[This articled first appeared in BroadwayWorld]
Earlier this season Frank Calo and All Out Arts in conjunction with The Wild Project presented an LGBT Film Event as part of the Fresh Fruit Festival: a reading of Johnny B. Dunn’s new screenplay, FREE RANGE.
It’s a bullying story with a few new twists. National rodeo champion and local hero, Chad Raines, returns home to his father’s ranch after a bull-riding accident to contemplate the end of his career. Father & son are tormented by the loss of Chad’s mother and his brother, whose cries for help went unanswered … until it was too late. Unable to reconcile with his guilt, Chad turns to drugs and liquor.
Here is where Dunn’s tome becomes even more topical and unusual at the same time. The heterosexual rodeo champion – plagued by memories of past actions – seeks redemption by coaching a group of bullied LGBTQ high school students in his state’s rodeo competition. Chad agrees to coach the local high school Gay/Straight Alliance (GSA) to prepare them for a rodeo. Meanwhile, this rodeo would be pitting another brother against brother. Toby, president of the local GSA will compete against Mark, the president of the Rodeo club. They, like Chad and his deceased brother, don’t see eye-to-eye … to say the least, with Toby battling for respect and Mark, emerging as one of the harassers of the GSA. With the seminal event (the Rodeo) impending and haunted by the memory of his brother, who – because of bullying – committed suicide, Chad must decide – like his father and the entire town – what side he’s on.
The reading received highly positive mentions from Jed Ryan of LavendarAfterDark, Evan Meena from Indie-Pictures-Blog, and this commentary from celebrated journalist and playwright, Doug DeVita:
“As a story, “Free Range” builds and sustains interest through its atmospheric dialogue, colorful locations, tense action, and the people one just plain loves, loves to hate, and/or hates to love. And as a potential film, the screenplay has that emotional arc that grabs its audience right from the beginning and takes them along for the sometimes wild ride, getting them rooting for Chad and the students right up through the exciting, and emotionally true, finale. With bullying – of all stripes – once again on the rise, it’s time for a story, and film, like “Free Range” to be told, and shown, to the widest audience possible.”
Interest in turning the screenplay into an independent film has grown greatly in the last few months with producer, Connie Hoy, joining the team.
Connie has worked in the film industry for over twenty- five years. She began her independent film journey by working under such directors as the Coen Brothers, Jim Jarmusch, and Kathryn Bigelow. Her most recent film, BATTLECREEK was released theatrically a year ago. It was directed by Alison Eastwood and starred Bill Skarsgard, Paula Malcomson, Claire van der Boom & Delroy Lindo. Connie produced the 2010 documentary THE HEART IS A DRUM MACHINE which looks at why humans make and love music. In 2010 Connie produced the upcoming feature film QUEENS OF COUNTRY. QUEENS stars Lizzy Caplan, Ron Livingston, Joe Lo Truglio & Matt Walsh. Connie was presented with the 1998 Arizona Women in Film “Vision” award for her contributions to the Arizona film community and her directorial debut HACK. Connie’s credits include Jim Jarmusch’s DEAD MAN starring Johnny Depp & Gaberial Byrne, MYSTERY TRAIN starring Steve Buschemi & Joe Strummer, RAISING ARIZONA, BILL & TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE and NEAR DARK Directed by Oscar winner Kathryn Bigelow.
Sizzle reels and Look Books are being coordinated through the offices of Jay Michaels Arts & Entertainment. JMAE has overseen the promotion of independent films including the documentary, HEART OF THE COMMUNITY (about media mogul Steven Ross); film shorts, TWELVE FINGERS; NORMAN; feature lengths, BENEATH THE ROCK; THE WATCHTOWER; and Creative Ammo’s Downtown Urban Arts Film Festival at the TriBeCa Film Center. As a producer, JMAE credits include SLINGS & ARROWS (based on Hamlet); the short film about the automotive industry, CODE RED, and the period piece, EARTHMEN. Currently JMAE has FREE RANGE and filmmaker, Marc Baron’s MEGGABALLS on solicitation.
Screenwriter, Johnny B. Dunn, known for his unique stories, characterization and dialogue, has several awards on his own gun-belt. FREE RANGE: Winner, One in Ten International Competition; SOULS IN A VOID: Winner-First Place, Gemini International Playwriting Competition; FINDING ROOM: Finalist, 2011 BlueCat Screenplay Competition; LOVE RESTORED: Finalist in the Buffalo/Niagara Film Festival screenwriting competition.
“It’s a story that needs to be told,” said Dunn, to Jed Ryan of Lavender After-Dark. Citing similar works, Dunn mentioned the success of BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN: “… research showed that people drove in for miles to see it.” But Dunn is very clear whom he wants his audience to be, “It needs to stay PG-13! It needs to stay at a level that would be welcome to anyone. I think if you had something rated PG-13, it would really be cool if parents went with their kids to go see it, as a way of beginning to build acceptance.”
To learn more, contact Jay Michaels Arts & Entertainment at 646-338-5472 or JMAE.firstname.lastname@example.org.