For several years, the rights to a Perry Reese movie had been on hold on the shelves of Walt Disney Studios.
That is about to change, thanks to athlete-turned-actor-turned-producer James Black.
Black, who hails from Dover, where he starred in football and wrestling, went on to star at running back for the Akron Zips, and that turned into a short stint playing for the Cleveland Browns, before he turned to another passion, acting.
His career in Hollywood has been a successful one, playing alongside George Clooney, Don Cheadle and other stars of the big and small screen.
His pursuits as an actor and producer have led him full circle, as he learned more about the Perry Reese story. Reese, who coached basketball at Hiland High School from 1984 to 2000, lived an inspirational story, moving to a mostly white, Mennonite and Amish community to coach. As a black man, he had to overcome many odds, including breaking down some large prejudicial barriers.
Reese transformed a community, and his story caught the eye of Gary Smith, a writer for Sports Illustrated. That led to Disney picking up the rights to his story.
Black was in the process of delving into producing a football movie based on Tuscarawas County football and called his friend Doug Klar to get some input.
“Doug said that sounded great, but here is this story about Perry Reese just waiting to be told,” Black said.
“He told me the story of Perry, and right away I was mesmerized, and thought this was a story that definitely needed to be told on film.”
Black had to go through some hoops, since Walt Disney Pictures owned the copyright to the story. He found Disney had shelved the film, and after speaking to his lawyer, learned that since there was so much public knowledge on Reese, it was fine to pursue it.
Black's next move was to seek a professional screenwriter. He found David Goldblum.
“I love the idea of transforming a community,” Goldblum said. “It's such a universal theme, and I felt very compelled to get on board.”
Black and Goldblum agreed on a $20,000 screenplay fee, and the ball was rolling on the yet-to-be-named film.
Black said he has contacts with bigger production companies, but he believes creating the film independently is the best way to approach the story of Reese.
As the movie deal kicks into gear, the task of raising the $20,000 has fallen upon the shoulders of Reese's longtime friend and coaching partner David Schlabach.
Reese had been around for several years before Schlabach took over the Lady Hawks program at Hiland. The two had countless conversations about life and basketball, which Schlabach has always said helped shape his coaching approach.
“I was pretty excited to find out that the movie was moving forward,” Schlabach said. “I think James is very passionate about it and wants the story to be told in the right way. Seeing Perry represented in such a good light is what makes me comfortable moving forward with this project.”
The efforts to raise funding for the screen writing is under way, as the initial step in the process moves the timetable of production forward.
“Our goal is to solidify the funds needed for the script to move ahead,” Schlabach said. “We are all excited about the opportunity to tell Perry's story in film.”
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According to Goldblum, the screenwriting process should take anywhere form three to four months, but the first step will be for writer and producer to visit Holmes County to meet with the people whom Reese's life touched the most.
“We are hoping to come to and shoot much of the film,” Black said. “That would be ideal. We will at some point in the near future come there to spend a week in the area talking to people to learn more about Perry.”