Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Positive feelings about Golf Channel documentary 'Caddy For Life'; book to movie process

Since I’m scheduled to fly to Pebble Beach first thing Tuesday morning—and dreading the trip given my complete hatred of the entire flying experience—I’m writing this on Monday night just prior to Golf Channel’s airing of the documentary based on, “Caddy For Life.”

I can honestly say I’m very proud of the documentary and I hope if you did not watch it Monday night you will watch one of the re-airs that will occur periodically throughout this week.

When Keith Allo from Golf Channel first contacted me last summer about the notion of turning ‘Caddy,’ into a documentary I was pleased—and skeptical. The experiences I have had with my books becoming—or not becoming—movies has been checkered to say the least.

Many of you know that “A Season on the Brink,” did become a movie. The general consensus is that it was one of the five worst movies ever made. I would rank it number one on that list but then I’m biased. I had no control at all when that movie was made. It’s a long story not worth rehashing in detail here but the synopsis is that a long-forgotten guy named Mark Shapiro (unless you are a big follower of bankrupt theme parks) was trying to blackmail me into doing things for ESPN I had no interest in doing. When I refused to be blackmailed he did two things: ordered Joe Valerio, the executive producer of The Sports Reporters to stop using me on the show and put out the word that NO ONE was to allow me to see the script of ‘Season.’

Of course I did see the script in advance and knew it was God-awful. ESPN hired a distinguished screenwriter who, sadly, knew nothing about basketball to write the script and he produced a cartoon. The funny part of the story was when critics savaged the movie, I dropped Shapiro a note saying that it didn’t need to have turned out the way it did except for his massive ego. (Pause here to note my ego’s pretty big but I was never in this guy’s ballpark). He wrote me back—I still have the e-mail—saying the reason the reviews were so bad was because I had ripped the movie publicly.

If only I had that kind of power the world would be a much better place.

Flash forward: There have been a number of false starts with other books, but none ever made it to a screen. In one case I’m grateful because I read a script sent to me by a movie company that optioned, “Last Shot,” that was so bad it actually had the potential to be worse than ‘Season on the Brink.’

It has always been my belief that I’ve written two books that had the potential to be truly compelling movies. One is ‘A Civil War,’ the book I wrote about the Army-Navy football rivalry. There’s been interest in it at times but it has never gone anywhere. Years ago I sent a copy of the book to Ron Shelton (Bull Durham, Tin Cup among others) who I respect as much as anyone in Hollywood—not that I know that many people in Hollywood. I’d met Shelton and gotten to know him a little when he was on the golf tour doing research for Tin Cup. He called me and said, “This is a great book but it’ll never be made into a movie.”

“Why not?”

“Because Leonardo DiCaprio can’t play one of the players. Maybe if you could cast him as a waterboy you’d have a shot. You need STARS to get a movie like this made and there’s not star in Hollywood who can legitimately play a college football player.”

I thought Shelton was stretching the theory but that was ten years ago and the movie hasn’t been made. Maybe I can get The Jonas Brothers to play college football players? My daughter would watch.

The other book I thought was a natural for a movie was, ‘Caddy For Life.’ When Bruce Edwards first asked me to write the book in 2003 shortly after he was diagnosed with ALS it never occurred to me that it was that kind of story. But spending that year with him, seeing his remarkable courage up close and the amazing resilience and loyalty of his family, his wife Marsha and his pal Tom Watson, I came to believe the book was going to be made into a movie.

This time Shelton agreed with me. He thought a big star would want to play Bruce—maybe even his buddy Kevin Costner—and that Gary Sinise would be perfect to play Watson. A number of producers were interested in optioning the book as soon as it came out. For the record, getting a book optioned is one step in a journey of a thousand miles towards getting a movie made. When you read in the publicity notes for a book that it has been “optioned to be a major motion picture,” 99 times out of 100 the movie will never get made. I have now had, I think, eight books optioned.

This is the first time I’ve felt good about the end result. With the help of my friend Terry Hanson, ‘Caddy,’ did get optioned eventually by a production company called, “Live Planet,” that was owned in part by Matt Damon. He was (is) a big golf fan. He planned to be co-executive producer on the film. We interviewed screenwriters and chose David Himmelstein who wrote a superb script. ABC loved the script and green-lighted it (that’s Hollywood talk) with one caveat: They needed to wait until the end of the year (2007 I think) to get their budget from Disney. The plan was to get my old friends at ESPN to pay some of the costs from their movie budget since the first run would be on ABC and then the movie would be re-run a bazillion times on ESPN.

The ESPN people, in spite of my involvement, said they loved the script. The New Year arrived. We got a call from the people at ABC. There was a problem: Because ESPN’s movies had been so BAD—starting with, you guessed it, ‘Season on the Brink,’ their movie budget had been slashed to close to nothing by Disney. Without the ESPN money, ABC Entertainment didn’t have the dollars to make the movie.

End of story.

