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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Roswell-based writer/producer Jason Koornick walks "A MILE IN HIS SHOES"

A Mile In His Shoes writer/producer Jason Koornick. The River Rats are the fictional baseball team in the movie.
  • Jason Koornick
  • "A Mile In His Shoes" writer/producer Jason Koornick. The River Rats are the fictional baseball team in the movie.

Writer/producer Jason Koornick grew up in Brookline outside of Boston MA, and graduated from the University of Vermont.

Before breaking into the movie industry in 2001, his career included played bluegrass mandolin professionally to creating an online community devoted to the life and work of science fiction legend Philip K. Dick at www.philipkdick.com (which he ultimately sold to the author’s estate.) His interest in the author also manifest itself in his first movie project, the feature documentary The Gospel According to Phillip K. Dick, as well as the big budget Hollywood Feature film Next.

He moved to Roswell in Jan. 2009 with his wife and son. He chose Atlanta with an eye on continuing his work in the film business, which led him to meet with Brad Siegel, Co-Chairman of Gospel Music Channel (GMC). According to Koornick, "We hit it off and he loved my script "A Mile In His Shoes". When their model expanded to include regular original movies, "Mile" was the first project he thought of. "

With the film set to air this Sunday night on GMC, we invited Koornick to discuss producing, baseball, Georgia production, autism, luck, and Dick.

Your filmography includes a Philip K. Dick doc, the Nicholas Cage (metaphysical) thriller Next, and now "A Mile In His Shoes"—a baseball film about an autistic pitcher overcoming the odds. What does this say about you, as a producer? What ties these films together? What drives your interest in films? What inspires you as a producer?

I believe my varied credits are the result of my personal taste in conjunction with opportunities that became available to me. As someone who has some experience in the media business, I've become much more selective in the type of material I'll take on as a writer and/or producer. Of course, a creative producer like myself has to be in love with the material. That's a given - whether its a short story, novel, article or life rights. But not so in love that you can't let it go if there's no deal to be made. There are a lot of reasons NOT to get involved with a project and you can't ignore them. I am always thinking of the business opportunity, what is my plan to take this out in the industry, how I can use my relationships to get to decision-makers and how to tailor a script/pitch to a company that would produce it so they can’t say “no.”. That may sound limiting, but I can find inspiration within these guidelines. Most importantly, since a producer has to live with a piece of material for many years, I always make sure its a story I can get and stay excited about.

So to answer your question more succinctly, what ties the movies I've produced together is a combination of inspiration and opportunity. A little bit of luck and timing as well.

The Gospel According to Philip K. Dick
  • The Gospel According to Philip K. Dick

As for my interests in film, I've always been fascinated with non-linear storytelling. With Next we played with the idea of a man being able to see two minutes into his own future - that came right from the Philip K. Dick short story "The Golden Man." Film is uniquely suited to play with time and sequencing events to create new and powerful narratives. Even a linear movie cuts through the boring parts of life to tell a story highlighting the most interesting and relevant parts of a characters experience. I’ve always found that to be extremely powerful. I also love to be transported out of my everyday world whether its with a baseball team or to an alien world. My personal tastes are for high-concept movies that are well-executed that have some spectacle and mass appeal. Inception and Avatar are two of my recent favorites.

I also love thoughtful, well-crafted indies that lack pretense and are well-acted. I thought Win Win with Paul Giamatti was brilliant and hilarious. I hope it finds a good audience.

You also wrote "A Mile in His Shoes." What are some of the challenges (and advantages) of producing a screenplay you also wrote? What advice would you give to aspiring screenwriters?

"A Mile In His Shoes" is based on a book called “The Legend of Mickey Tussler” by Frank Nappi. The movie and book are both fictional, although some people have written incorrectly that it is based on a true story. Just to be clear — there is no Mickey Tussler!

I read a review of the book in 2008 and it sounded interesting, just as I was looking for a writing project. The baseball world combined with a unique dramatic angle of a kid with autism was a compelling story that could be funny, emotional, with great action and roles for actors. The book told a complete story but a lot of things had to be changed to make it produceable. Most notably, the time period. The book is set in the 40s in Milwaukee. After trying to get period movies off the ground unsuccessfully for years, I knew that it had to be contemporary. But I didn’t worry about the characters as much, they are throwbacks to a previous era. I thought that would be interesting to have these retro characters in a modern world. This made sense in the context of baseball which has a rich history and nostalgia around it. A key plot element of the book is that in the 40s people didn’t know about, much less understand autism and that drove the story. Now awareness is prevalent but I figured that in the rough world of a baseball locker room, these guys might not act with the utmost sensitivity and preserve the tension in the book. I also had to change the ending of the book to a feel-good story.

