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April 4, 2014

Will Frew Mill team go Hollywood? It’s a long story

NEW CASTLE — Monique Sorgen has been pitching a movie about Frew Mill School’s 1988 WPIAL basketball championship for several years now.

To some, that may sound like a reason to give up.

But as far as the Hollywood screenwriter, director, producer and novelist is concerned, she may just have the business right where she wants it.

“Basically, that’s the process in Hollywood,” she said. “You continually get it to people, and they continually love it and say yes, and they start to take you down the pipeline. Then there’s always something unpredictable that happens, which is why you always hear stories about movies that take 10, 20 years to get made.

“The Hollywood system is such that each company has a mandate, and that mandate is ‘right now,’ so it’s constantly changing. The development process can be very slow, and the mandate can change very fast.”

Sorgen shared that the screenplay she wrote based on Bob Burnett’s book about how his troubled bunch of juvenile delinquents came together to win the WPIAL Class A title 26 years ago had received an option from USA Network. But while Sorgen was working with the cable network to develop a made-for-TV movie, “their mandate changed, and they decided not to make TV movies at all.”

Before that, she added, her script was a finalist for the Walt Disney Screenwriting Fellowship in the final year of that program.

“Little bites of interest” here and there have followed, Sorgen said, including some shown by former NBA star Shaquille O’Neal, before he became a commentator.

Still, Sorgen is optimistic about the project’s chances — perhaps now more than ever.

“Consider the climate now, where ‘12 Years a Slave’ just won the Academy Award, where ‘The Butler’ did amazing box office,” she said. “There were three major movies — including ‘Fruitvale Station’ — that did well that were about the plight in history of the African-American culture; even the comedy, ‘Best Man Holiday.’

“Hollywood goes on trends, and this story, I believe, is trending right now.”

In addition, Sorgen noted, she plans to attend an upcoming Writers Guild of America gathering, during which one of the panel speeches is scheduled to ask the question, “Is Incarceration the New Slavery?”

Sorgen was introduced to Frew Mill’s improbable championship run several years ago while sharing a flight with Mike Harris. Harris, who had been one of the Longhorns’ stars, has gone on to become a manager and founder of his own sports marketing firm. In a conversation with Harris, Sorgen said, he mentioned a troublesome client and added, ‘You know what? He needs to go to jail. That’s what fixed me.’ ”

“We’d been friends for a good five months by then,” Sorgen recalled, “and I’d never known anything about him being in jail. So he told me the whole story, and how Coach Burnett changed his life and is still like a father figure to him.

“I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I called him two days later and said, ‘I have to make this into a movie.’ So he put me in touch with Coach Burnett, and he sent me a copy of his manuscript.”

To Sorgen, Harris embodies the reason why she believes it is important to get the Longhorns’ story to the big screen.

“The thing that really intrigued me was this idea that jail, or juvenile hall, really can be a place where people can reform,” she said. “I had known Mike for several months as this big-wig manager. I had no idea he came from this kind of a past.

“Being face-to-face with a real life story of reform, and hearing the different aspects of it, just intrigued me. There are so many parts of the story that are remarkable: the fact that there was a girl on the team, the fact that three players turned down release and asked a judge if they could stay locked up (until Frew Mill either won a state crown or was eliminated from the PIAA playoffs).

“That’s the moment that always makes me cry.”

(Email: d_irwin@ncnewsonline.com)

 

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