Reporters solve cold-case race killing in fact-based 'Deadline'
BY GENE TRIPLETT
Newspaper movies were almost a genre unto themselves once upon a time, like Westerns, romances, sci-fi epics and cop thrillers.
Intrepid reporters — self-described “ink-stained wretches” — were the heroes (or villains) of such classics as “His Girl Friday,” “The Harder They Fall,” “All the President’s Men” and, as recently as 2007, the excellent “Zodiac.”
Journalists were depicted as valiant (if sometimes boozy and unkempt) keepers of the First Amendment flame, public watchdogs sounding the alarm against crime and corruption, bloodhounds of truth sniffing out and exposing all manner of social menace and moral decay.
But in this Internet age of instant information, such films are now as few and far between as newspapers themselves are rapidly becoming.
This makes something of a rare treat out of “Deadline,” a suspenseful, fact-based drama about two investigative warriors of the daily print medium — played by Steve Talley and Academy Award nominee Eric Roberts (“Runaway Train”) — who flush out the culprits in a cold-case race killing in the Deep South.
“I’ve already gotten feedback from journalists who are saying, ‘You know, this kind of helps remind me why I got into the business,’” screenwriter Mark Ethridge said in a recent phone interview.
“I hope it helps remind the public why they need journalists,” he said.
The independent feature about headline heroics gets its Oklahoma City premiere at Harkins Bricktown Theatres on Thursday, complete with a live Q&A between audience and filmmakers via telephone hook-up following the screening.
More good news is that proceeds from the event will benefit the United Way of Central Oklahoma.
The screening will be hosted by The Oklahoman, just as local newspapers have hosted events in more than 40 other cities where “Deadline” has already premiered. Many of those events have featured in-person appearances by cast members and filmmakers.
This series of benefit premieres is a new method of movie release and distribution concocted by Nashville independent filmmaker Curt Hahn, producer and director of “Deadline.”
“We looked in the Guiness Book of World Records to see how many movie premieres one movie has had,” Hahn said from a tour bus that was also carrying Ethridge and some of the film’s cast members across the country.
“They don’t even have a category for it. But I promise you, if they did we’d own it.”
Other newspapers that have hosted benefit premieres for “Deadline” include the Miami Herald, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Detroit Free Press and the Houston Chronicle.
The film releases nationwide on Friday.
“When you look at what happens when a band puts out a new CD, they go on the road to tour to support the release of their CD, right?” Hahn said. “It’s the exact same idea as that. … We just thought it was by far the most effective way that we could come up with to reach the maximum number of people for the amount of budget we could afford to do with an independent film.”
Hahn, 62, is the founder of Film House, a Nashville film production company that has specialized in TV commercials and government public service announcements for 36 years. Its subsidiary, Transcendent, has produced the independent feature “No Regrets” (2004) with Janine Turner and Kate Jackson, and co-produced “Two Weeks” (2007), starring Sally Field and Ben Chapin. The latter was released through MGM.
Ethridge, who is a high school classmate of Hahn’s, adapted “Deadline” from his own novel, “Grievances,” which in turn is based on an actual investigative story Ethridge broke when he was a reporter with The Charlotte Observer.
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