Dan Boyne’s Kelly in Film Development!

Jack Kelly, Sr., is teaching his son, Jack ‘Kell’ Kelly, Jr., age 8, how to scull. Kell would later win the Diamonds at Henley twice, 1947 and 1949. Jack Kelly, Sr., had sent an entry for the 1920 Diamonds which was rejected by the Henley Stewards. Dan Boyne’s book about the Kellys will now be a film.

In 2008, Dan Boyne came out with the hardcover copy of Kelly: A Father, A Son, An American Quest, and 2012 the paperback edition came out. At Christmas, Dan revealed that his book has been optioned for a film. HTBS caught up with Dan to ask him some questions:

HTBS: How has the sale gone with your book?

DB: I haven’t kept track of the exact sales figures, but I think Kelly has gone through its first printing in the paperback, which came out a few years ago. The hardcover is such a beautiful limited edition that I’m not sure will get printed again, so people should grab a copy before it goes out of print! More recently, with the announcement of the film option, the paperback has been selling so fast that Amazon can’t seem to keep enough copies in stock!

HTBS: Flashlight Films has now optioned to make your book into a film. Please tell us more about it.

DB: Flashlight Films is an independent motion picture company specializing in screenplay development. It was founded in 2009 by partners Allyn Stewart and Kipp Nelson. Stewart comes from Warner Brothers, where she was a senior executive for several years and worked on the academy award winning films Driving Miss Daisy and Dangerous Liaisons, among others; Nelson comes from the financial world, and was a former partner at Goldman Sachs. They specialize is acquiring stories from a wide range of sources and developing high quality screenplays with top filmmakers attached.

HTBS: Who is writing the script?

DB: The script is being written by Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson, who were nominated for an Academy Award for David O. Russel’s celebrated film The Fighter (2010). It is probably a very good fit, since Kelly himself was quite a boxer as well as an Olympic oarsman.

HTBS: As you are the author of the book, and a rowing expert, will you have any influence on the script?

DB: I have been shown some early versions of the script and provided my input, but I have yet to see the finished product. I’ve been told by the producers that the Kelly story has been something of a challenge to render into an acceptable screenplay. Partly I think this is due to the complexity of Kelly’s life, which covers many fields of endeavor–sports, romance, politics, business, and even Hollywood.

On the latter front, of course, the temptation is to “play the Grace Kelly” card, and include her in the story. But this story really isn’t about her; it’s about her dad and her brother, the Irish and English, and the power of one man’s will to succeed. Grace, however, did seem to have her father’s drive—it was just directed in another field of endeavor. And, of course, it is ironic that one of the Kellys married into a royal family, after coming from such modest roots!

HTBS: Armie Hammer, who played both the Winklevoss brothers in the film The Social Network, is one name that has popped up playing Jack Kelly Sr. Any other names that you can mention playing other characters? Any good English actor playing Kelly’s 1920 Olympic rival Jack Beresford Jr.?

DB: Jake Gyllenhaal is the other name that was mentioned to me to play Kelly. I haven’t heard anything about the Beresford character, but there are plenty of great British actors who could take on that role. I just hope the rowing is authentic, which is not an easy thing to pull off!

HTBS: You were the “rowing consultant” for The Social Network, and you have now been asked to take on the same position for the Kelly film. Is the Kelly film going to be a “rowing movie”, or a movie with some rowing scenes?

DB: At this point, since I have not seen the final script, I can’t say how much rowing will be involved. Certainly there will be a lot more than in The Social Network, where the rowing was really just used as window dressing. In one of  the earlier drafts of the Kelly script I read, there was a nice scene of Kelly watching a sculling race on the Schuylkill as a boy, which is how he originally got interested in the sport. And of course, there will have to be a scene for his duel with Beresford at the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp. Lastly, they will have to show Kell, or Jack Kelly Jr., winning the Diamond sculls in 1947. This is the tricky part, I imagine; to show the lapse of time between the two generations.

HTBS: You are the director of recreational sculling at Harvard, will you also teach the actors how to scull and row?

DB: I’d love to, of course! I’ve worked on a number of rowing films and commercials, and been an extra in others. I worked with Josh Pence and Armie Hammer quite a bit in The Social Network, and they seemed to manage the rowing scenes quite well. Of course, Josh had already rowed before, at Dartmouth, so he didn’t need much attention. It was pretty challenging to set them loose in a pair, however; especially when the director wanted them to keep switching sides!

HTBS: Are you looking forward to getting back to Henley to shoot scenes – after all, there was some marvellous scenes from Henley Royal Regatta in The Social Network, and Jack “Kell” Kelly Jr., won the Diamonds at Henley in 1947 (and 1949), a race that was denied his father in 1920.

DB: At Henley during The Social Network shoot; and at Dorney Lake, where much of the filming also took place. As many people who read my row2k.com columns know, it was quite a coup to be allowed to film during the actual regatta. There were weeks, if not months, of negotiation prior to the shoot, and no one believed it would actually happen. But once the Henley Stewards finally gave director David Fincher the nod, we were all treated remarkably well.

Filming, of course, it not all fun and games, and there was a lot of stress with Henley shoot, mostly due to the fact that we were on such a tight time table. We were only allowed one or two takes, so the oarsmen had to be managed very precisely (which is not always an easy task). Then, one of the guys broke an oarlock just before we were set to roll, which could have been a complete disaster! Luckily, we were able to swoop in from the umpire’s launch and get it fixed with just seconds to spare. Needless to say, it is not an experience I would ever care to repeat!

HTBS: Do you have any idea when the movie is going to be released?

DB: I have no idea, but hopefully in the next few years. These Hollywood projects can move very slowly or very fast. Hopefully this one will be the latter!

HTBS: If I remember it right, you yourself has actually been in a “rowing movie”. Which movie was that, and what was the scene/s?

DB: I was a rowing extra in a pretty awful version of David Halberstam’s book, The Amateurs. The film was called Rowing Through, and you can probably rent it on DVD if you want a good laugh. The rowing scenes, and much of the acting, are awful. Xeno Muller was an extra, too, and he was hilarious to be around—always making jokes and teasing the actors. I was also in a Denzel Washington film called The Great Debaters, where I very briefly row up the Charles. Lastly, I was in a PBS documentary called the Irish in America, where I also scull a bit.

HTBS: Thank you, Dan, for taking the time, and good luck with the film. We at HTBS are keeping our fingers crossed that Kelly will be a good rowing movie.

DB: My pleasure!

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