We’ve dreamed of the Bills returning to the top of the heap after nearly two decades of mediocrity or worse.
Now Hollywood thinks that dream may worth telling, too.
Here’s the plot: a Bills general manager with the first overall pick in the NFL draft wheels and deals to restock his roster and restore the franchise to respectability.
That’s the storyline for the screenplay “Draft Day.”
Ivan Reitman (“Ghostbusters” and “Stripes”) is supposed to be the director. Kevin Costner (“Bull Durham,” “Tin Cup” and “Field of Dreams”) would play the general manager, according to sources here and in Hollywood.
But here’s the latest hitch: The film could be shot outside of Buffalo thanks to the high costs of producing films upstate, particularly in the Buffalo area.
The film project was described by knowledgeable sources as “dead in the water” as recently as last month.
It has been resuscitated in recent weeks, though, thanks to its ranking atop “The Black List” of Hollywood’s top unproduced screenplays.
The 78-item list was developed through an industry survey of 290 top Hollywood executives. And that list has proven a worthy gauge for Hollywood success since being developed in 2005 by Franklin Leonard. A pair of the last four best picture Oscar winners – “Slumdog Millionaire” and “The King’s Speech” – were also once Black List scripts.
“(The Black List) serves as a barometer as to what is considered the most appealing script with the most commercial potential,” said Tatiana Siegel, film reporter for the Hollywood Reporter.
“Draft Day” placed first with 65 votes, besting the two second-highest unproduced screenplays, “A Country of Strangers” and “Seuss,” which received 43 votes each.
Siegel said she was confident the film now has “a good chance” to be produced.
“Kevin Costner is at it again with ‘Hatfields & McCoys.’ Certainly, having someone of that stature and as the No. 1 Black List screenplay will enhance its chances,” Siegel said. “But, I don’t believe anything is guaranteed until the cameras are rolling.”
Paramount Pictures had early rights to the film, but sources told The Buffalo News – and several national online entertainment publications also reported – that Lionsgate Films most recently acquired the rights.
When reached by phone and questioned about the fate of the film’s planned location, Tim Clark, the film commissioner for the Buffalo Niagara Film Office, declined official comment.
Sources told The News, however, that Ohio, Michigan, Georgia and Louisiana are among the locations being seriously considered as Buffalo alternatives.
That’s a frequent – and troubling – theme, according to industry insiders.
High production costs were the chief reason Matt Damon told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last week that his recently released movie about hyrdrofracking, “Promised Land,” was filmed in metropolitan Pittsburgh instead of upstate New York. It also weighed heavily into why Keanu Reeve’s 2010 movie “Henry’s Crime,” which was set in Buffalo, was filmed mostly downstate.
Other films over the last decade or so, like “Bruce Almighty,” “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “The Factory,” further bolster the evidence.
“Quite honestly, Buffalo is one of the most expensive places to shoot a union movie,” one source told The News. “These guys would come here and shoot here if they could justify it.”
Siegel said decisions regarding any planned location for shooting “Draft Day” would not have been determined. She doesn’t believe location will play any impact in whether the film is produced but acknowledged that finances do play a large role in what movies get made.
“The international box office has become increasingly important,” said Siegel, explaining that sports movies, especially showcasing American-style football, are considered “risky” and “have to be made in a fiscally responsible manner.”
“They could very easily shoot it in Canada and ... it could make it look like Buffalo,” said Siegel, using exterior shots of Buffalo-area landmarks and the like.
Several factors are at play that seem to stack the deck against the Queen City, including the costs of travel, per diem costs and a dearth of local crew members represented by the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees, the union representing professional stagehands, motion picture technicians and allied crafts. Because so many of those members reside in New York City, they would have to travel and be housed in the Buffalo Niagara region.
That’s the reason State Sen. Patrick Gallivan is introducing a bill that would balance the playing field to get a more equitable piece of the $420 million annual state tax incentives for film production in New York State. Since an additional funding pool was enacted in the state budget by the State Legislature in 2010 under the New York State Film Production Credit, more than $1 billion in state money has been used to lure films to the Empire State.
Upstate cities Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse, along with the North Country, have received less than $1 million of that in total – or less than 0.1 percent.
“New York City is unlike any other place – we can’t replicate New York City in Buffalo or Rochester,” Gallivan admitted. “Where we’re losing out is when they need a nice country scene or suburban scene, you see them go to Massachusetts.”
Gallivan alluded to Damon’s comments reported in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that said greater Pittsburgh won the location for “Promised Land” over upstate New York because “it’s always a money thing.”
Said Damon: “They both had the look that we wanted, and they both had incentives. What happens when you have incentives in a place, a lot of work comes there and then, when a lot of work comes there, you get local people who are a really good crew because they’re working all the time.”
In Pittsburgh, a local crew was available. In Buffalo and throughout upstate New York, not so much.
“We’re losing out on many opportunities that are going to Pittsburgh and Ohio or the outskirts of Toronto,” said Gallivan, who proposes a tiered benefit approach to divvying up the state incentive money for film designed to “level the playing field for Western New York and upstate New York and attract additional filmmaking productions.”
“Our idea is not to allocate more funding for it, just let it be carved up differently,” Gallivan said.
Gallivan said the actual percentage breakdown in his bill, which he introduced at the Senate’s opening session last week, was “subject to change” and is but a starting point.