Posts Tagged ‘Minneapolis Star Tribune’

“I always felt like when we got the script right that idea would sell itself, and that’s more or less what happened.”
Tony Wilson, producer The Final Season

“For once, here’s a sports movie that doesn’t feature players who are expected to lose.”
Colin Covert
Minneapolis Star Tribune (Review of the 2007 movie The Final Season)

Yesterday, I mentioned hearing Kent Stock talk about his life and how it led to being portrayed in the movie The Final Season. Today I have an interview with Tony Wilson who was the central figure in bringing that story to the big screen. When Wilson started pursing the rights to the story he didn’t know that it would take 16 years to fulfill his dream. But his desire to make films began long before that journey started.

Wilson began making films at Hoover High School in Des Moines, Iowa where he won the high school film festival. He told me he decided to study film in college because he didn’t think he’d have to read many books. After college he started a video production company in Colorado, but eventually felt to the pull to return to Iowa.

But it was way back in 1976 after seeing the movie Rocky that he began to crystallize his dreams. Wilson told me, “That’s the movie I always wanted to make, I just didn’t know it. I always had in the back of my mind that I wanted to make a feature film and I was always on the lookout for some kind of a sports story.”

It was 15 years after seeing Rocky when he came across a July 14, 1991 article in the Des Moines Register* which inspired him to pursue the rights to the story. So he borrowed a Mercedes ( a touch of Hollywood) and met with Kent Stock and for $1,000. secured a two-year agreement to tell the story of how Stock led Norway High School into the state playoffs in the school’s final year before it would merge with another school. (Stock now jokes that the Mercedes did impress him.)


Wilson originally began developing the script, but in 1993 he also started a new video production company, Applied Art & Technology in Des  Moines, which took much of his time and focus away from writing the script himself.

“The first couple drafts were pretty much a documentary. I was use to working in 30 seconds for commercials and 10 minutes for corporate videos so this 100 page screenplay thing was totally new to me. So I had to learn how to write scripts and the three act play and the fact that we did’t have an inciting incident—there’s a big problem. I had no clue what that was all about.”

But getting the film made never faded. He said, “In the year 2000 I decided if I was ever going to get this script made I’ll need to find a script writer so I interviewed a couple of guys and found Art D’Alessandro down in Florida. He had knowledge of baseball and I knew he could write.”

They wrote eight drafts in four years and when the script finally went out in 2005 director David Mickey Evans (Sandlot) was the first to sign on to the project followed by actor Sean Astin (Lord of the Rings). Writer James Grayford shares final screenwriting credit on the movie.


SS: How did you go about raising the money to produce the film?

TW: We raised money as a development fund and when we sent the script out we had a pay or play with some of these people to get their names attached. We had some L.A. producers who were going to provide some funding as we came down to the wire and that didn’t happen and we wound up raising most of the money ourselves which was quite miraculous.

SS: When did you know that The Final Season was actually going to get made?

TW: December 31, 2005 was when we completed our funding, or knew we were going to complete it, so then it was a matter of starting the preproduction process. The first day of shooting was the first day after Memorial Day 2006.


SS: What was that like that first day finally see what basically had started 30 years prior when you first were inspired by Rocky?

TW: It was a very big reality moment. We actually shot a scene that was in the very first draft of the script —there weren’t a lot of those (laugh) that actually made it from the first draft.  That was actually a pretty emotional day for Kent Stock and I to see that scene get filmed.


SS: People talk about finding distribution being just as hard as getting the film made. Was that your case?

TW: Oh yeah, that was a real learning time. Every step of the way has been a learning process. We were fortunate in that we had good representation, Carl Borlack was executive producer and produced the Shiloh series and his partner Jim Cardwell who was the former head of Warner Home Video so they understood the industry very well and had the Rolodex to get the deals done.

SS: When was the first time you saw the film with an audience?

TW: We had a distributor’s screening out in LA at the end of ’07, and a couple of nights later we had a cast and crew screening out in LA, and the next time after that would have been at the world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival.

The Final Season didn’t become the next Rocky or Hoosiers, but I will say that you won’t find a better film that depicts high school players playing baseball. (In fact, that team could compete with any movie semi-pro/pro team.)  But when you step back and look at the bigger picture The Final Season is a prime example of finding a regional story, developing it into a screenplay, and having the perseverance to take that sometimes long journey of fulfilling a dream to see your movie produced and playing in theaters.

Thirty years may seem like a long time to see a dream fulfilled, but there are many lessons we can learn from the game of baseball. After all, how many years did it take the San Francisco Giants to win the World Series Tuesday night? A mere 52 years.

Tony Wilson is now developing his second feature film that he hopes won’t take 16 years to produced.

* Reporter Ken Fuson of the Des Moines Register  was the writer who followed Norway’s final season (along with Pulitzer Prize winning photographer David Peterson) documenting the season in the style of Pulitzer Prize winning reporter H.G. Bissinger who moved to Odessa, Texas to write about Periman High School football (Friday Night Lights). Fuson also co-wrote Kent Stock’s biography Heading for Home, My Journey from Little League to Hollywood!

Scott W. Smith

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And the winner is… Minnesota.

Minneapolis Convention Center

If someone wanted to make a point about talent coming from outside Hollywood the 80th Academy Awards would be a great place to start. (The above photo is not from the Oscars but gave me an excuse to highlight the Minneapolis Convention Center from a production I worked on a couple years ago.)

I can’t recall a more eclectic (and foreign) group of winners than this year’s Oscar winners. Has Hollywood has caught on to outsourcing? And as far as screenwriting is concerned this year’s Oscar’s were distinctly Midwestern, specifically Minneapolis, Minnesota.

First Joel and Ethan Coen who began making films in the Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park won for best adapted screenplay for No Country for Old Men.  And then Diablo Cody won best original screenplay for Juno. Congrats to all three.

I couldn’t be more happy for them because they are at the core of what Screenwriting from Iowa is all about. True it’s not called Screenwriting from Minnesota, but that wouldn’t cause any snickers or even raise any eyebrows would it? But both Iowa and its connected neighbor to the north represent a place far from Hollywood.

For the curious, the drive from my office in Cedar Falls, Iowa to downtown Minneapolis takes 3 ½ hours, unless you stop at the Spam Museum in Austin, Minnesota near the border. (If you stop in Forest City for the Winnebago tour as well it’s a full day trip.)

When the Minneapolis Star Tribune picked Cody as “Artist of the Year” last year they said that, “she became a professional writer for City Pages and banged out Juno in the Starbucks annex at the Crystal Super Target.” Though raised in the Chicago area and a graduate of Iowa Cody said, “I became a writer in Minneapolis; that’s why I call myself a Minnesota-based writer.”

The Coen Brothers gave a nod to Minneapolis when they won their third Oscar for the night for Best Picture (they also picked up best director). Joel talked about when they were running around as kids making 8mm films like Henry Kissinger; Man on the Go then said. “What we do now doesn’t feel that much different from what we were doing then.”

They have slowly built a wider and wider audience with their quirky film style beginning with Blood Simple in 1984, through Raising Arizona, Fargo and O Brother Where Art Thou? Their Oscar sweep was impressive but they also made the only film to win the Palme d’Or at Cannes along with the Best Director and Best Actor awards for Barton Fink. They are American originals.

Speaking of America, I think JC Penny’s creative team hit a home run with their Oscar commercials introducing the American Living brand featuring the song “Killing the Blues” by Robert Plant & Alison Krauss. I’m not sure I’ve been in a JC Penny since I was nine but I’m ready to go back. (And they get bonus points for the barn shot. Everyone knows you can’t show/sell Americana without a barn shot.)


Another American original is Cody who has been mentioned on just about every blog I’ve written. There’s a good reason. This blog began as a response after seeing Juno in January. In fact over the weekend Screenwriting from Iowa turned one month old and I must thank Cody for the nudge.

My notes on film had been collected over a 20-year period and were just looking for a place to blossom. I began giving screenwriting workshops in 2004 and approached a publisher at the end of ’07 about the concept of Screenwriting from Iowa.  A chapter was requested, then another until I had sent him four chapters. Ultimately the deal didn’t happen but I spent a good deal of last December continuing to write the book.

Then in mid-January I saw Juno and was blow away by the movie. I read that Cody had attended the University of Iowa and was discovered while blogging and I just kind of put two and two together and jumped into the blogging world.

