‘Hardest Hitter’ may come out in spring

Normally, a movie production is a deadline-driven, angst-filled affair.

Actors have a limited amount of time they can devote to one production. Studios give producers a release date they want the movie to debut. Crews have to work in a certain amount of days or be paid overtime.

But the producers of “The Hardest Hitter,” which is scheduled to shoot in Macon beginning this fall, are taking the opposite approach.

“We’re not being pushed into a date,” producer Terry Collis said. “We’re choosing our own schedule. ... You very rarely have that luxury. We’re doing the preparation, then doing the casting. We’re now in the casting stage.”

Given that the movie isn’t likely to be a huge, summer Hollywood blockbuster, the filmmakers can afford to move at their own pace, said producer Carmine Zozzora, who also wrote the script for “The Hardest Hitter” and is the movie’s director.

“There’s a lot less pressure on this than some $85 million project,” he said. “We can pay attention to details. The focus is on the heart of the story. The time that we’re taking to get this done is actually a blessing for me.”

“The Hardest Hitter” is a family-oriented film that tells the real-life story of Ricky Hill, a Texas teenager who overcame physical disabilities to sign a minor league baseball contract in the 1960s.

The producers scouted minor league ballparks all across the country to find one that would be suitable for filming. On the way back from Savannah, they stopped by Luther Williams Field, which proved to be the perfect home. Zozzora and Collis said that as they scouted around Macon, they found plenty of other suitable locations that could double as the Texas locale in which the story is set.

So the producers have spent the past several months doing preparation work. Almost all of the extras and smaller roles have been cast with Georgia-based actors, most of whom are from Middle Georgia. In addition, the producers have made arrangements to shoot at local churches and businesses such as Fincher’s Bar-B-Q and Macon Iron.

Several sets already are built at the production unit’s offices, and props and costumes continue to be accumulated.

The producers said the local support from the community and government has made the production go smoothly.

“(Macon) is an amazingly well-kept secret,” Zozzora said. “In L.A., people slam doors in your face, but here, everything is so fresh and exciting and new.”

“The mayor and his staff have been really supportive of what we need,” Collis said. “Without the support of the city, this wouldn’t have been possible. ... We’re respectful of the town we’re in and do everything we can not to be an imposition.”

The movie should be far from that, since the producers plan on spending about 80 percent of the production time in Macon and, to a lesser extent, in Atlanta. Zozzora said the production budget is nearly $10 million, but the producers don’t yet know the final budget of the movie, because they still are in the process of casting the lead roles and negotiating with actors.

In addition to using Georgia-based actors, producers also plan on using as many locals as possible as part of the crew.

In addition to the money that’s pumped into the local economy, the movie also can help Macon by serving as a marketing tool for tourism and other film productions.

At a March news conference, Bibb County Commission Chairman Sam Hart told those in attendance, “This production attests to our community being open for a lot of different things. It brings a direct impact to the local economy and shows people what we have here.”

Currently, the producers have sent the script to casting directors in Hollywood who are working to cast the five main roles in the film. Collis said that process should take two or three months.

The producers are looking for a studio to distribute the film and said they hope it’s ready to debut by spring.

They said it’s a film that should touch a wide audience.

“It’s going to be an inspirational movie,” Collis said.

Information from The Telegraph’s archives was used in this report. To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.