Joe Heath wanted to make a film about Iowa football legend Nile Kinnick for a while, even pitching it to several studios when first moving to California 11 years ago. His efforts were met with little enthusiasm.
“It was the first film I’d ever pitched and I kept hearing the same response; ‘Great story, but nobody knows who he is,’” he said. “I got that over and over, and then I moved back to Iowa City. When they were putting up that new scoreboard, I was walking by and the thought popped into my head ‘I wonder what the world’s biggest movie premiere was.’
“At the time it was 36,000 now it’s 42,0000 and I thought ‘That is something Hawkeye fans could demolish.
“I called back out to the west coast and said ‘What if we premiered it in the stadium for a world-record crowd? With that we could get the Big Ten Network to cover the event and get the word out about the film that way, as well.’
“They said ‘Get that commitment and we’ll make a film.’”
In the early part of this decade, Heath came across a book written by Iowan Tom Lidd, called “Nile”, released in 2008. It told the story of the 1939 Ironmen Team in a mostly true-to-history way, with a few small embellishments for the sake of storytelling. Heath knew he wanted to turn the book into a movie.
Heath tried, unsuccessfully, to track down Tom Lidd on his own, but in the process of obtaining permission to premiere the film at Kinnick Stadium, the University, and most particularly, Mark Jennings, helped get the two in touch.
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Over the next two years, Heath and Lidd worked together to whittle the the 452-page novel into a two-hour script for the upcoming film “The Ironmen”. Since then, it’s been a whirlwind of fundraising, presentations, negotiations, and planning.
A movie studio committed to helping make and direct the film, as well as suppling a large portion of a targeted $15 million budget, with the rest coming through other fundraising efforts. In many cases, films like these are being crowdfunded, but Hollywood distribution deals are, most times, incompatible, so Heath and the rest of his team have been approaching certain accredited investors, some of which they connected with through the I-Club.
“Back in November, we presented the project to the national I-Club, and that was received very well,” Heath said. “Since then we’ve had several that support the school and athletic department financially come on board as investors and we’re just keeping that rolling. Our goal is to wrap up funding in the first quarter of 2018 then go right into pre-production.”
While a director has not been announced officially, there are several well-known names on their radar, with a final decision coming as they wrap up fundraising and begin pre-production.
Once production begins this summer, they plan on filming several scenes on campus in Iowa City, with great care being taken to maintain historical accuracy, presenting Iowa City as it was during that ’39 season that saw Dr. Eddie Anderson lead the Hawkeyes to a 6-1-1 record and Nile Kinnick snag the Heisman Trophy.
Heath said the film looks beyond the football stories familiar to everyone, trying to paint a picture of what this team was feeling during that year.
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“We end up telling a story about that 1939 team, coming off a couple of dismal years and having a new coach come in and turn the situation around,” he said. “(Kinnick) was just a young man that was torn as to what he should do with his time to do the most for everybody else.
“That’s one thing we really focus on is just his attitudes and sacrifices, everything he did to work toward his future that would have been world-changing.”
The movie is currently slated to premiere at Kinnick Stadium in August of ’19 before heading to theaters. Anyone wishing to follow along on the progress can get updates on their official Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/TheIronmenMovie/