollars needed for broad advertising, distribution, and screening in over 1,000 theaters. Although I have received extensive feedback about potential changes to the film to make it more commercially attractive, whether changes will be made, and what changes might be made, should not be discussed in a public forum. These subjects are better addressed privately between business and creative partners. What will always guide me is my sense of duty to those who gave their best efforts to the film as production and creative people, investors, Coach Starks, those whose lives she transformed, and those who will pay to see the film when it is released. I am highly confident that this film will get released and be successful when it is as good as it can be.
So there ya have it.
It boils down to money and control, as is almost often the case, and, unfortunately for Bagley, Critelli as the film's sole financier, has the upperhand here.
I also asked Mr Bagley about Taraji P Henson's involvement in this, since she is the star of the film, and has a rather large following. He said that Taraji, who gets a substantial piece of the back-end, is aware of the situation, but he hasn't asked her to get involved yet. I'm not sure how much she could really do even if she did get involved; again, money and control favor Critelli.
So despite the fact that, as Bagley said, many have embraced the film from across all groups (not just its target audience) – including the PGA (Pro Golfer’s Association), and other notable organizations and people - and it has a distributor ready to release it by the way, Critelli isn't satisfied with it, and intends to work even further on the film, hoping to produce a work that's commercially viable and wide-reaching. Essentially, "mainstream it," we could say.
I emailed Critelli for more information on his stance (although I think it's pretty clear here what he intends and why), and to learn what changes exactly he plans to implement. When I have that info, I'll share here.
In the meantime... it appears Bagley is in a difficult, even helpless position here, with the outcome of all this certainly not in his favor. And I'm not really sure what really could be done here to spoil Critelli's plans.