Superman and Little Ricky
  • GMC
  • Superman and Little Ricky

Producing my own screenplay was both rewarding and frustrating. Frustrating because I felt like I was chasing my own tail sometimes, that’s the life of a producer. Rewarding partly because the fact that I had written the screenplay provided a greater motivation to get it done and stay with it. I had more to gain as a writer/producer on "A Mile In His Shoes" than a project I was just producing, both financially and creatively.

I would say to aspiring screenwriters: write a lot—(You get better with each script you write. Don’t believe me? Go back and read your first screenplay!)—have many ideas in the works at once, have a plan when you go begin a project and read a lot of other scripts. Also understand that the director does more to create the final product than the screenwriter, so never forget that you are a collaborator and act respectfully towards your colleagues. I can’t say that’s a guarantee for success but it’s a good start.

One of the film's unique is its treatment of autism, combined with an interest in baseball. What drew you to the subject of autism? What is your interest in baseball?

I’m very proud of the portrayal of autism in "A Mile In His Shoes," even though the story is fictional. I hope that people see this movie and gain a deeper appreciation and sympathy for people with autism spectrum disorders. Anyone who has spent time with someone with Asperger’s Syndrome understands that their minds aren’t flawed, they are just wired differently. Hence, the title "A Mile In His Shoes" which I came up with.

Definitely Wapner
  • Rain Man
  • Definitely Wapner

Hopefully this film will help people to see autism from a new perspective. I have a few autistic friends and the sensitive and powerful portrayal of the autistic condition was what drove me to take on this project. As the home of the Marcus Autism Center, Atlanta is an international leader in the treatment and care of autism.

Content that airs of the Gospel Channel is, by definition, uplifting. How do you sell this film to those among us who have no idea how to find GMC on the dial, an to whom "religious programming" is anathema?

GMC is a network on the rise. They have found and filled a niche for family-friendly entertainment and aren’t afraid to present programming with a solid moral foundation. The networks success speaks to the way tens of millions of people in this country live — proud Americans with strong family bonds who strive to make good choices for themselves, their families and others. And many go to church (most) Sundays. Religion is often a personal experience and I tried to incorporate it as a positive but not overwhelming element in "A Mile In His Shoes."

Uplifting entertainment that is real (and not manipulative) can make an audience feel something in their hearts. I’m happy that there’s a place for that in our cynical media landscape. Laughing, crying, loving is part of the human experience. I’m proud to be associated with that. That being said, uplifting movies and storytelling isn’t for everyone.

As a Georgia-based producer, what are your thoughts on the boom in production here? How have you or how do you plan capitalize on it?

I love that there’s so much going on with film and television in Georgia. Each year, more high-profile movies as well as cool indies are filmed here. GMC is an Atlanta-based network and geography was one reason that I hooked up with Brad there. So I feel fortunate to live here and to be around people who work in entertainment. Even in the burbs, I meet crew members who work on shows like "The Walking Dead." Not exactly like L.A. in that regard but still pretty cool.

Zombie-Grass-WM-560.jpg

As a creative producer and screenwriter, the boom in production in Georgia hasn’t been a huge benefit to me since the deals are done and the money is spent by the time production begins on a movie to TV show. The creative decisions and deals for writers, producers, and above the line talent are still handled by the studios and networks based in L.A. and New York. I’m more excited about the creative energy around Atlanta with film festivals, pitch meetings, networking events and more. Definitely lots of opportunities there.

So, what's next?

I’m currently shopping a comedy script called “Planet of the Dates” based on a book about a 16-year old boy’s misadventures with love, dating and sex in the summer of 1980. Its hilarious and has lots of heart. I expect good things in the near future.

I’m very excited about a comic book I’m writing with a very talented local artist. It will also be a screenplay. I can’t tell you what its about but I can say that its inspired by a viral cultural trend and has a built-in following. Hopefully we’ll be doing another interview in a couple years about this project.

I’m also writing another screenplay for GMC and I produce various film-related events in Atlanta including the 24-Hour Film Race each year.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

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