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Unitas Movie Making Progress

November 15, 2013

It's 1 p.m. in Las Vegas, and Joe Unitas' phone is ringing off the hook. He's trying to raise $12.8 million to make his film "Unitas We Stand," about the obstacles his father overcame early during his life to lead the Baltimore Colts into the 1958 championship game.

"I'm still learning the business side," said Unitas, son of former Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas. "It's coming along. I thought we'd been further along by now. Having Joe Flacco play my dad in the '58 championship game, I thought that would help people step up. Hollywood is tough right now, but the success of '42' has really lit a fire under some backsides."

Unitas said his father had decided he wanted to play quarterback on a professional team when he was in the second grade. Unitas' dream of making a movie and his father's quest to play football in the NFL are similar.

"It took my dad 15 years to realize his dream," Unitas said. "He was told he wasn't good enough. He had to work his way up playing on sandlots with broken glass on them. It took 12 years to make the movie 'Ray.' It's a long, long process."

The script Unitas co-wrote with Nick Slatkin is also evolving. Unitas has received feedback from directors Barry Levinson, who wrote and directed the movie "Diner," about his hometown, and David Anspaugh, who directed "Rudy" and "Hoosiers" and called Unitas one day out of the blue to talk about the project.

"David attended the 1958 title game and was interested in the movie," Unitas said. "Both of those guys have been instrumental. I spoke with Barry after we completed the initial draft, and he has been very helpful throughout the process. I still make changes from time to time. The writing has been a heck of a lot of work."

Unitas said his father had encouraged him to write after reading his work.

"He's always read my stories," Unitas said. "He loved the different things I came up with. He told me to keep writing. Just keep writing."

The movie is based on the book, Johnny U: The Life and Times of John Unitas, by Tom Callahan. Unitas had to decide what aspect of his father's life he wanted to tell. He chose the early years, when Johnny Unitas, at the age of 5, witnessed his own father's death from black lung disease and had to overcome a number of obstacles get drafted by the Colts in 1955. The movie ends with the 1958 championship.

Unitas said he had talked to former Colts -- including Gino Marchetti, Art Donovan and Raymond Berry.

"Mr. Berry remembered every play of the game and why it was called," Unitas said.

There are three primary locations in the film -- Pittsburgh; Louisville, Ky.; and Baltimore. Unitas said he would like to shoot the entire movie in Maryland.

"Baltimore is a key figure in the movie," Unitas said, "and you have the coal industry in the western part of the state. A lot of film production goes on in Maryland. If we need to, we could do it all there."

John Ziemann, former president of the Colts' marching band and current president of Baltimore's Marching Ravens, said the movie was long overdue.

"[Johnny] Unitas was an icon, the Babe Ruth of the National Football League," Ziemann said. "It's time we told John's story to the world. Joe has put his heart and soul in this. It's a movie of inspiration for anybody who has been told they can't do something."

To learn more about the film, visit unitaswestand.com. To contribute to its crowdfunding site, visit indiegogo.com

Issue 191: November 2013