I never knew the late football star Ricky Bell, but bringing his story to the screen has had a profound impact on my life.
Fresh out of school for the second time, I had gone through a series of entertainment industry jobs, learning to play the game, working with the suave, sophisticated agency vice presidents who reek Hollywood. I liked that. The glitz and glamour that is Hollywood satisfied all my self-proclaimed superficial shallow desires to wine, dine and wow the world. But eventually something happened.
I learned you don't have to live "Hollywood" to work "Hollywood," and I learned that powerful perseverance enables one to fend off the doubts of friends, family and business associates and make it happen.
As I worked for various producers, assisting them, analyzing scripts, etc., I realized how truly dispensable I was. So I decided to attach myself to something the industry would want to have--if I "own" it, they would have to take me along for the ride.
Then, five years ago, I obtained the rights to the licensed story of football star Ricky Bell.
I was not an avid football fan but rather someone who recognized that Ricky Bell's greatness on the field was only a small reminder of who he truly was--a great man. This is what I hoped would come through in the CBS film, "Triumph of the Heart: The Ricky Bell Story."
Dennis McDougal's April 2 article ("Called for Interference") about the movie stated that it was "sentimentalized" and its "narrow focus" was "only a small, somewhat fictive slice of the real Ricky Bell story."
It is true that Ricky did do a great many things for a great many people, but that doesn't take away from the love he had for the now-15-year-old Ryan Blankenship, a boy with a speech impediment and dysfunctional arm and leg muscles. That story became the main part of the film.
Ryan, like Ricky, can now find strength in what he can do for others--not what they can do for him. That's what I also discovered as a result of this project, and fortunately, for me, the same philosophy is shared by David Permut, the other producer of the film.
Ricky Bell's story was the first time I ever got the rights for a project. I had no track record. I got them off my passion for his story and because I believed he was more than just a great football player. He was also a great man.
I was very honest with Ricky's family from the beginning, pointing out that when you tell a story, whether on film or TV, there is often a certain license taken. The primary goal here was to tell who the man was, not just to do a story about being a hero. Even when you do paint someone as a hero, it does not mean you don't expose their shortcomings. It's overcoming obstacles that makes someone a hero to begin with. I have a variety of projects in development right now. However, none of them has a message quite like Ricky Bell's story.