DAVIDSON – Davidson resident Sally Gordon and her family were vacationing at a ranch in Colorado six years ago when a conversation with another traveler, Gary Hershberger, piqued her interest.
“We were in a beautiful alpine meadow,” she recalled. “Gary just rides up on his horse, and he has this gorgeous wife and these four perfect children. And I think, ‘This guy looks like he’s out of a movie.'”
The conversation moved to their professional backgrounds, and Gordon’s intuition proved accurate.
Hershberger, founder of Los Angeles-based Deer Mountain Productions and a professional actor and writer in the Hollywood community for more than 20 years, has appeared in “Grey’s Anatomy,” “The West Wing” and “The O.C.”
When Hershberger began to describe the plotline for a movie he had written and wanted to produce, “Late in the Season,” Gordon said she got chills.
“Oh my, that’s about my town! That’s about Davidson basketball,” she remembers telling him when he said he may want to film in Chattanooga, Tenn.
The screenplay tells the story of an unfulfilled 31-year-old Seattle stockbroker who decides to go back to college. Once there, he joins the school’s basketball team, inspiring his teammates as they attempt to reach the NCAA Final Four championship. This is particularly significant, Hershberger said, because the protagonist walked away from the game, and his own father, 15 years before.
“I think family is important, and any time I can write about a family that struggles with interpersonal conflict and finds redemption or reconciliation at the other end, that’s my type of story,” Hershberger said.
Gordon, a passionate Davidson College basketball fan, encouraged Hershberger to visit the college town and see if it lived up to the image in his mind.
Love at first sight
And in October 2007, just months before the Davidson Wildcats made their run into the NCAA Elite Eight, Hershberger arrived on campus.
He made it in time to watch Midnight Madness, or the official start of basketball practice in Belk Arena. There he met coach Bob McKillop and the men’s team.
“This was the place I made up in my mind,” Hershberger said. I thought it was just in my imagination, but no, it really exists.”
McKillop was in Russia leading up to The Herald Weekly’s print deadline. He wasn’t able to comment in time for publication.
Three years later, Hershberger returned to meet with the Davidson College Board of Trustees and then-President Tom Ross.
“They were all on board and everything was good, but then the economic downturn of 2008-2009 happened, and everything just went south,” Hershberger said. “It was very hard to get financing at that time.”
Associate Vice President of College Communications Cat Niekro said Hershberger spoke with school officials again last fall. Richard Terry, director of auxiliary services at Davidson, is helping to coordinate the filming details on behalf of the college, she added.
Finding the financing
With the hope to begin filming next spring, Hershberger’s dream is on the cusp of fruition.
Last month, he was dining at Toast with Gordon, and they ran into Gary Kerr, an old friend of Gordon’s.
Hershberger invited Kerr to a meeting about the film at Davidson Town Hall in late-June after finding out his new acquaintance lived in Los Angeles as a child and would soon be moving to Palm Springs, Calif.
Kerr said Hershberger also wanted to meet his 84-year-old father, Jim, who had brushes with Hollywood. Bob Hope Enterprises signed Jim Kerr as a young man, and he went on to appear on “The Tonight Show” and sing at the 1961 Academy Awards.
The Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce organized the gathering, which was meant to help zero-in on potential investors for the film, President Bill Russell said.
Russell said the Lake Norman Regional Economic Development Council contacted the chamber three months ago about a potential opportunity to bring a movie to Davidson.
“It was likened to ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding.’ It wasn’t a big-budget movie, but it was a good movie they hoped would develop a big following by opening regionally, then nationally,” Russell said.
Enter Jim Kerr.
Jim Kerr recently traveled to his hometown near Boston to see old friends. During one conversation with a CEO from Boston, Jim Kerr mentioned “Late in the Season.”
He said he was shocked when his friend expressed interest in investing in the production. This potential donor – who Jim Kerr wishes to keep anonymous for the time being - has attorneys exploring legal documents from Deer Mountain Productions.
“When a major motion picture films in a small town, it will never be the same,” Gary Kerr said. “‘The Perfect Storm’ was filmed in my hometown of Gloucester, Mass., and the subsequent interest in tourism and the economic impact just created a sea swell of success for the financially strapped fishing village.”
Lights, camera, action!
Gary Kerr could see the same thing happening for Davidson.
“My understanding is the college is embracing this movie,” Russell said. “It’ll take place in Davidson, and some of it will be shot on Davidson’s campus and be filmed in Belk Arena.”
With plans to film at Brickhouse Tavern, The Soda Shop, and along Main Street, Hershberger is excited to be underway. He hopes to use the name of the college in the film as well as exterior shots of campus buildings.
As for who’ll appear on screen, Hershberger wants to keep quiet for now but said there will be stars we’ll all recognize.