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Screenwriter seeks backing for movie of Fuchida’s story

By PAUL NEWELL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 7, 2008

Martin Bennett is like every other writer who wants his screenplay to make it to theaters — he has a script he thinks highly of.

But unlike the thousands upon thousands who never see their vision come to life, Bennett says he has support from movie executives who also think his 189-page script — the story of Japanese World War II pilot Mitsuo Fuchida and the two main American influences who shaped his life — is the stuff of which blockbusters are made.

The question becomes, why hasn’t the 52-year-old secured the $140 million he estimates it will take to make the film?

One reason, Bennett said, is that breaking into the business without serious capital is seriously difficult. That’s because "most studios only net a profit for one out of every 10 films they produce," he said. "But the one out of 10 that does make money makes a lot of money."

Bennett said he has a commitment of just $500,000 of the $2 million he needs just to start attaching talent to his project, including an A-list director. But once that happens, things could happen quickly.

"A lot of investors and venture capitalists won’t commit money until you have names of talent attached to the project," Bennett said. "But after that, things get rolling."

If Bennett seems confident, it’s probably because he’s never let naysayers slow him down. With a $5,000 loan and two refurbished sewing machines, he and his wife started Premier Pet Products in 1989. Though people told him the undertaking would fail, Bennett took a second job teaching graphic arts at a prison near his Midlothian, Va., home until Premier took off.

While today the company employs more than 100 people and continues to market innovative pet supplies, Bennett is no longer interested in making sturdier dog collars. He sold off his stake in the company a few years ago to finance his full-time pursuit of getting Fuchida on film.

One of those Hollywood executives who believes he will succeed is Bill Ewing, 60, president of Every Tribe Entertainment. Ewing was a 15-year Paramount executive tasked with keeping high-grossing films like "Spider-Man" and "Men in Black" on schedule and on budget. He has been in contact with Bennett for several years and thinks the Fuchida script has great potential.

"I think it’s an interesting story and not a very well-known story," Ewing said in an interview with Stars and Stripes. In his 35-plus years in the business, he’s found that actors and actresses don’t determine box-office success.

"It’s always how well the story is told," Ewing said, explaining that he subscribes to the late movie director Josh Logan’s assessment of what makes a good movie: "That during the course of the movie, one of the principal characters learns something about themselves that they are better for knowing, and we as the audience are better for knowing once we walk out of the movie theater."

Bennett believes his script has several of these life-changing components. As he’s passed his script around for people to assess, he’s received almost all high praise, and the occasional challenge from those who believe they know Fuchida well.

"One guy said to me, ‘I liked the script a lot, but why did you have to put Fuchida at the surrender aboard the USS Missouri?’ " Bennett said.

"Because he was there!" was Bennett’s emphatic reply.

He said he understands the incredulous looks after people read his script.

After reading Donald W. Goldstein’s biography of Fuchida years ago, Bennett was captivated by the pilot’s life.

Since then, he said he’s perused dozens of books about the man and his times and traveled to Japan to meet with experts and authors.

Bennett has also spoken with Goldstein, who has seen too many Hollywood types promise to make a great film about Fuchida only to pull out or "make some hokey religious film with marginal talent," Goldstein told Stripes. Additionally, without an American protagonist, Goldstein doubts the film will receive backing.

Yet, Goldstein has promised Bennett all of his resources and technical advice on set if the film is financed. And he’s said he’ll do it for free.

Bennett is eager to take Goldstein up on his offer, but said he is not really interested in the money the screenplay could generate.

"If someone told me today that he’d buy the script from me for $10 million, I wouldn’t do it," Bennett said. "For me, it’s honestly not about the money. It’s about making the movie the right way — the true story of Fuchida."


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