In the early 2000s, maybe it was 2005? — famed Hoosier filmmaker Angelo Pizzo completed a script that completed what he called “Indiana’s sports triple crown.”
First, he captured Indiana high school basketball with 1986’s “Hoosiers.” Then he took on Notre Dame football with 1993’s “Rudy.”
Now, provided some major pieces fall into place and the (movie) stars align, Pizzo and Carmel-based director Justin Escue will bring the inaugural 1911 Indianapolis 500 race to the big screen with a film tentatively called “500”.
The ambitious project would also include a television series about the life of entrepreneur, real estate developer and Greensburg native Carl Graham Fisher, who was instrumental in creating the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the inaugural Indy 500.
Finally, there are hopes for a reality TV series depicting the ongoing creation of the film’s replica cars.
Angelo Pizzo, screenwriter of “Hoosiers”, sees the new version of the film: “I think it’s better, really”
In an interview, Pizzo described the connection between the “500” storyline and his previous successes in Indiana, both widely considered among the best sports films ever made.
“My goal is to write dimensional characters that you care about and care about,” he said. “The challenge is to create emotional moments. And they’re there in this script and in every script I write…so there’s definitely a spiritual connection just because I wrote it, and I wrote it with my heart.”
Building a Storytelling Team
Pizzo is currently only the screenwriter for the unmade film, but he’s willing to sign on as a producer if a studio backs the project and his schedule allows. He’s about to start filming a Civil War-era coming-of-age tale that he says “has nothing to do with Indiana sports” from this summer.
He plans to write the follow-up series on Fisher, whom he called “one of the most fascinating personalities I’ve met in a long time.” The series would address Fisher’s life after Indianapolis as he would go on to develop some of the nation’s first highways and resort towns such as Montauk, New York and Miami Beach, Florida.
Pizzo’s name recognition and attachment is a major asset for Escue, a Ball State grad and New Palestine native who moved to Carmel from Los Angeles after the film industry largely shut down due to COVID. -19.
In an interview, Escue said the film was one of the few dream projects he first conceived after college about 20 years ago. Pizzo completed the script around 2005, but a major hurdle at the time was the possible budget needed to faithfully recreate the original track and race.
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“At the time, I had to go out and get between $50 million and $100 million, and it would either come privately or through a studio, which is a monumental feat either way,” said Escue.
Pizzo and Escue have moved on to other projects over the years.
However, these financial hurdles have now diminished considerably, with Pizzo noting that computer-generated images “probably cost 1/20th of what they cost in 2000”.
Streaming services have also changed the cinematic landscape, with more studios willing to finance production in advance depending on the script and the stars attached to the project.
Escue said he is currently negotiating with actors who would be willing to sign at this early stage, which would then finalize his pitch to studios: a theatrical feature and an accompanying series, both written by Pizzo, directed by Escue. and featuring the same cast. . He did not name any actors but said he hopes to do so soon.
Staying as a director is a hurdle, Escue conceded, as it would be his first feature film after years of directing commercials and music videos and holding lesser crew positions on other productions.
“Being a relatively unknown director at this level of film is a tough sell for people, but that’s why I’m going to get a roster of talent who will also be willing to let me direct it,” he said. “It’s an uphill battle, but we’re closer than we’ve ever been.”
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Escue also hopes the romance and immense scale of the project will be an appealing feature. Ideally, he would like the film to coincide with the 2024 Indianapolis 500 and produce three seasons of the companion series about Fisher.
Turner Woodard, a well-known local real estate investor and classic car collector who previously owned the historic old Stutz automobile manufacturing building in downtown Indianapolis, invested in the project. Justin Tysdal, CEO of Carmel-based travel insurer Seven Corners, has also signed on.
Escue recruited Corky Coker, previously owner of the eponymous company Coker Tires and current owner of Honest Charley Speed Shop in Chattanooga, Tennessee, to build the replica race cars.
“I’ve long loved vintage race cars from before the 1920s,” Coker said. “Justin approached me a few years ago about my involvement in wheels and tires, and I told them I could properly build these cars from scratch.
Coker has already completed complete replicas of the 1911 No. 32 Marmon Wasp, who won the inaugural 500, and runner-up 1911 No. 33 Lozier.
A story about Indiana, made in Indiana
Escue and Pizzo also praised recent actions by the Indiana State Legislature, which paved the way for improved movie tax credits through the Indiana Economic Development Corporation.
The state had long since fallen behind many other states in that region, both of whom agreed.
Escue said he hoped to film “as much as possible” in Indiana. He expects most of his crew to be people he has worked with from out of state, but there would also be room for local hires.
Pizzo has long advocated for updates to tax policies in that state, saying he has testified before the House Ways and Means Committee three or four times on the subject.
He wrote the screenplay for “500” with the hope that it would be filmed in his and Escue’s home country.
“That was always the goal.”
Rory Appleton is the pop culture reporter at IndyStar. Reach him at 317-552-9044 and [email protected], or follow him on Twitter at @RoryDoesPhonics.