Print Edition: May 23, 2012
Imagine the scene: it’s a week before your final project is due, and your hard drive crashes for the third time. You have lost 60 hours of edited footage, and there is no way to put the film together again in time for the deadline.
This is what SFU student Ian MacDougall was faced with at the end of last semester, and it’s a scene from every student’s worst nightmare. Where other students would break down or give up, MacDougall set out in an entirely new direction. With the project irretrievable, and faced with not enough time to cut it together again, his solution was to start a new film entirely – and enlist the help of Morgan Freeman.
The idea was one that came up in a screenwriting class a year earlier, pitched by his friend Mack Warner. The concept was deceivingly simple: make a documentary narrated by Morgan Freeman – about the journey to convince Morgan Freeman to narrate the film.
MacDougall and Warner decided that the best course of action was to track down Freeman in person, in Mississippi – again, something easier said than done. They managed to speak with Freeman, but only “for about two minutes, and didn’t have time to actually pitch their idea to him,” said Sean Hougan, publicist and events coordinator for the team. However, “a few days later, they met with [Freeman’s] business partner, Bill Luckett,” Hougan continued. “They convinced him to call Morgan Freeman to tell him about the project, which he did, but Morgan said it would have to go through his agent.”
Undeterred, the team returned to Canada with enough footage and enough time to edit it into a short film for SFU’s grad screening. “They put together a 15-minute short documentary, and literally edited it less than 13 hours before it was due,” Hougan explained. “The teacher came up to [MacDougall] afterwards, congratulated him, and said he was really impressed.”
But the project had evolved by that point, and adding more people to their team, MacDougall and Warner set out on another trip – this time to Los Angeles, to meet with Freeman’s agent. Even this was not as easy as it seemed; the agent called the team in the middle of the trip “and basically said that Morgan Freeman was not interested,” said Hougan. Undaunted, the team continued to negotiate until the agent relented. “After [MacDougall] explained the philanthropic goals of the film and that all the profits would go towards a scholarship that Morgan Freeman had set up, the agent seemed a lot more interested and agreed to view the film that we put together,” Hougan explained.
A deal with Freeman is still, hopefully, in the planning stages, but the team already has a backup plan in place. Taking into account the sheer amount of footage they have, Hougan speculates that they could easily turn the documentary into a series of online “webisodes.”
“We’ve met a lot of people along the way, and we’ve done a bunch of TV interviews,” Hougan said. “If we went with the webisodes, having each webisode narrated by someone else, whether that be a celebrity or a Canadian figure, might be a cool way to get other people involved in the project.”
Their first choice? “We would love Seth Rogan to do the film,” Hougan said with a laugh. “Since he’s a Vancouverite … we think that would be very cool.”