REGIONAL- Some dreams come true in an instant, as if by magic. Most require time, hard work, and perseverance to achieve.Screenwriter John Montague, a native Minnesotan, had no notion that launching …
REGIONAL- Some dreams come true in an instant, as if by magic. Most require time, hard work, and perseverance to achieve.
Screenwriter John Montague, a native Minnesotan, had no notion that launching his film “Way of the Warriors,” a family-friendly drama about small-town hockey set in Eveleth and the surrounding Iron Range, would be easy. He knows the independent film industry, and to realize his vision he knows he needs to attract investors who have choices on where they’ll place their money.
“Making an independent feature film is an incredibly difficult endeavor,” Montague said. “It often does get lonely because you feel like you’re pushing this huge boulder up a hill.”
He and his supporters tried tackling one hill in 2018, attempting to raise $700,000 through a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo, a well-known website that’s hosted hundreds of thousands of fundraising efforts. They came up well short of that, garnering just over $40,000 in commitments before the campaign ended.
Montague remained undaunted. He knew there was a place for a film that not only celebrated the world of Iron Range hockey but spoke to greater truths about how a coach, a team, and a community can overcome life’s deepest challenges with hard work and belief in something greater. As a player, coach, and hockey dad, he’s lived it, and he believes “Way of the Warriors” will resonate with audiences in the same way hits like “Hoosiers” and “Friday Night Lights” connected with people beyond the sports of basketball and football.
There were other ways to engage people in fundraising, but Montague also knew that to pull off a film with an estimated $7 million budget he would have to find major film investors to buy into his vision. He’s had some success, but his commitment to making an authentic movie filmed in Minnesota presented a challenge greater than filming elsewhere. Minnesota, he said, doesn’t offer the kinds of tax incentives and other forms of public support that have drawn filmmakers to Georgia, Texas, and especially Canada.
“It became an issue that if we made the movie in Minnesota, it was going to cost us too much money,” Montague said. “Without the tax incentives and the things that make the project more attractive to investors, we were stuck.”
Moving production to Canada was an option, and Montague said he had nothing but praise for the Canadian film industry and the support independent filmmakers can get there, but for now he’s trying to stay true to his vision.
“To me it was more about the heart of this movie,” he said. “It’s your quintessential Minnesota story. It’s about Minnesota hockey. We want to make this a community experience. If we tried to make this in Canada, the authenticity of this would fail, and the spirit would fail.”
That means recruiting local hockey players in each of the towns the Warriors would compete against, he said. It also means lining up local fans of those teams to fill the stands when game action is filmed. Montague has recruited “captains” in each of the featured towns to spearhead those recruiting efforts.
Meanwhile, Montague kept on with the financial side, pushing production from 2019 to 2020 as he continued pursuing supporters and investors, and he had some success. While not in a position to start filming in February, he’d secured over half the investment he needed, he said.
Then, the coronavirus pandemic arrived, and the economy took a nosedive. Not only was it impossible to recruit additional investors in the midst of all the mayhem, all the uncertainty about the future led Montague to do an honorable but difficult thing – he returned all the money he had in escrow to the investors he’d recruited.
“This has been a crazy period we’ve all lived through,” he said. “We all know this is temporary and we’re going to get through this. That said, what we’re dealing with right now as a nation and a globe is more than a health crisis. We’re fully prepared we may lose some of our investors.”
But chances are better that Montague will retain those investors after the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board agreed to reimburse up to $375,000 of local production costs. While Montague is grateful for the monetary support, it also gives him something he lacked before, the support of a Minnesota government-based agency.
“It doesn’t fill the entire gap by any stretch, but it certainly helps,” he said. “It tells the people who are investing in our project that there is support from the state and the Mesabi, whereas last year it didn’t look like there was support. This puts us in a much stronger position to move forward.”
Montague also has experienced Hollywood directing and acting talent committed to the film and is pursuing numerous actors with film and television experience. If everything comes together, the film could begin shooting in February 2021.
“I’m incredibly blessed the story has inspired others to want to get involved,” he said. “The story has really connected with people on a deeper level to where they feel this is a story that needs to be told.
“There are a lot of people who read the script who approached me and said ‘This has to get made.’”
And with the world of streaming movie services exploding and on the lookout for quality films to add to their offerings, Montague is confident that once the movie is made he’ll have viable opportunities to distribute it. While a limited release in movie theaters is likely, “Way of the Warriors” will likely find its extended audience online.
“The introduction of the streamers has really changed the whole landscape of film distribution,” Montague said. “You used to have a very limited number of distributers that were focused on the theatrical market. There were only so many theater screens you could reach. All of a sudden you have Apple, Amazon, Netflix that come along. They’ve developed great expertise in delivering content. They’ve really changed the landscape.”
Montague’s dream remains bright, but it’s wisely tempered by pragmatism.
“Right now, there’s still a lot of uncertainty about where things are going to be in our country this fall and even going into the winter and 2021 with the pandemic,” he said. “We have to move forward confidently but we have to be wise. We’re only going to move forward with production if it’s a prudent situation.”
About the movie
(from the FilmNorth website)
“They say there’s more to life than hockey, but not in Eveleth. This small mining town in Northern Minnesota obsesses over their high school hockey team even though it’s been many years since they once dominated the State of Hockey. The fortunes of their town and hockey team have paralleled the ups and downs of the mining industry which has been steadily declining. This season brings added significance and pressure as Head Coach Jake Murray prepares to lead a team that includes his two sons, Brooks and Tate Murray. Rising tensions in their home and community also challenge Jake’s marriage with his loving wife Kelly.
After the start of another disappointing season that is riddled with challenges both on and off the ice, Jake learns that more than just his team is failing. A battle with terminal cancer will make this his final season. As he struggles to accept his fate, Kelly helps him find a greater spirit of gratitude, purpose and peace. With a renewed faith and connectedness, Jake learns to fully appreciate life and embraces the “way of the warrior” as a father, husband, teacher and coach. His new spirit and approach serve to deeply inspire his family, friends, students and players. Ultimately, Coach Murray instills in his team – and, by proxy, the town itself – a renewed sense of passion and pride, bonded by their strong Iron Range heritage and values.”