Indianapolis 500 movie racing toward big screen

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A locally born initiative to make a movie about the first Indianapolis 500 has cleared a major obstacle to getting its project to big screens nationwide by May 2011—in time for the race's centennial.

Justin Escue, founder and president of My First Bike Productions, said his company has commitments for the $30 million to $40 million needed to produce a movie about the 1911 Indianapolis 500. He's also signed a pair of heavyweight Hollywood executive producers for the film, tentatively called "500."

"We brought potential investors in for this year's Indianapolis 500, and they were all quite impressed," said Escue, a 33-year-old Hoosier with a deep affinity for open-wheel racing and the Indianapolis 500.

Angelo Pizzo, creator of the movies "Hoosiers" and "Rudy," recently finished the screenplay for the movie, and helped Escue sign executive producers Barry Josephson and Doug Falconer.

Before starting his own firm, Josephson was president of worldwide productions at Hollywood-based Columbia Pictures, producing such hits as "Men in Black," "Air Force One," "In the Line of Fire" and "The Fifth Element." Josephson's most recent box-office success, "Enchanted," earned two Golden Globe and three Oscar nominations, plus a Critic's Choice Award for Best Family Film. He's also executive producer of the popular television series "Bones."

Falconer is a Calgary native who played in the Canadian Football League. He later moved to Los Angeles and became chairman of Pacific Media and Entertainment.

"These guys are the real deal," Pizzo said. "They are very entrenched in Hollywood and know how to make a project like this happen. They believe in the project enough to invest some of their own money, and that says something."

Casting for the film is set to begin this summer, Escue said, and he hopes to sign A-list actors. Brad Pitt or Tom Hanks, who command up to $20 million a movie, would likely be too expensive. But Pizzo said lots of well-known actors and some talented up-and-comers who would work for substantially less have expressed an interest in the film.

"A lot of actors love racing, and this script is like a significant part of history," Pizzo said. "These are some very big inducements."

Top-shelf actors aren't the only ones interested in being part of the project, he added.

"You can't believe how many top, top race car drivers have expressed interest in being in this film," Pizzo said.

After casting wraps up in October, Escue hopes to sign a distribution deal with a major movie company, but he and Pizzo emphasized they will not relinquish artistic control. The plan is to start filming next May.

The first of 40 replica 1911 Indianapolis 500 race cars was finished in June by Chattanooga, Tenn.-based Coker Tire Co. Escue said the other 39 will be completed in six to eight months.

Land has been secured in Newton County, about an hour north of Lafayette, to build a replica of the early 20th century Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Escue said a plan to build the replica closer to Indianapolis was abandoned for the option in Newton County because an investor in the movie has land there.

Local track designer Paxton Waters has been hired to build the track, and Escue said Illinois-based Prairie Hills Motorsport Club will operate the facility after filming is complete.

"This deal will allow the facility to stay standing after the filming as a tourist attraction," Escue said. "People can walk into May 30, 1911."

A film tax credit passed during the special session of this year's General Assembly should help this project, but not as much as the project's producers had hoped.

State lawmakers settled on a 15-percent tax credit on all production expenses derived within the state's borders, but capped that credit to $2.5 million for all movies made in Indiana within a calendar year.

Local movie makers had hoped for a $5 million cap, as was the provision for a law passed during the 2008 General Assembly. That law was replaced with the one passed during this year's session, effectively halving the cap. But there was also fear that the tax credit could be repealed altogether, prompting producers of the Indianapolis 500 movie to call the law passed this year "a small victory."

If Escue's movie is made, it could be a huge boost for the local movie industry, said Steve Marra, writer and director for locally based Adrenaline Motion Pictures.

"One of the big things that makes a movie like this difficult to make is, no one in the industry thinks you can make a movie in Indiana," Marra said. "If a project of this size can be pulled off here using local talent, it would be huge for the entire state and could open a new chapter of movie making here."

Marra thinks the movie would have a bigger impact than previous films, such as "Hoosiers" and "Breaking Away," because all or most of the filming and post-production work would be done locally. 


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  1. Only half a million TV Viewers? And thats an increase? I knew Indycar was struggling but I didn't know it was that bad. Hell, if NASCAR hits 5 Million viewers everyone starts freaking out saying its going down hill. It has a long way to before Indycar even hits NASCAR's bad days.

  2. IU has been talking that line for years with no real progress even with the last Dean, Dr. Brater. Why will an outsider, Dr. Hess, make a difference? With no proof of additional resources (cash in the bank), and a concrete plan to move an academic model that has been outdated for decades with a faculty complacent with tenure and inertia, I can count on IU to remain the same during the tenure of Dr. Hess. One ought to look to Purdue and Notre Dame for change and innovation. It is just too bad that both of those schools do not have their own medical school. Competition might wake up IU. My guess is, that even with those additions to our State, IU will remain in its own little world squandering our State's tax dollars. Why would any donor want to contribute to IU with its track record? What is its strategy to deal with the physician shortage for our State? New leadership will not be enough for us to expect any change.

  3. How do you think the Bridges got approved? I spent a couple days researching PAC's and individual contributions to some city council members during that time. My printouts were inches thick on the two I concentrated on. Finally gave up. Was disgusted with all the donations, and who they were from. Would have taken me days and days to compile a complete list. Tried to give it to the Star reporter, but he thought it was all just fine. (and apparently he was treated well himself) He ended up being laid off or fired though. And then of course, there was land donated to the dad's club, or city, as a partial payoff. All done in the shining example of "charity." No, none of these contributions are a coincidence.

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