It's been about a year since we last wrote about this project. I've had it on my alert list, and I've made inquiries twice or thrice over that period, about when the film will finally be released.
I didn't always receive responses to my inquiries, but it remained on my radar, as I had my antennae up for any news about it.
We've been following the film's progress since 2010/2011, and so there's a lengthy dramatic back-story to this, which I really don't want to revisit, but I'll see what I can do in as brief a write-up as I can.
First, for those who may not be familiar with the project, and as a reminder to those who were, it's titled From The Rough, was director Pierre Bagley, and stars Taraji P. Henson.
From the last conversation I had with Mr Bagley, early in 2012, the film's producer/financier, Mr Michael Critelli, was the primary roadblock in getting the film out. Bagley stated that Critelli believed that the film could be a wide-reaching, commercial hit, and he intended to act on some revisions that will "broaden" its appeal.
I should note that the film's release date had already been pushed back at least once. It was initially announced that it would be released in 2011.
From my conversation with Bagley, it was clear to me that he believed the film, as it was, already had 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 was also clear to me that Bagley wanted to get the film released and in theaters without any further tinkering, and was doing what was within his power to see that objective eventually met.
As I learned, while Bagley and Critelli equally own the production company created to produce the film (Gyre Entertainment), unfortunately Mr Bagley wasn't in any position to override Critelli's plans, and had thus chosen to utilize whatever means were 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 was a battle that began in the summer of 2011; up until then, Bagley said 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 said that 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 had been made until then, since Tim Burton's 1989 film. Although it wasn't entirely clear what Uslan's influence was to be here.
Bagley of course wanted final cut; it's his vision, and he believed that, unlike the business-minded Critelli, he, Bagley, had the necessary creative sensibilites, and was more in touch with the film's target audience. And so, as Bagley saw it, this had 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 stood the last time we spoke, and he said Critelli had likely already begun work on making the changes he felt would "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 did 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.
I should note that, I was invited to screen the film by Critelli's people, if only to see exactly what his concerns with the movie were at the time, but that never happened. I don't recall why exactly. There's an email trail that ends in March. So I haven't seen it.
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 would get a substantial piece of the back-end, was aware of the situation, but he hadn't asked her to get involved. I'm not sure how much she could really do, even if she did get involved; money and control seemed to favor Critelli.
So despite the fact that, as Bagley said, many had already 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 that it had a distributor ready to release it, Critelli wasn't satisfied with it, and intended 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.
So... now that you're all caught up on the situation, where does the film stand today? Well, as I noted, my recent inquiries didn't yield anything.
What I did eventually learn, by looking at the film's Facebook page, which maybe I should've just done in the first place, is that, first, there was a 6-month gap between updates last year - there was a post in June, and there wasn't another one until December. And what that December 21 update included was an apology for not answering fan questions that had been posted during those months of no updates, and a promise that every question asked from then on, on the Facebook page, would be answered.
The next update after that is January 16, which included another apology for being away for 3 weeks, stating that they were having some Facebook email issues. But within that update, 2 people asked when the film will be released, and in response, this is what the From The Rough team said:
We are expecting a 2013 release. although we'd talked about releasing the movie earlier (the initial release date was 2011), we didn't have the funding at that time to state anything definitely. We now have the money we need to have some sort of release in 2013, and time will tell whether it's going to be a huge national release or a smaller release. Please recognize that we've been taking this extra time to continually improve the movie's quality so we expect that it will be well worth the wait [...] We have sufficient pledged investor funding to be able to release this year. We have not decided on the exact date or the scope of the theatrical release. This is a fast-changing marketplace in many respects in terms of technology and marketing plans, so we will wait a bit before deciding on how many screens, the phasing of the release, and the timing. The amount of investor funding we collect will influence that decision. Unlike the previous two announcements, we will not announce ahead of the time we have everything we need in place.
In reponse to that update, a fan posted the following in frustration:
This must be the third or fourth time you've said when the movie will be released. I've lost interest and am unliking the page. I saw this movie at the Hoodies and was so excited to take the rest of my family. Frankly, I don't care anymore. It's just a movie. I met the director and Taraji and I was so happy to see some real people like me on the screen for a change. It was supposed to come out in 2011!
Like I said, frustrated; but they do have a point. And in response to that rant, the From The Rough team said this:
We understand your frustration. We announced release dates that had to slip because financing was not in place to support a release of a commercially viable film, despite our expectations to the contrary when the release dates were announced. We have made changes to the film, as well as our marketing plans and distribution plans. We now believe that this film is more commercially viable for the audiences for which it was always targeted. As a result of the changes we have made, we have secured the minimum financing necessary to support some level of 2013 release. . What we are able to secure in additional financing will determine the scope, form and timing of that release. I am going to make a broader editorial comment about the fact that major Hollywood studios do not tend to support films like ours, even though all the evidence would suggest that there would be a sizable audience for it. There is a huge disconnect between what traditional film investors and distributors believe about the market and what we have experienced in screening this film for a large number of audiences. While the film needed some refinement and the marketing and distribution plans needed to be modified, this is a far better product with more audience and revenue potential than many films that are routinely distributed and screened. I never imagined when we started that a film with this inspiring a subject matter would be so difficult to get supported. Movies that uplift us and celebrate people who are everyday heroes like Coach Starks are few and far between, despite their consistently good performance decade after decade. To seek financing, we have had to knock on many doors and seek out completely nontraditional investors, people who are prepared to judge a project on its merits, not to talk to people inside the industry who are biased against anything remotely like what we have created. It has been a tougher journey, but, in the long run, we have built a more much committed following among people who want to see ordinary heroes doing great things on the screen. This path has strengthened us, and will lead to a better result when the film gets released. Stay engaged!
Well, how about that fiery reponse!
So that clears things up a bit more. Although it's not clear if Pierre Bagley is still involved at all. The changes Michael Critelli wanted to make appear to have been made, in order to make the film more commercially viable, as he'd wanted to do, but Bagley's name is still on the project as far as I know.
But, in addition to the tweaking, there has apparently also been this other problem with financing the film's distribution. It looks like they'll be self-releasing it, or maybe releasing via some sort of service deal with AMC Independent or Freestyle Releasing.
By the way, I'd be remiss if I didn't add that the late Michael Clarke Duncan co-stars in the film. As do Letoya Luckett, Henry Simmons, and others.
There you have it! I'll be on alert for any updates on release dates, cities, and I'm sure a new trailer will be cut.