It's been a busy week for Eric Steele and Adam Donaghey of Aviation Cinemas. Both have been tackling the snowy hills of Sundance while hyping that little announcement Variety launched last Friday. The e-blast heard 'round the city confirmed that Aviation is taking a cinematic trust fall, landing in the arms of California-based Caliber Media for an exciting new feature film collaboration. They've locked down the rights to Dominic Orlando's stage play, Danny Casolaro Died For You, a thriller written about the mysterious death of Orlando's uncle, investigative journalist Danny Casolaro.
Donaghey, who's lined-up to co-produce with Caliber, assures that Casolaro was always Steele's baby. Eric had seen it performed a few years back and the story's power stuck with him. He knew it was great; he wanted it to be theirs. But turning want into action would require a leg-up, so his childhood friend, Dallas Sonnier of Caliber Media, intervened. Sonnier edged him forward, and even extended an offer that Caliber would assist with some of biggest the hurdles, like gathering funding and packaging the film.
"He encouraged Eric to take the plunge," says Donaghey. Now, Steele is preparing to direct the largest project Aviation has ever tackled.
Based on true events, framed around the Reagan era, and written with the aid of a McKnight Advancement Grant, the play spills out like a noir detective novel. Cautiously metered shifts in scene and time unlatch the curious life of Danny Casolaro, a true reporter's reporter. After spending several years picking apart a conspiratorial rat king, Casolaro, it seems, knew too much. He'd gathered the documents that would damn everyone -- from the mafia to the Justice Department, to Islamic radical groups. Just as he was about to publish it all, he was discovered dead, with slashed arms, in a third rate motel bathroom.
Casolaro's family would never agree with the police assessment of suicide. Danny had been receiving death threats, they'd say, and he was squeamish around blood.
The plot is menacingly addictive, and given Orlando's personal investment to its telling, we're fed the story bit by bit, with fortuitously daring caution. It's a thrilling twist of government cover-ups, botched assassinations and intellectual property hijacking, all fed through the mouth of a fax machine era.
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"At Sundance people were asking me to pitch it twice two them," says Donaghey, just off his return flight home. "Their jaws were dropping."
Still in its earliest development stages, Aviation and Caliber seem to have the bigger suitors circling. The script itself in an enticing lure. Add on Steele's current "everywhereness" at Sundance, and it seems appropriate when Adam mentions that Casolaro is getting the up-and-down by "a lot of interested parties."
Projected costs, filming locations, potential actors and exactly who will write the screenplay are all issues still in flux. Aviation plans to remain adaptable, since whoever snatches up the biggest portions of the funding will come with their own list of requirements and negotiations. But in a perfect financial world, Adam says, they'd love to film some of the interiors right here in Dallas.
However the job gets done, Aviation is determined to nurture it to completion. It seems that this is the movie they were meant to find. "We all went into film in hopes of telling a story that's truly inspiring, compelling, and important, and this is all of those things," says Donaghey. "It is imperative that we make it."