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.”
“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:
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