I’m thinking of writing a screenplay for a new movie. Here’s the premise:
It is a tale about a national sports columnist and a PR person from a big national sports network collaborating to write a movie. After nearly 10 years, Hollywood finally makes their film. Not only that, but the star is an Oscar-winning actor.
Nobody would believe it, right?
Well, my movie now would be based on a true story. Yahoo! Sports columnist Dan Wetzel and David Scott, a director for communications at ESPN, have another title to add to their resumes: Screenwriters.
Wetzel and Scott are the co-writers, along with director Jake Goldberger, for the new film, “Life of a King,” which opens in theaters and on other platforms Friday. Oscar winner Cuba Gooding Jr. plays Eugene Brown, a real person in Washington D.C. who after serving 18 years in prison went on to use chess as a means to keep inner-city kids off the streets.
After watching “Life of a King” for the first time, Scott had this reaction: “We did it. We actually made a real movie. And it starred an Oscar winner. I mean, that just doesn’t happen.”
Indeed, Wetzel and Scott’s movie story is as improbable as Brown’s. After meeting as classmates at UMass, they decided to write some screenplays. Eventually, they heard about Brown’s story and spent several days with him researching the project. Then they wrote the script.
That was 10 years ago. Nothing moves fast in Hollywood, as the project had many starts and stops. The process took so long, Wetzel said when he watched the movie there were points where he thought, “I don’t remember writing that.”
Wetzel and Scott credit producer Jim Young for persevering to get the movie made. Ultimately, Brown’s inspirational story won out. Not only did it persuade Hollywood executives to make the film, it also enticed actors like Gooding Jr., Dennis Haysbert and Lisa Gay Hamilton to be part of it. This movie probably falls in the genre of “Remember The Titans” and “Coach Carter.”
“Eugene is a great guy and he’s a great story,” Wetzel said. “After spending 18 years in prison, I’m sure he never thought a movie would be made about him, lauding his good works…We had quality people in the film because it a good story.”
Added Scott: “Eugene is a guy who changed lives. Without him and chess, some of those kids wouldn’t be alive.”
Wetzel and Scott started writing scripts because they thought it would be fun. It offered them a different way to tell a story.
“The big thing is that you can make up anything you want,” Wetzel said. “As a reporter, you’re constrained by telling the facts and on-the-record stuff. With this, it’s very liberating to be able to pump up the dialogue. Now I know why so many journalists do it.”
However, Wetzel stresses, at the end of the day, the basic rules are the same: Doing the reporting and writing a good story.
“The process isn’t that much different,” Wetzel said. “(Writing a movie) is like a long feature, a 20,000-word feature. You go and interview all the people, and then you write it.”
Just because they have a movie under their belts, don’t expect Wetzel and Scott to start sporting berets (do they still do that?) and going all Hollywood on everyone. If anything, they are fairly low key about the whole thing. In the telling of tales out of school department, I spent a whole day with Scott at ESPN’s headquarters in November, and he didn’t mention a word about the movie. I promptly berated him after hearing about it from someone else.
In true PR fashion, Scott insisted on Wetzel, who has a higher profile as a columnist, to get the bulk of attention. Wetzel, though, knows better, saying Scott is “really creative with terrific ideas.”
Yet even with a Hollywood movie coming out this week, it is business as usual for Wetzel and Scott. Wetzel is making plans to cover the AFC Championship Sunday. Meanwhile, Scott is doing his PR things for ESPN.
Neither of them has plans of leaving their day jobs. When asked about the prospects of making a career change, Wetzel replied, “Wow, that’s such an open-ended question. I suppose if someone was willing to give you $10 million….If the opportunity presented itself, you never know. But I’m not looking to be a screen writer.”
For now, Wetzel and Scott are pleased they beat the long odds to get one movie made. A good Hollywood story, indeed.