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Director's Blog

Filmmaker Curt Hahn takes you way behind the scenes, from how Deadline came to be to its unique distribution strategy.

February 24, 2012

Over 1,000 people + a red carpet = the World Premiere of Deadline.

Curt Hahn and Jackie Welch at the Nashville World Premiere

Wow! If you’d told me that 500 people would pay $25 (and up) to attend Deadline’s premiere that benefited Family & Children’s Service, I would have been thrilled. But we had more than twice that many folks turn out on a rainy evening in Music City, which for at least one night felt more like Movie City!

Check out the red carpet arrivals.

And the reactions to the movie that we cut into a TV spot.

Years of work are coming to fruition as Deadline begins to make its way into the world. We hope you’ll catch Deadline the way it was meant to be seen, in a theater, with people you love.

February 09, 2012

There are two camps about reading your own reviews.

You either devour them or (at least claim to) never look at them. If you’ve been following this blog, you can guess probably guess which side I’m on. I love getting audience feedback. I love sharing our work and ideas and seeing what resonates with people. I love telling the same story to a new audience and tweaking how I do it in hopes that it will be better than the last time. In one extreme case, I’ve even gone back and filmed additional material for a movie I directed after its initial release, because I saw a way to improve it.

Now it’s time for Deadline’s reviews to start rolling in. There will be good ones and bad ones. Hopefully we’ll learn something from all of them. And hopefully the reviews will help people make informed choices as to whether Deadline is the kind of movie they’d appreciate.

So, having sufficiently buried the lede, Deadline just received its first review and it’s a 4 star rave! Renee Green, writing in MovieGuide, gave Deadline their highest star rating in her review titled “A Redemptive Search for Truth”.

“DEADLINE is a powerful movie with a very strong Christian, redemptive worldview about the search for truth and justice when two murders 19 years apart strike a racially charged town in Alabama…Matt and Bullock’s adventures in solving this case take them into the communities, homes, and hearts of both whites and blacks living in Amos that was once overtly dominated by the Ku Klux Klan.

One judge now controls the small town of Amos. He and the rest of the town have very little to say about Sampson’s murder. Two exceptions are a fiery African American preacher in Amos, and Trey, a wealthy, intelligent, beautiful southern belle…

The story in DEADLINE is driven by intrigue and the hope of uncovering the truth. The interesting characters also keep viewers engaged, and some seemingly dead ends keep viewers guessing.

DEADLINE wastes little time or space giving just the right amount of exposition to ground viewers in the story, while also building suspense. Even the computer-generated graphics used to display the credits as newspaper headlines while Matt drives his sports car to his next news story drive the plot along…

DEADLINE has a very strong Christian worldview with church scenes and scenes with preaching and praying. Also, the movie depicts the power of forgiveness on many fronts throughout the movie. This strong redemptive theme finds a satisfying resolution. Overall, the scenes are well established and well filmed with good sound design and credible characters that lend authenticity to the movie, which was inspired by a true story. Racism and a demand for truth and justice are other prevalent themes that drive the plot. Caution is advised for older children due to brief foul language, use of the “n” word, and some adult themes."

Not all reviews will be as kind to Deadline, but this sure is a wonderful way to start! (As a point of comparison, MovieGuide recently gave both Red Tails and War Horse 3 stars. Deadline topped George Lucas and Steven Spielberg!)

February 04, 2012

We were thrilled when the vast majority of The Newseum audience stayed and asked many great questions.

Deadline screenwriter Mark Ethridge, Newseum CEO Jim Duff, First Amendment Center founder John Seigenthaler, former Congressman Bob Clement and Deadline executive producer Hunter Atkins
The Newseum audience

One of the first ones Mark got was one he always gets: “How much of Deadline is true?” And Mark’s answer: “It’s not all factual, but it’s all true.”

It’s more than a cute quip. Here’s one example.

The ‘real’ Trey Hall was a 30-something year-old man who had been educated in elite Northern schools, just like our lead character Matt Harper. It wouldn’t work cinematically to have two main characters who were so similar, so we decided early on to make Trey a just-out-of-college earnest young idealist. Then our editor Bob Gordon’s wife Dolly suggested that everything would be more interesting if Trey Hall were a young woman. Boy was she right! Every scene Trey was in instantly became more complex and compelling. We had to re-write some scenes to make the most of Trey’s change of gender, but the spirit of Trey’s character – as the person of means who wouldn’t allow the story of Wallace Sampson’s murder to die – is faithfully intact.

Mark and I worked together to make many such improvements, while always remaining true to the heart of the story of a young man in a tiny Southern town who was killed for no other reason than being an African-American in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the reporters who uncover the truth and bring the guilty to justice.

And that’s the truth.

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January 31, 2012

We've been planning a private screening at The Newseum for over a year.

