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Published: Thursday, 3/22/2012

'Deadline' premieres in Toledo, a week ahead of national release


Based on a true story of two journalists who uncover a decade-old murder mystery, Deadline is an unapologetic reminder of the value of newspapers, and a celebration of hard-hitting investigative journalism.

It should come as no surprise that Deadline's screenwriter, Mark Etheridge III, is a former newspaper man, with print journalism in his DNA. His grandfather was a newspaper publisher; his father was an editor, including at the Detroit Free Press; and his daughter a reporter for the Congressional Quarterly. Etheridge is still involved in journalism as president of Carolina Parenting Inc., which publishes several parenting magazines in North Carolina, and also works with a chain of business journals headquartered in Charlotte.

"[Deadline] is in some ways a love note to the business," the 62-year-old said in a phone interview. "Newspaper editors tend to spend a lot of time discussing how bad society would be without newspapers, but this is Hollywood coming up with the same message, delivered in a more popular and accessible way.

"We need to support our local journalists and newspapers. I think the world would be a lot worse off without good solid enterprise reporting."

Etheridge, along with others involved in the film, including director Curt Hahn, are in the midst of a cross-country tour to promote Deadline. The film opens nationwide April 13, but has its Toledo premiere at 6 p.m. Monday at Rave Franklin Park 16, 5001 Monroe St. A Q&A with the filmmakers will follow the screening. Tickets prices begin at $25. The event, hosted by The Blade, benefits Boys & Girls Club of Toledo.

Deadline is based on Etheridge's 2006 first novel, Grievances, as well as a real-life investigation by he and a fellow reporter at the Charlotte Observer in the 1970s. In the book and film, the plot begins with a story tip from an idealistic 19-year-old woman, estranged from her small-town Alabama family, who wants to see a murder solved and justice served. In real life, it was an idealistic 30-year-old man from a small town in Allendale County, S.C., also estranged from his family, who approached a young Etheridge about the unsolved murder of a teenaged black male.

"It was one of those crazy stories," Etheridge said, "where you gotta listen."

The story got even crazier, involving a high-level cover-up.

"That led to a whole series of stories," he said. "There were some grand jury indictments and a trial. It was something I always wanted to write about."

The film stars Steve Talley as Matt Harper, Etheridge's onscreen persona, and Eric Roberts as Ronnie Bullock, his wild, gun-toting newspaper partner. What viewers see of the redneck Bullock is real, Etheridge said, "I didn't have to make any of that up."

But he did take dramatic license with real life to make for a better semi-fictional book and movie.

"You take the most dramatic parts of your life and move them around to make a good story better," he said. "What I like to say is, it's not all factual, but it's all true."

Contact Kirk Baird at kbaird@theblade.com or 419-724-6734.

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