George Stephanopoulos, an entertainment lawyer and film producer (not the former political adviser and television journalist most people associate the name with), grew up playing golf in the U.S. with his father, a Greek Orthodox priest. Taking his experience swinging at hole-in-ones with co-producing films like “Golf in the Kingdom (2010)” and “BuzzKill (2012),” Stephanopoulos decided it was time to make a film about golfing in Greece.
“Swing Away,” a romantic comedy set on the island of Crete, revolves around a Greek-American golf pro named Nikki who gets suspended from the LPGA tour and escapes to the village of her Greek grandparents. Hoping to get away from what has become a disastrous career and get herself back on track, she meets an array of villagers and ends up trying to save a beautiful golf course on the island that is being ignored.
Indie film company Picturehouse has already signed on to distribute the completed project, and now Stephanopoulos is reaching out to potential investors via a resource that many other entertainment professionals have started using as of late: crowd funding.
“Swing Away” is currently set up with a page on RocketHub, and has less than three weeks to reach its goal of $200,000. With plans to begin shooting in Greece soon, Stephanopoulos says he’d like to have the film available for a North American release in 2014.
Greek Reporter spoke to Stephanopoulos about producing “Swing Away,” and the importance of crowd funding not only for his project, but for filmmakers in general.
How did you come up with the idea for “Swing Away”?
My passion for comedy, sports and Greece, combined with the desire to do something creative lead to the creation of “Swing Away” as a Greek golf comedy. Not surprisingly, golfers are high-end tourists, so golf in Greece has actually become an important tourism initiative for the Greek government, especially so immediately following the 2004 Athens Olympics. The problem, however, was that the focus was on tourists and foreigners and not Greeks populating and using the local courses. So, I took it upon myself to create “Swing Away” to address that situation, as much of the story revolves around the issue of localism and Greek civic pride. With the kind of compelling, entertaining and sure to be successful feature film, we have the opportunity to do more outside of the film to help ensure that golf will have a positive effect on the lives of Greeks.
Why did you decide on Crete as the backdrop?
Cretans are like the Texans of Greece. I grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah where you are either Mormon or Greek, and by Greek it is more accurate to say “Cretan” since most SLC Greeks were either born in Crete or are the descendants or relatives of those who first settled there at the turn of the century to work in the copper mines. Crete – in terms of its people, landscape and history – is unique to Greece and these elements best serve the story and the film as a character driven comedy. This is to say nothing of the fact that Crete is a beautiful and special place, so that besides the practical, story driven reasons, it provides an excellent and majestic backdrop to a film and where there is a deep rooted relationship between people and their natural environment. Movies are an excellent way to highlight the visual wonders of a place, and Crete is clearly full of them. Plus, our protagonist, who happens to be an avid reader, in addition to being a professional golfer, is inspired by the writings of the famous Cretan Nikos Kazantzakis and his epitaph that reads: “I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.”
What do you hope people will gain from seeing the film?
I want audiences to be inspired, to laugh and to experience the joy in living life to its fullest while showing a resilient Greece. Of course, we want people to be entertained and have not only a wonderful movie going experience, but to come away with a greater understanding of Greece as a whole, as well as the unique spirit and passion of the Greek people. In terms of golf, I hope that more Greek boys and girls begin to take up the sport, especially now that golf will return to the Rio Olympics in 2016, and as a game of self-improvement realize that they have the ability to compete at a high level – if that is their dream – just like Tiger Woods or Michelle Wei or any other of the game’s greatest players. There are kids in every corner of the globe doing that now. We just need more of them in Greece if golf and Greece is going to have any real meaning to the average Greek. Most importantly, at the end of the day we want people to walk out of the theatre feeling happy, inspired and free to live their dreams.
Do you have a full cast attached yet?
We have our two lead Greek actors: Renos Haralambidis and Manos Gavras. As for the other Greek roles, we intend to hold auditions in Athens and Crete later this summer/fall when we finalize our production schedule. Our female lead and the other non-Greek roles will feature recognizable star actors from the States and elsewhere, including possible cameo appearances from a professional golfer, sports broadcaster or other celebrity personality. Those discussions are ongoing and we hope to make an announcement soon
If the film doesn’t reach its goal by the funding deadline, do you plan on continuing with making it?
Absolutely. The film is only being funded in part on RocketHub, but it does become more difficult to shoot the movie this fall as planned if we do not reach our goal. Keep in mind that our campaign does not end until July 2; that’s 20 days from now, which is an eternity in the world of crowd funding.
Why is crowd funding important for projects such as yours?
Crowd funding sites are powerful online platforms to be leveraged in a variety of ways and this can have the intended consequence of exposing your project to a much larger community that often leads to new opportunities in terms of cast, distribution, financing, international sales…Along those lines, our desired outcome with this campaign has as much to do with building audience awareness as it does raising funds. This is one of the main reasons Bob Berney, CEO at Picturehouse, agreed to distribute the film. He absolutely loves the story and idea of the film as a re-imagined Greek “Local Hero,” the film that starred Peter Reigert and Burt Lancaster. [Also,] the international popularity of golf and Greece as a production location are part of our marketing strategy. The ability to build community is not unlike what Bob did in the case of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” except here our outreach efforts are taking place on the Internet before we even shoot the movie. There is a huge advantage in that, especially when you have a limited [Prints & Advertising] budget for this kind of film.
Once the film is completed, what’s next?
We will submit “Swing Away” to all the major festivals, but in the end, the goal for any film is to get distribution and we have that. Picturehouse will premiere “Swing Away” in New York, Los Angeles and Portland as part of the “perks” offered on RocketHub. These premiere screenings will be timed to coincide with the other host city promotional screenings as part of the announced release plans for the movie. Ultimately, we want as many people as possible to see this film.
For more information on the film, visit the “Swing Away” RocketHub page.