Until the phone call from Allo. Golf Channel wanted to make a documentary and they wanted to make it right. They wanted to start by making a large contribution to The Bruce Edwards Foundation, the organization I’d started in 2005 to raise money for ALS—with HUGE help from Watson and The Edwards Family. They understood that the script had to work for me but more important as far as I was concerned for the family and for Watson. They wanted me to be co-executive producer and do most of the on-camera interviews.

They were as good as their word on all of it. Stage Three Productions in Philadelphia was hired to actually produce the documentary and the people there, led by Steve Ciplione and Kelly Ryan did, I think, a masterful job. If this reads like a press release, sorry. This is the first time I have seen one of my books on a screen somewhere and felt really good about it.

Bruce was an extraordinary person and his relationship with Tom was a remarkable story about two men who were, as their pal Neil Oxman so eloquently put it in the book, “closer than brothers.”

I hope you watch. I will be surprised and disappointed if it doesn't make you cry.


John recently appeared on The Jim Rome Show (www.jimrome.com) to discuss 'Moment of Glory.' Click here to download, or listen in the player below:

John's new book: "Moment of Glory--The Year Underdogs Ruled The Majors,"--is now available online and in bookstores nationwide. Visit your favorite retailer, or click here for online purchases


Keith said...


I DVR'd the documentary and just finished watching it late this evening. Tremendous! I had read the book shortly after it came out (a gift from my wife) and loved it. But watching it over a 90 minute stretch was much more emotional than reading the book. To see the video coverage of Edwards and Watson with the 65 is his last US Open was gut wrenching. You could see it in Bruce's face, he absolutely knew it was his last trip around a US Open with Tom. He savored it and to see that emotion brings out the reason he loved golf and the reason those of us that love golf can't help but cry as the rest of the documentary concludes.

Again, tremendous job. Thanks for telling Bruce's story again. It is truly an inspiration.

trishbuswell said...

We loved it, it was a great documentery. We cried at the end, such a great story you told. I am happy (because of the movie Season on the Brink) you were able to go this way with this book, and that you were involved. Great job to you and everyone involved. We tivo'd it and plan to watch it again.

Anonymous said...

I loved the book and with your endorsement I look forward to the movie. Not intending to get you started on golfers named Woods (or maybe I am) I thought Robert Garrigus showed incredible poise and grace in facing the media after his meltdown loss at Memphis. I have seen that in other sports at times, but it seems more the norm in golf. I hope Mr. garrigus gets that first win soon.

Max said...

John, just wondering how much money you made off the movie, A season on the brink?

Momus said...

I'll look forward to watching Caddy For Life -- it's a great story, and I'm glad to hear that you're pleased with the Golf Channel production. And yes, I would agree with your critique that Season on the Brink is a terrible movie (no fault of your own, of course).

Also thanks for the inside information on the convoluted process involved in getting books to film. I once met a mystery novelist who proclaimed that he had written two books that were optioned in Hollywood -- now I know why I never heard anything more about them being produced into movies.

Speaking of inside information, I just started reading Kathy Orton's "Outside the Limelight: basketball in the Ivy League" and was "surprised" to see that you had written the foreword (which was excellent, BTW). Surprised in the sense that I had never heard of the book. I'm assuming that since you wrote the foreword, you are giving it your seal of approval (so to speak), but I don't recall you ever mentioning the book itself on this blog (admittedly I may have missed a reference to it somewhere along the way). Seems to me (at least from what I've read so far) that this is exactly the type of book that deserves a plug. Or is that considered gratuitous within serious journalism (as opposed to say Larry King and his incessent name dropping in his old USA Today column) and not something you would normally do?

Anonymous said...

I always wondered why you stopped going on the Sports Reporters.....now I know why. Shapiro's career has gone from blackballing you to getting fired by good ole Danny Snyder.

On the doc last night -- it WAS well done by the Golf Channel. You are now 1for1 on quality adaptions of books. I'm in full agreement of the air ball known as A Season on the Brink.

Anyways, looking forward to a few insights from the US Open.

Anonymous said...

John, great job on the documentary.

Mr. X said...

The Lou Gehrig story has always stuck with me since I was a kid. Years later it hit close to home when a good friend married his high school sweetheart. Within a month she was diagnosed with ALS, at 25.

ALS sucks. Great documentary John.

P.S. ESPN is evil.

pulmcrit1 said...

Just finished watching the documentary. It was great to see the footage from the '82 US Open, and the footage from the final US Open with Bruce Edwards was very emotional. Difficult to watch because it was so sad. His wife, family, Tom Watson, and all of his friends showed a lot of courage and class to share their memories. Very well done! It's a credit to you and the Golf Channel.

Josh in Greensboro said...


Absolutely wonderful work. Your efforts for ALS fundraising and relaying Bruce's legacy are a life's worth of accomplishments. You should sleep well each and every night knowing the impact you've made.

Congrats on the marriage too!! Look forward to your Pebble Beach work and hearing you on TK Thursday.

PS: I cried for the first time in years watching the documentary, but I did it with a smile.

Thanks so much.