May all you bloggers be encouraged by what Cody told Wired magazine about her unusual rise to fame, “It’s been fun, and I’m enjoying it while I can. I think there’s room for more talented bloggers to break into Hollywood. It seemed like a fluke when I did it, but I won’t be the last blogger to have a film produced. There are so many talented people that exist in the marketplace. So don’t look for a plan. Put your blog into the world and hope that your talent will speak for itself.”

The response based on the  Word Press stats chart and links to this site have kept me pumping these out and I hope the comments have been helpful. I also hope the  contents can be in book form by this summer.

So I not only thank Cody for the inspiration but to everyone for stopping by. My goal all along is to inspire screenwriters and filmmakers who feel like they are in the middle of nowhere. Now that Cody has an Oscar on her shelf (along with the indy award she received the night before) she can get back to her day job working on The United States of Tara for Steven Spielberg.

“I feel like I’m living The Wizard of Oz,” Cody said. “There was a day when I cracked a door open and everything was Technicolor. It was a very frightening place but a very beautiful place, too, as Dorothy says.”

I’m glad she mentioned The Wizard of Oz because when you come up I-35 from the south and begin approaching downtown Minneapolis about an hour past the Iowa border you’ll see downtown appearing on the horizon like the Emerald City.

I’ve always wondered if Minneapolis was the inspiration for Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz book series. Baum spent time in Aberdeen, Dakota Territory (now South Dakota) and that’s said to be the inspiration for Dorothy’s Kansas. So it’s possible he came off the flat prairie land into Minneapolis on his way to Chicago where he would eventually write his wizard books. Regardless The Wizard of Oz movie– many people’s favorite all-time film, has its roots in the  Midwest.

Minneapolis’ twin city St. Paul is where Charles Schulz was raised created Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang, and where Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion is recorded when he’s not on the road.

Over the last couple years I’ve been able to do several video productions in the Twin Cities and they have a solid production base of rental equipment houses, studios, talent as well as a thriving music scene. It’s always fun to work with people who’ve been involved with shooting Prince’s music videos at his studio Paisley Park or on the films Grumpy Old Men, The Mighty Ducks, and Fargo.

Creativity flows from the music scene in Minneapolis as well as the more than 100 theater venues (in fact, they have more seats per capita than any other U.S. city outside New York. “Cutting edge museums, arty hotels and edginess expand Minnapolis’ cool culture reputation..over the past two-year Minneapolis has taken its underground cultural destination status to a new level. (USA Today Dec. ’06)

Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

(I took the photo of The Spoonbridge and Cherry artwork by Clas Oldenburg & Coosje van Bruggen  at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden)

In The Guerilla Film Makers Handbook (Genevieve Jolliffe & Chris Jones) Gail Silva mentions the production scene in New York and San Francisco but adds, “If I had to go anywhere else I’d go to Minneapolis & St. Paul. There is a chapter there of the IFP (Independent Feature Project) where they’re more like the Fine Arts than anywhere else and they’ve been able to do incredible things, including funding films. They have a fund that they got  through the State Legislature fund features.”

Let’s not forget that The Mary Tyler Moore show was based in Minneapolis. It also has long history in advertising and I’m told where the Jolly Green Giant and  Betty Crocker were created.  Rocky & Bullwinkle and Paul Buyan also have a Minnesota roots as does Academy Award winning actress Jessica Lange, Winona Ryder, Josh Harnett and iconic figures  J. Paul Getty and Charles Lindbergh.

I don’t know if there is something in the water in Minnesota but I have to conclude that long streches of cold weather warp the mind and are fertile ground for screenwriters, musicians, actors and filmmakers. Terry Gilliam who co-wrote Monty Python and the Holy Grail as well as co-wrote and directed Brazil was born in Minneapolis.

And concluding our connecting the Oscars with Minneapolis let’s not forget to mention Cate Blanchett’s nomination for Best Supporting actress for playing Bob Dylan in “I’m Not There.” Dylan was raised in Duluth and  the small mining town Hibbing, Minnesota, but began his rise on the music scene in the Dinkytown area of Minneapolis.

I don’t think the spotlight on Minneapolis is going to fade anytime soon. In fact, right now I’m sure there are screenwriters fighting to write in the exact spot at Starbuck’s where Cody wrote Juno.

Photo & Text Copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith

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