LA-based Czech producer Evzen Kolar and his wife, marketing strategist Deborah Kolar, who grew up in Ireland, had been looking for an opportunity to work together ever since they produced The Boys & Girl From County Clare in 2003. Then Never Walk Alone came along.
The Kolars, Jeremy Kay hears, could not resist the call of the uplifting Ireland-set contemporary generational drama that wears its soccer-loving heart on its sleeve.
Evzen Kolar’s producing credits include City Of Industry, Bride Of The Wind and Desert Heat. Deborah Kolar is deputy chair of BAFTA/LA and joint owner with Jan Kean of entertainment, festivals and awards agency Kean & Kolar Communications.
So what is Never Walk Alone about?
Evzen Kolar: It’s about three generations of men in an Irish community. There’s a 37-year-old milkman, his 14-year-old son and the 64-year-old grandfather. The 37-year-old, Eamonn, plays local league soccer and is well known in the community as a very good player. We find out that when he was 14 he had a trial for Liverpool. But he bottled it and never went through with it. His community never really forgave him.
Now his own son Peter is a fantastic player and the same scout who gave Eamonn a trial has offered one to Peter. Eamonn is obsessed that Peter will not squander the opportunity like he did as a child and puts so much pressure on the boy that Peter gets injured and cries off playing football.
Ah, parental pressure. So what happens next?
EK: Eamonn doesn’t know what to do. Then the grandfather comes back into the fold. He abandoned the family many years ago and feels guilty about this. In fact, this had something to do with Eamonn’s no-show at the soccer trial. So the grandfather comes back and devises a plan.
EK: I am not going to tell you everything.
So what drew you to the project?
EK: My passion has always been soccer. I am a Liverpool FC fanatic. I was looking for a project that could be set in the world of soccer and this is set in that world. The story of three generations of men – their dreams, disappointments and struggle to grow up – comes first and the soccer comes in organically.
The organic element is important to you. You mention it several times
EK: Yes it is. Bend It Like Beckham is one of the most successful soccer movies of all time because the soccer was so organic to the story. You cared about the girl and the relationships and the families – these things were the core and they will be very important in our story.
How did you hear about the script?
EK: The director Andrew Baird brought the script to me. He’s done commercials and music videos and is an artist. We loved the script and did a revision and we’re very happy with it. It was written by Christian O’Reilly, a very successful Irish playwright. Christian was a very good soccer player himself as a child, so the story has a lot of authenticity to it.
Deborah Kolar: Never Walk Alone has these themes of lost opportunity, men trying to relive their youth, kids under pressure and the guilt of families trying to do right by their kids. But ultimately the love of the game wins out.
EK: And at the heart of it is Eamonn’s wife who holds everything together. There is a lot of redemption and hope and live pathos.
And soccer being what it is, there are broader hooks
DK: I felt I could bring tremendous marketing opportunities to this project. It’s all about identifying the audience. There are ways to engage a global audience and use all the new platforms we have today to do that. You can market soccer to everyone from Baby Boomers to Millennials to Generation Z-ers.
EK: Of course it is a huge global sport and we believe the story has huge appeal. NBC has spent a quarter of a billion dollars for all rights to the Premier League matches. In New York they have clubs that meet and watch matches at 7 in the morning.
Where are you with the project?
EK: My company KPI Entertainment is producing and we’re in talks with Irish partners on what will be an Ireland-UK co-production. It will be a seven-week production budgeted at $7m and we have a window to shoot in Ireland and Liverpool either towards the end of this year or in early 2015. Funding will come from tax rebates, private equity and pre-sales through a sales agent to be determined. We are also exploring branding opportunities from the world of sport and hope to have some exciting announcements in the future.
Finally, how does it feel to be back together again as producers?
DK: Evzen is high-energy and I have the more dispassionate approach in a way, so we divide and conquer.
EK: I team up with my wife because I know if she’s going to stab me it will be from the front, so at least I don’t have to watch my back.