By Gary White
The three Lakeland men behind the planned independent movie "Endure" are all in their 40s, meaning they were in target audience for the mid-1980s films "The Breakfast Club" and "St. Elmo's Fire."
They remember John Bender, the shaggy-haired high school hoodlum from "The Breakfast Club," and Alec Newbary, the philandering post-collegian from "St. Elmo's Fire." Judd Nelson, one of a group of young actors of the era labeled "the brat pack," played those roles.
Perhaps it was inevitable, then, that when the three Lakelanders began mulling possible lead actors for their first feature film, their thoughts turned to Nelson, among other candidates.
Last week, with the arrival of Nelson's signature on an e-mailed contract, "Endure" took a massive leap toward becoming reality. Rob Tritton of Endure Pictures said Nelson has committed to playing the lead in the small-budget thriller. The Ledger has been following the filmmakers' venture in an ongoing series since 2007.
Having secured their lead actor, the filmmakers - producer Tritton, writer-director-producer Joe O'Brien and editor-producer Jim Carleton - have set a start date of April 20 for shooting, with a budget of about $1 million. The schedule calls for two weeks of shooting in Lakeland followed by a week in rural Polk County.
Nelson has agreed to portray Emory Lloyd, a small-town detective who leads a race to save a young woman bound to a tree somewhere in a vast wooded area. The script opens with a car crash that kills the kidnapper and reveals a photo of the woman.
"We're fortunate to get him; we're jazzed," O'Brien said. "He's got a pretty big following, and what's great about him, too, is I think his personality fits the role. It just seems to lend itself to this kind of pensive character that is our lead here. I think he's going to really excel at the part, and I'm just looking forward to working with him."
Nelson is scheduled to arrive in Lakeland the weekend before filming begins. Tritton said he expects to hire established Hollywood actors for another three or four roles, with the remaining parts going to Florida actors.
Nelson, 49, may be best known for his "brat pack" roles, but as O'Brien noted, he studied under the revered acting instructor Stella Adler. He had a recurring role on the Brooke Shields TV comedy "Suddenly Susan" in the 1990s, and he remains a busy actor, even if his roles are less prominent than they once were.
The three Lakeland men have been trying to turn O'Brien's script into a movie for about two years. They raised money from investors, and Tritton said those funds, combined with an expected rebate from the state of Florida, should cover the budget.
Last year, Endure Pictures forged a deal with a production company and announced plans to shoot the movie in Tennessee with an expanded budget. The filmmakers eventually returned to the original plan of shooting in Polk County, though Tritton said Endure Pictures retains a partnership with the Tennessee company.
The filmmakers hope to have a finished version ready for submission to the Toronto International Film Festival in September.
O'Brien co-wrote and co-directed the award-winning 2003 short film "Blackwater Elegy," shot in Lakeland and starring former "Northern Exposure" actors Barry Corbin and John Cullum. Based on that experience, O'Brien said he expects Nelson to add depth to the written version of Emory Lloyd.
"What's great about working with actors of his caliber is ... you can write something on paper and create a script, and you kind of build an image of the picture in your head, but when they get hold of it, it just really turns it into something much better than you could have imagined," O'Brien said.