MARQUETTE - An Academy Award winner is now attached to a feature film project set at the United States Olympic Education Center.
And the possiblity that some of the movie might be filmed in Marquette still exists.
Forest Whitaker, who won a Best Actor Oscar for "The King of Scotland," has given a greenlight to "Anthem" through a collaborative film studio which he co-chairs, JuntoBox Films.
A storyboard from a date scene meant to be at Lakeview Arena in Marquette, a proposed scene from the feature film project “Anthem” set at Northern Michigan University’s United States Olympic Education Center. (Art by by Charles Keranen)
"Anthem" - formerly called "American Anthem" - was written by John Carr, a native of San Antonio, Texas, who now lives in Minneapolis. It showcases the story of an ousted champion speedskater seeking redemption by training an autistic teen struggling to join an elite speedskating program.
Carr has been working on getting this film made for quite a while.
"It's hard to believe I've spent nearly three years of my life on this story," Carr said via email. "This has to be the hardest thing I've ever done. Beyond the writing, I struggled to package 'Anthem' to the point where a producer could see the potential and possible cultural impact as a feature film. I couldn't have asked for a better group of producers like Mr. Whitaker and his development executives at JuntoBox Films and Significant Productions (which is Whitaker's production company)."
Write to Forest Whitaker:
Attn: Erica Brady
Assistant to VP/ Head of Production
3349 Cahuenga Blvd., Suite 3
Los Angeles, CA 90068
Carr had tapped a number of people to help with preparing a test film.
"I've had the pleasure of speaking to Daniel Stoloff (cinematographer of 'Miracle') about the challenges of filming action scenes on the ice, working with Lisa Cerasoli ('General Hospital'), Taylor Firth ('Ice Castles' 2010 remake and one of the top 20 figureskaters in America) and Lynn-Holly Johnson (from the original 'Ice Castles' and 'For Your Eyes Only' with Roger Moore) on dialogue tracks that were meant to be used with a storyboards, and several elite short track speedskaters from the USOEC who helped with the V.I.O. POV devices to capture races from the skater's perspective," Carr explained.
The last week of June, Carr found out his diligence paid off when "Anthem" was announced as one of two films to receive the greenlight from JuntoBox.
"The purpose of JuntoBox Films is to give independent filmmakers the opportunity to have their films financed, produced and distributed with support and mentorship from industry professionals, including Oscar winner Forest Whitaker," Carr said. "The company will be greenlighting five films in 2012. 'Anthem' is the third to be greenlit this year. The other two projects greenlit are called 'Passenger' and 'Sacrifice.'
"You can go to www.juntoboxfilm.com to learn more about these and other projects."
Carr had been anxiously waiting for the final go-ahead.
"Last month, I had a conference call with JuntoBox Films and Significant Productions development executives about my project," he said."'Anthem' managed to get to a short list of projects that could be greenlit. We had a good discussion about the project and had the opportunity to discuss where it could be filmed: Marquette, Michigan. A few days later, one of the Significant Productions executives called and said Mr. Whitaker would like to speak to me. He called and we had a 45-minute conversation about 'Anthem,' autism, speedskating, and possible filming locations such as Marquette and Northern Michigan University.
"I wasn't sure what to expect, but he called back a few hours later and said he'll greenlight it for production. He gave congratulations and blessings for my family because I have two high-functioning autistic children," Carr said. "I do have to say that made me tear-up when I was on the phone because he cared about my family. I'll never forget that act of kindness and it meant more than a greenlight. Most people might go out and celebrate. I went back to the living room to spend time with my family. You can't turn off your mind after a conversation like that, so I spent the night planning 'Anthem' as a project because I want this production to have every chance of succeeding."
Carr said NMU officials have been helpful in his journey.
"I told John we'd be very happy to help film executives learn about Northern and about Marquette," said Cindy Paavola, director of communications at Northern Michigan University when asked about "Anthem."
"If they're interested in visiting, we'd roll out the red carpet."
Support is coming from other quarters as well.
"Also, Mark Greenwald, the executive director of U.S. Speedskating, extended an offer to have them visit the National Team Short Track Speedskaters in Salt Lake to see if any would like to signup for the production," Carr said.
"With a budget, we might be able to get some elite speedskaters for three-five weeks during the production,"?he said. "I can't confirm a schedule because the production team will need to have many planning and development meetings. My suggestion was to wait 'til late spring of 2013 to film, because the speedskating season would be over, and release around the time of the 2014 Winter Olympics."
There was one aspect Carr did say no to.
"Mr. Whitaker did ask if I would like to direct. I have the vision to make make this film, but lack in feature-film directing experience, so we'll look for a director I could work with through all phases of this project to help make this a memorable project," Carr said.
"Maybe we could ask everyone in the Upper Peninsula and U.S. Speedskating to write a letter to Mr. Whitaker and ask him to direct this, and all of us would help him pull the production together."
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.