Deadline director Curt Hahn
Deadline screenwriter Mark Ethridge
First Amendment Center founder John Seigenthaler

We thought it would be the perfect place to introduce Deadline, given its connection to the newspaper industry and beautiful huge theater. But imagine how honored we were to be invited to also make it a Congressional Screening hosted by Rep. Jim Cooper, D-TN. And we felt confident given the astounding number of RSVPs – over 400 in the first two days alone.

Nevertheless, there are always concerns. The Newseum staff tried to talk us out of doing our Q&A after the movie, because they had done a movie event last year with George Clooney and were embarrassed when folks didn’t stay for the Q&A. Washington isn’t a late night town. But we felt a Q&A before the movie wouldn’t work. After all, Mark was the journalist who lived the actual events of Deadline and then wrote the novel and the screenplay. In previous private screenings folks had plenty of questions for him. So, forewarned, we rolled the dice and went with the Q&A afterwards.

We were also worried about filling the 450 seat theater.

Neither one was an issue.

After a lovely welcome from Newseum CEO Jim Duff, legendary journalist John Seigenthaler introduced Deadline. It was incredibly powerful and made me hope that the movie would live up to the expectations he set.

Within 15 minutes, I knew the audience was with us. This was by far the most engaged audience we've ever had for Deadline. They LOVED it. The applause at the end was sincere and sustained as Mark & I took the stage for the Q&A. Almost everyone stayed for the entire 25 minute Q&A, asking great questions. Mark was fantastic and we received another warm round of applause at the conclusion, followed by dozens of well-wishers coming down to greet us.

Does it get any better than this?

There are precious few times in your life when you know that the moment you are living will stay with you for a lifetime. Last Wednesday at The Newseum was one of those magical moments.

January 28, 2012

Most movies use a wide variety of music including previously-recorded songs, an instrumental score and sometimes even a song or two written expressly for the movie.

Deadline has all three. What makes the music for Deadline unique is that all three categories of music are composed and performed by the same person – the inimitable Dave Perkins.

One of the best parts of making movies in Music City is the depth and breadth of musical talent here. There’s no better example than Dave. I was marveling at his latest album Pistol City Holiness when it hit me – this music is the soundtrack for Deadline. Dave’s gritty, raucous, rootsy blend of blues, rock and more captures the essence of Deadline perfectly and gives the movie a distinctive sense of place. Several cuts from Pistol City are used in Deadline, as well as an incredible score Dave composed and performs. He even wrote several new songs for the movie, including the title track.

If you could hear it all together, or even in a contiguous stream, Dave’s musical career comes off like an exercise in extremes.  Dave goes to those extremes to create the soundtrack for Deadline.  The movie’s narrative demands that a musical bridge be built between the traditional rural South, and the shiny, new urban South of cities like Atlanta, Nashville and Charlotte.  Pulling, on one hand, from his experience playing bluegrass and swing jazz with fiddle maestro Vassar Clements, blues and jazz with Papa John Creach, and Texas renegade-Country with Jerry Jeff Walker and, on the other hand, from his work in modern and industrial rock with Chagall Guevara and Passafist, Dave builds that bridge.

While traveling Deadline’s musical narrative, the listener will encounter a number of human issues that continue to cause concern and action – racial and economic inequality, human worth, stereotype, justice, redemption and love.  The music embodies these themes quietly with solo acoustic guitar or banjo and, on the other sonic and stylistic extreme, with the full force of modern computer-driven beats and explosive guitars.  Once the listener crosses Dave’s musical bridge in Deadline, he or she can look back and see the bridge for what it is.  All aspects considered, the Deadline soundtrack is a Blues with many movements.   After all, if there is one music that cries the pain of the South’s troubled past but also sings the spirit of its hope for the future, it is the Blues.

January 11, 2012

Did anyone see The Help coming?

Yes it was a huge best-seller, but not many observers expected the movie to become the break-out hit of the summer. Just as we were putting the finishing touches on Deadline, The Help exploded, targeting much the same audience we are. A Southern story about racial injustice and the intertwined lives of black and white families struggling to find a way forward – that could aptly describe both movies. And while Deadline is not the same movie – it focuses on a racially-motivated unsolved murder – the same heartfelt emotion that propelled The Help is at the core of Deadline.

Our challenge is to let everyone who was moved by The Help know about Deadline, a movie that proves that justice – even long-delayed justice – is possible.

December 30, 2011

For almost four years, we’ve been nurturing Deadline from dream to reality.

Earlier this year we had private screenings of the almost-completed movie. After editing the film on a TV screen, it’s essential to see it on the big screen in a real theater with an audience. More and more, we’re watching movies on a small screen, but nothing compares to seeing a movie in a theater with an audience that’s into the film, laughing at the jokes, reacting aloud to the scary moments, tearing up during the emotional parts. We always learn from these screenings, asking for written feedback and polishing the editing as a result.

