For several years, the rights to the Perry Reese movie have 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 both 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 very successful one, playing alongside George Clooney, Don Cheadle and other great stars of the big screen and small screen.
His pursuits as an actor and producer have now 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 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 sports 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 initial copyright to the Reese story. He found, however, that 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 quickly found David Goldblum, who also felt the story of a black coach in the middle of Amish Country was an inspirational story.
“I love the idea of transforming a community,” said Goldblum. “It’s such a universal theme, and I felt very compelled to get on board.”
Black and Goldberg agreed on a $20,000 screenplay fee, and the ball was rolling on the yet-to-be-named Reese film.
Black has been in contact with Shelly Miller, who knew Reese very well, and since learning more about the man called “Coach,” his admiration and inspiration has only grown fonder.
Black said he has contacts with some of the bigger production companies, but he believes creating the film as an independent movie is the best way to approach telling the meaningful story of Reese enduring prejudice and living such a unique life.
“I definitely believe that, once we get this script written, we will find a number of A-list actors who would be more than willing to get involved,” Black said.
As the movie deal kicks into high 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, and 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.”
Now 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.”
Anyone wishing to make a donation to the Perry Reese film may do so by contacting Schlabach, either via his email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 330-763-3553.
Black said the hope is to get the screenwriting fees taken care of quickly so the efforts to move ahead with the filming portion of the movie can quickly follow. 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 Ohio (Holmes County) 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. I am excited to have the opportunity to tell such an inspiring story.”
Black will appear in two upcoming television roles, one being in the Lifetime movie “Murder in Mexico,” the true story of Bruce Beresford-Redman, who was accused of murdering his wife during a trip to Mexico. He will also have a role in the television series “Welcome to the Family.” To learn more about James Black, visit: www.imdb.com