By DAVID JONES
Editor at Large
MAYOR’S PROCLAMATION: Chris Kaiser of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes of Northeastern Oklahoma, left, is all smiles after he hands the proclamation of Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett naming April 13 as “Brian Presley Day” in Tulsa. The photo was taken at the AMC Southroads 20 movie theater where his movie “Touchback” was having its Tulsa premiere.
GTR Newspapers photo
For Brian Presley, April 13 was a special day; it was both a homecoming of sorts and the opening of a new business. It was also, courtesy of a proclamation by Mayor Dewey Bartlett, officially Brian Presley Day.
Presley was at the Southroads 20 movie theater where his movie “Touchback” was having its Tulsa premiere. Presley is not only the star of “Touchback,” he is the producer. This is the first film produced under Presley’s Freedom Films banner.
The film has been described as “George Bailey between the goalposts.” Bailey, of course, is the hero of the classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life” about a man who believes his life has been a failure, tries to commit suicide, and is rescued by an angel who shows him how he has positively impacted the lives around him.
In writer/director Don Handfield’s script, Presley’s character is a high school football player with dreams of gridiron glory in college and the pros but his leg is shattered in the last play of the Ohio High School football championship.
His plans ruined, he marries, has kids, tries farming, faces failure and decides to commit suicide. Suddenly, he is returned to that high school championship game and given the choice of regaining his dream without the injury or going on with the life he has been living. It has been rated PG-13. “We want to make movies that tell stories that need to be told,” says Presley. “Not every film will be for everyone from five to 95, but we want our films to have positive messages behind them.”
For Presley to be starring in a football movie is no accident. As a Jenks High School quarterback, he led the Trojans to a state football championship in 1993 and grumbles the team should have won the following two years.
But at Jenks another influence began to make itself felt; he found fulfillment from acting in school plays. “I was the dentist in ‘The Little Shop of Horrors’ and I loved it.”
After Jenks, he was a walk-on for the Arkansas Razorbacks football team, then transferred to the University of Oklahoma. The following summer he went to California where he found himself before the cameras in a McDonald’s commercial. That led to union membership (a highly sought-after commodity in Hollywood), an agent, and roles in several television shows.
It was a typical gypsy existence for the young actor, but permanence was introduced when he became a cast member of “Port Charles.” For four years he received valuable training and employment. He also met an actress named Erin Hershey. She has been, for the last decade, Mrs. Brian Presley. They have two children. After “Port Charles” came roles in several movies, some of which Presley admits were awful. “I am a working actor,” he notes, “and not all scripts are first-rate.”
A mutual friend introduced him to Handfield, who had written the script that eventually became “Touchback.” The film had been optioned several times and had been seemingly close to production but something always happened. It was destined to be made under the Freedom Films banner.
Handfield put a lot of himself into the script; he had been a high school wrestler who blew out a knee and knew what it was like to be an injured athlete.
Being a producer of independent films is a tricky pastime. With no corporate backing, sufficient money has to be amassed. “Touchback,” says Presley, was made for around $750,000 but has the look of a much more expensive film.
“Touchback” has opened in about 20 cities and the initial returns, he says, have been encouraging. “The reports we’ve been getting from across the country are that the movie is doing 70-90 percent capacity. The investors have already broken even between foreign sales and tax credits.”
It has allowed Presley to meet some people who may be valuable in the future of Freedom Films. The role of the coach/mentor of his character was originally to be Kevin Costner. “Kevin couldn’t do it but we hit it off and I hope we work together in the future.” He wound up with Kurt Russell in the role and is hopeful they can work together again as well. “Right now my focus is on being a producer. We have six or seven projects in the pipeline I’m excited about.
“As far as acting is concerned, I’m going to be careful about the roles I’ll take on, but I’m still an actor. If Ron Howard comes calling. . .”