One of the things we asked in our questionnaire was, 'Does Deadline remind you of any other movies?' The top answer was To Kill a Mockingbird, followed closely by A Time to Kill and The Help. Deadline isn’t as violent as A Time to Kill, (Deadline is rated PG-13 due to some mature thematic material) but we're incredibly honored to have called to mind such wonderful, important movies.

Deadline is an emotionally-charged movie about a serious subject. So the biggest surprise from our first test screening was just how funny the audience found Deadline in places. They didn’t just smile at the funny parts, they laughed out loud, especially at some of Ronnie Bullock’s (Eric Roberts) lines. We actually had to edit in some pauses to allow time for the audience’s reaction.

We also tested our trailer and made significant improvements to it as well. As a result, we have a new trailer that most of our test audience rates a 10 on a scale of 1 to 10.

Some filmmakers hate test screenings, afraid that the executives involved with the film will order inane changes based on a few viewers’ reactions. As both the executive and the filmmaker, I don’t have that worry. I simply want to make the best movie possible, and love getting feedback from our audience. That doesn’t mean I incorporate every suggestion – in fact, many of them are directly contradictory to each other – but, done properly, audience feedback plays an important role in crafting the final movie. Our test screenings with over 800 people made Deadline a much better movie.

December 21, 2011

Nothing’s revolutionized filmmaking more than inexpensive, high quality digital cameras.

In the 80’s we shot everything on 35mm film. Our Arri BL4S cost over a quarter of a million dollars. Eleven minutes of film cost roughly a thousand dollars. Today pro HD cameras start at under ten thousand dollars and there’s no cost for film.

That makes it affordable to shoot with several cameras simultaneously which saves a ton of time. When we’re filming in an open area – such as The Tennessean’s newsroom – we typically roll three or even four cameras. In film-style shooting you’d usually only have one camera, so you’d have to film your master shot and close ups one after another. Not only does that take longer, it makes editing more challenging due to matching issues, since actors seldom perform each take exactly the same way.

But even more than saving time, the biggest benefit to shooting with multiple cameras is what it does for the actors. Instead of having to come back after lunch to shoot their close ups, all the actors are getting their close ups at the same time, so each actor is working at performance level all the time. And when that magical take happens, you’re immediately on to the next scene. We actually had days at The Tennessean where we shot almost ten pages in a day, which is twice what would be considered a good day.

December 15, 2011

I’ve just wrapped up a grueling and gratifying around the world trip to promote Deadline.

Starting at home in Nashville and then going to Denver, Los Angeles, Sidney, Cannes, London and New York, I’ve burned a bunch of frequent flyer miles to spread the word, hosting private screenings for distributors, social justice leaders and members of the press.

The response has been amazing. Some folks in the States had questioned whether Deadline’s quintessentially Southern story would play overseas. The answer’s a resounding Yes! Indian filmmaker and Chair of the Selection Committee for the International Film Festival of India Mike Pandey told me Deadline should be released in India. "Deadline truly moved me. It touched my heart. No, it touched my soul."

Hank Klibanoff, Pulitzer Prize winner, Professor of Journalism at Emory University and Managing Editor of The Civil Rights Cold Case Project wrote, “I cannot wait to see Deadline again. It's been so much on my mind since the screening that I am hungry to see, hear, learn more about it. It's a wonderful movie, full of great stories and beautifully executed.”

And Dr. Linda Seger, a script consultant on over 2,000 scripts and author of Making a Good Script Great wrote,Deadline is an important, terrific movie, with the kind of compelling story and fascinating characters that made The Help so engaging. It’s beautifully acted and directed.”

Reactions like these make all the long hours more than worth it. We can’t wait for you to see Deadline in a theater near you in 2012!

December 02, 2011

There are two parts of movie finance, the production budget and the P&A (prints and advertising) budget.

Most filmmakers work incredibly hard, often for years, to secure the funding to get a movie made. But when a movie’s finished that’s when the most expensive part of the process begins – securing the funding to make the prints and promote the movie in theaters. Hollywood studios spend a fortune advertising new movies. Since we can’t compete with that financially, we need all the support we can get, both from the press (which appreciates Deadline’s story of two investigative reporters solving a racially-motivated murder) and from you.

Now that Deadline’s finished and we have our Deadline Premiere Tour plan in place, we’re continuing to raise P&A. As part of that effort, we’ve just launched a Kickstarter campaign to allow us to bring Deadline to more theaters in more places and the pledges are already coming in.

By pre-ordering tickets and Deadline DVDs you’ll help us take our Deadline Premiere Tour to as many cities as possible beginning in February. Click the link to learn more:

Deadline on Kickstarter

We believe Deadline is an important movie that needs to be seen in as many places as possible. We really appreciate your help making that happen.