The Family Film Hollywood Didn't Want To Make

The Perfect Game

True stories about underdogs overcoming all odds are concepts Hollywood has made into movies many times. The Blind Side is a recent example of a true story adaptation which won Sandra Bullock her first Academy Award as a leading actress and topped the box office for weeks.

A new film THE PERFECT GAME has many similar elements to The Blind Side except the sport is baseball, the story originates in Mexico and moves to the United States, the leads play Mexicans, and no A-List stars. Hollywood passed up THE PERFECT GAME perhaps because of these elements but the filmmakers continued to play ball and eventually hit a home run after six years.  THE PERFECT GAME hits movie theaters starting April 16 but the trip from first base to the home plate was a rough run.

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In 1957, a rag–tag group of boys formed a baseball team under the guidance of Cesar, an aspiring Major League Coach thwarted by discrimination. Armed with the dream of playing a real Little League game, the young players defy a lack of resources, disapproving parents, and widespread prejudices of the time to score a major victory at the Little League World Series.
Cheech Marin, Clifton Collins Jr star in THE PERFECT GAME
Surprisingly the story had never been told on celluloid except for a 1960 Mexican documentary, Los pequeños gigantes (The Little Giants). Cheech Marin plays the warm-hearted priest helping the kids achieve their dreams in THE PERFECT GAME and he told CineMovie he was in Little League himself when he saw the documentary and felt inspired by the film.  "They were like the Beatles for us." 

MOVIE CLIP:  Cheech Marin's Priest Helps The Boys Recruit

Writer and producer William Winokur also felt the inspiration after watching Los pequeños gigantes in 2004 and decided to bring the story to life. He wrote a book based on the true events and screenplay to shop around Hollywood.  

"We wanted to make a commercially viable film for kids. The reality is, unfortunately, that Mexicans in movies are stereotyped as drug dealers, gang members, and maids. We wanted to show that culture in a heroic light not a stereotypical way," said Winokur.  

In addition, Winokur and Dear decided to shoot the true story in English for universal appeal.  Despite it's marketable value, the filmmaking team struck out with the studio system and THE PERFECT GAME was financed outside the Hollywood system.  

Actor Benjamin Bratt (Blood In, Blood Out, Miss Congeniality) has his own experience with Hollywood rejection.  His new filmBenjamin Bratt stars in La MISSION project La Mission directed by his brother Peter Bratt tells the story of hard-core Chicano played by Benjamin struggling to accept his son's homosexuality.  La MISSION is in limited theaters in New York and Los Angeles with expansion to more cities throughout April but like THE PERFECT GAME, the journey to the big screen was a struggle.

"It's a question of commerce.  The number one thing that dictates what gets made in this town IS money", said the Piñero star. "Large studios and very large independent companies won't take on the subject matter if they can't see a market.  Surprisingly when we first took the story [La MISSION] out to what are considered traditional forms of funding, they didn't get where they could market it. If they can't understand where and how to market it, they are not interested because they can't make money." 

While La MISSION'S subject matter is quite different than THE PERFECT GAME, THE PERFECT GAME'S family-friendly and baseball-themed premise should have been a shoe in for pick up from a studio or indie labels but the answer kept coming back 'no.'

In 2007, the independently-financed production began on THE PERFECT GAME in Monterrey, Mexico - the real location of the story but four weeks into shooting, the "money stopped" according to Cheech Marin who jokes that he felt "broke" when it happened. However, the producers assured Cheech they would resume immediately.   "'So we're going to regroup and back in two weeks in L.A.' they told me."  Eight months later, I thought the movie was gone but they called me and told me the film has been revived and we're gonna start all over." The Perfect Game movie poster

When funding resumed, they started from scratch with new cast members and a new location -- Santa Clarita, CA but the adult cast was worried the boy's puberty might have set in.

"That was my fear when we came back eight months later. But when they came back, they were a little bit bigger but they all grew in proportion to each other so they kind of looked the same and they're voices hadn't changed."

Moises Arias (Disney's Hannah Montana), Jake Austin (Wizards of Waverly Place), Ryan Ochoa (iCarly), and Heroes' Hayden Panettiere's little brother Jansen play some of the team members. In our recent sit down with the boys, the three year lapse since production is evident in their physical appearances. They are almost  unrecognizable with braces, deeper voices, and 2 to 3 inches of added height.

While shooting the film, their characters and story had special meaning for the boys. Ryan Ochoa felt an added "pressure to play the character as best you can." And Miley Cyrus'
sidekick in Hannah Montana Moises Arias knew it meant something positive for Latinos. "To show the world that Latinos aren't in movies about gangsters or stuff like that. They're actually doing something that changes the world. They achieved the impossible."

Once the film wrapped, everyone waited for news regarding the release but after some false hope in 2008 and 2009, the film failed to open after Lionsgate backed out of releasing the film for reasons not made public.  

The cast had lost faith the movie would ever see the light of day. "Once every 6 months, one faction of the producers would call me and tell me they had the picture," revealed Cheech. "So when they said we're going to release the film, I said, 'well send the car first and then I'll believe you.'"
Ryan Ochoa, Louis Gossett Jr. in THE PERFECT GAME
Ryan Ochoa texted to his on screen coach played by Clifton Collins, Jr (Star Trek) news about a possible release but Clifton also weary of the news texted back, "Dude by time that movie comes out, you guys will be in college or getting married," according to Ryan.   

According to Clifton,  he did tease the tweens about being in college before seeing the release of the film, Cheech interjected. "I thought they'd have kids by now." Clifton added, "Some of them do. They're just not allowed to talk about that."

Eventually the film found a distributor with Vancouver based IndustryWorks and a release date set for 2010.  After many years and a lot of work, THE PERFECT GAME finally reaches home plate without the Hollywood hoopla on April 16 but positive word of mouth will hopefully carry this little inspiring film out of the ballpark.  

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