Last November we announced that Bill Duke was prepping a film project on boxer Joe Louis.
Duke teamed up with producers Gil Adler and Joel Eisenberg, inking a deal with holders of rights to Lewis’ story (Fran Kirmser and Tony Ponturo of Kirmser Ponturo Group) that will see Duke co-produce and direct the film, which will focus on Louis’ historic two fights with German boxer Max Schmeling.
In the summer of 2014, Fran Kirmser and her producing partner Tony Ponturo (the producing team behind recent sports-related Broadway shows – like “Lombardi,” about the Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi, and “Magic/Bird,” about the friendship between basketball legends Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Larry Bird) acquired exclusive global, theatrical and movie rights to boxing great Joe Louis’ life story. But no specifics on any planned projects, whether for the stage of for screen, were announced at that time. So this will be the first deal that I’m aware of.
You will also recall that Spike Lee had long been working with the late screenwriter Budd Schulberg on a film about boxer Joe Louis when the writer passed away – a project that was announced about a decade prior, and which Lee has never been able to make.
Spike’s film was to focus on the life and times of the heavyweight champ, a project he was reportedly set to shoot the summer after the project was initially announced, in 2000, after famously losing out to Michael Mann for the job of directing Warner Bros’ Muhammad Ali biopic, which starred Will Smith.
Lee had acquired the rights to Louis’ life story from the late champ’s son, the aforementioned Joe Louis Barrow Jr, and was developing the script in tandem with boxing expert Bert Randolph Sugar and sceenwriting legend Schulberg. It was to focus on the political implications of Louis’ reign as heavyweight champ, with particular focus on his two battles with Schmeling in 1936 and 1938. Lee planned to concentrate on the symbolic roles that both men played – Louis, a hero for Black Americans in then a segregated America, and Schmeling, touted by Hitler as the ultimate Nazi fighting machine.
And after last year’s announcement that rights had been picked up by Kirmser/Ponturo, I wondered whether the duo would consider Spike as director of any feature film they decide to make on Louis’ life; I wondered whether they would then get behind “Save Us, Joe Lewis.” That’s obviously not happening with Bill Duke now directing.
Announced this week, Duke, along with producers Gil Adler and Joel Eisenberg, have now launched a crowdfunding campaign to help kickstart the film. The goal is to raise $200,000 via Seed and Spark in the next 30 days: “The filmmakers have decided to crowdfund the ‘development’ of this feature – and only the development as opposed to fully financing the project in this manner – for a very specific reason. In the world of Hollywood, studios will typically fund all or most of a project, including this phase. By doing so they will typically insist upon all decision-making, as only their money is entirely at risk. By you supporting us and donating to this project, we will bring our expertise and the “completed” development of this very special story to the financiers of the film’s production and post-production phases. This way, the story of Joe Louis and Max Schmeling retains its integrity and the filmmakers’ vision. Our effort to raise the development funds necessary to prep this project, with your contribution, will assist us in moving forward towards our full funding, by mitigating the risk of this amazing story becoming a “fictionalized” or otherwise questionable version of events.”
Of course there are several perks that go along with each contribution level, so watch the pitch video below, and if you’re sold, head over to the project’s campaign page and chip in: