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About 200 students and adults were dazzled Friday in the Toledo School for the Arts auditorium by a Hollywood filmmaker's vision for Perfect Season, a docudrama he plans to make in Toledo next year about the city's highly successful professional women's football team of the 1970s, the Toledo Troopers.
But filmmaker Brett Leonard, a Toledo native who has directed Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe, and Anthony Hopkins, said he was equally impressed by the charter school's commitment to the arts.
“This is the most amazing arts school I've ever seen,” Mr. Leonard said while waiting to be introduced to TSA's First Friday audience by Dave Gierke, the school's development director. “It rivals anything I've seen in New York.”
Mr. Leonard is in town pitching the film to potential investors and scouting locations. He expects to begin filming in the spring.
He was invited to visit the school by Elizabeth Emmert, a TSA development consultant he had known as a youth when the two were in the Children's Theatre Workshop.
Mr. Leonard and others involved with the film project began the event by showing a five-minute overview of the film, called a sizzle reel.
A sizzle reel is like a trailer, but is more raw. Also known in the industry as “rip-o-matic,” a sizzle reel is used as a sales pitch for investors and is limited to small gatherings. It is not distributed for TV advertising or online viewing because of copyright laws, Mr. Leonard said.
The special viewing of the clip was followed by nearly an hour of music, dance, and other types of performing arts by the students.
Mr. Leonard is a filmmaker whom the Producers Guild of America and Variety magazine consider one of the Top 25 for digital entertainment and storytelling. He is a 1977 DeVilbiss High School graduate.
Mr. Leonard, son of a former Sherman Elementary School principal and teacher, envisions a movie that tells the story of how the Toledo Troopers made an overlooked contribution to the women's movement in the 1970s by helping advance equality in sports.
The script, written by Toledo natives Guy Stout and Steve Guinan, makes the case that the Troopers proved women can be taken seriously as athletes in sports associated with men. The team won seven consecutive national championships.
Mr. Stout was the Troopers' water boy. His father, the late Bill Stout, owned and coached the team for most of its decade-long existence.
Mr. Leonard and his younger brother, Gregg, the film’s music director, have been in Toledo since the Thanksgiving weekend to lay the groundwork for the film.
Originally planned as a 10-day visit, they and others on this trip said they are likely to stay through late January, with occasional commutes back to their Southern California homes.
The Leonards said they want to keep local momentum going while Hollywood directors, actors, and crews take an extended hiatus during the holidays.
“I'm just going with my gut on this movie. I know it when I see it. That's how most movies in Hollywood are made,” Mr. Leonard said.
The team met with 70 people at an invitation-only event for investors Wednesday night, then took their pitch to Ohio Gov. John Kasich on Thursday.
Mr. Leonard said both meetings went well, as did a separate one with Owens-Corning executives. Owens-Corning was one of the team's major sponsors during the 1970s.
Mr. Leonard said he is “very aligned with the whole philosophy” of the arts school. He said he is impressed by its desire for innovation and its nontraditional approach.
“I gotta tell ya,” he told the audience, “I am blown away by this school and will do what I can to help it.”
That apparently includes having the film's recently hired art director, Travis Witkowski, and his staff housed in the arts school during filming.
During the luncheon, Mr. Leonard said he intends to take the school up on its offer to provide office space, an arrangement he said could give TSA students a chance to mingle with Hollywood professionals.
Mr. Witkowski is another employee of the movie industry with Toledo-area connections. A Sylvania Southview High School graduate, he has worked on such major films as The Dark Knight Rises and Secretariat, according to the IMDb Web site.
While introducing Mr. Leonard to the TSA audience, Mr. Gierke talked about a $1.5 million grant the arts school has obtained to expand offerings.
Those will include a greater emphasis on the cinematic arts. He was thrilled to learn the Leonards want to help set up the program.
“I don't think I've been shaking this much since I got married,” Mr. Gierke told the audience with a chuckle.
Mr. Leonard credited Patricia Kennedy, a founding TSA member and former Toledo Board of Education member, with steering him into the Children's Theatre Workshop as a youth.
He said she encouraged him to pursue a career in the arts. In his teens, he worked in the area as a movie-theater usher.
“She was my first influence,” Mr. Leonard said.
Contact Tom Henry at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6079.