Rick Eldridge shows his own Stroke of Genius
With a budget of $20 million and a theatrical release to 1,332 screens across America, “ Bobby Jones: A Stroke of Genius” may be the biggest homegrown movie in North Carolina history. But it is, without a doubt, a tribute to the creative vision and entertainment savvy of Rick Eldridge, executive producer of the movie and president and CEO of The Film Foundry.
Eldridge, who started out as a Christian music artist with a band that toured during the late ’70s, has worked in many facets of the entertainment industry from recording artist, composer, sound designer and manager to producer and corporate executive. He grew up in Mount Holly, graduated from Brevard College in 1976, and then continued his education in music and composition at UNC Charlotte. During his career, he has worked with some of the best and most respected names in the industry, including Universal, Disney and ESPN.
Over his career, Eldridge has won numerous prestigious awards including 13 Telly Awards, six Communicator Awards, one New York Festivals World Metal Award and one U.S. International and Film and Video Festival Award, for projects such as “The Legend of the Three Trees,” “The Crippled Lamb,” World-Wide Pictures’ “Something to Sing About,” “Legend of the Candy Cane,” and “A Father’s Heart,” which was hosted by FOX Sport’s James Brown. For all of his accomplishments, he has achieved a listing in the International Who’s Who of Entrepreneurs.
Nine years ago, Eldridge sold his Florida-based company RAE Media, which did music and sound design and post production for numerous film and TV properties, and moved home to Charlotte where he started a production/development studio. In addition to recording all the voices for several animated series, his new company RAE Creative had a client list that included ABC/Disney, CBS, Fox, NBC Sports, PAX, USA Network and the Odyssey Network.
RAE Creative shared space on Morehead Street with Post Central Charlotte, a film and video post house, until Eldridge bought Post Central and merged the two companies into The Film Foundry in January 2004. When he ran out of space at the two-story building on Morehead, Eldridge leased 24,000 square feet at 1930 Camden Street in the Design Center of the Carolinas.
“The move to the South End is important in creating a destination facility,” says Eldridge. “It puts us in an environment that is conducive to creative development. It will help us achieve a national profile.”
Driving the Fairway
The release of “Bobby Jones: A Stroke of Genius” this spring should also give The Film Foundry, and its sister company GlueWorks Entertainment, which Eldridge also operates, a jump start on the road map to national recognition. The movie tells the life story of Atlanta golfer Robert Tyre “Bobby” Jones, Jr. Styled in a manner similar to the epic “Chariots of Fire,” it is set in the year 1930, during which Jones won the four most coveted tournaments in golf – the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open, the British Amateur, and the British Open – earning the title of Grand Slam Champion. It is a momentous feat, which has never been repeated – not by Tiger Woods, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus or any of the other legendary figures in golf. What’s more, Jones played only as an amateur – refusing to turn pro – and never made a nickel from the game. He retired from competitive golf at the age of 28 to raise his family and practice law.
“‘Bobby Jones: A Stroke of Genius’ is a golf movie like ‘Chariots of Fire’ is a track movie,” says Eldridge. “It is much more a drama of this man’s life and the huge adversities he overcame. As track was just a backdrop for an amazing story in ‘Chariots of Fire,’ golf is the backdrop for an amazing life in ‘Bobby Jones.’ It’s also a love story.”
The project was fourteen years in the making. Eldridge collaborated with Kim Dawson, who produced “The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle” movies in the 1990s, and Tom Crow, the founder of Cobra Golf and a past Australian Amateur Champion.
The film stars Jim Caviezel, who leapt to national attention after portraying Jesus in Mel Gibson’s controversial film “The Passion,” Clair Forlani, (“Meet Joe Black,” “The Rock”) and Jermey Northam (“The Singing Detective,” “Gosford Park,” “An Ideal Husband”). Making their film debuts are Devon Gearhart as 6 to 8 year old Bobby Jones and Thomas Lewis as 14-year-old Bobby.
The film was financed largely by a group of five friends who underwrote lines of credit through the Private Consulting Group, a wealth advisory firm in Portland, Oregon. This group, which includes Eldridge, can expect to see a good return on their investment. The Private Consulting Group and over 100 clients from their offices across the country were then called upon to create a private offering for raising the final funding of the movie as well as the marketing funds for the release.
“They will actually receive a three part return on their investment,” says Eldridge. “First, a life experience – the investors worked on the film behind the scenes and as extras. Second, there is a philanthropic aspect in which our goal is to multiply our charitable investments through the efforts of the film. And third, financially, everyone can expect a 2:1 return over the course of the life of the product.”
The life of the product includes the movie itself; a pay-per-view release; a release to airlines for display on international flights; the home video with a multiple package including an interactive game, a “behind the scenes” segment, and a one-hour TV special produced by The Film Foundry that aired on CBS following this year’s Masters Tournament; a sound-track CD produced by Varese Sarabande Records, a soundtrack label of Universal Music Group; and a “Making of Bobby Jones” book being released by British American Press.
The film’s producers are also dedicated to following the legacy of Bobby Jones, one of the first athletes to be interested in philanthropy. The producers allocated proceeds and profits from the film and DVD to The First Tee, a golf initiative of the PGA tour that deals with life values and principles. Joe Louis Barrows, the son of boxer Joe Louis, is the executive director of First Tee. Over 100 charitable screenings raised close to $2 million prior to the film’s general release.
The movie has been an attention-grabber. It had three U.S. premiers – the hometown screening at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta in March attracted over 4,000 people. The other two premiers were in Los Angeles and New York. It was released nationally on April 30, and in Canada in mid-May and will kick off its tour to the rest of the world June 9th at St. Andrews in Scotland. It was the first effort of The Film Foundry’s newest division, Film Foundry Releasing.
Finding the Things That Matter Now
When Eldridge was just out of college, he formed a band. Jim Pruitt, who played bass in that band, says Eldridge was probably best known for a song that made its way onto the charts in 1977. It was called “Things That Matter Now.”
Today Eldridge, 47, is married to Krista Eldridge and they have six children, ranging in age from 22 to 8. They have a studio at their home in south Charlotte and the family is all musical, playing everything from the drums and saxophone to keyboards, making for some great jam sessions.
Eldridge is a trustee of Brevard College, and is a founding member of the Compass Arts Film Academy, a film school in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He is also active in helping to develop the film industry in the South, especially North Carolina.
“Bobby Jones,” which received a thumbs up review from TV movie critic Roger Ebert and was called the “best sports movie ever made” by MovieGuide, balances an old-fashioned story with state-of-the-art filmography. Eldridge works to achieve a similar balance at The Film Foundry.
“We’re trying to build a full service studio with multiple companies working under one umbrella,” he explains.“We want to be able to take a project from concept to production to finishing to marketing and sales, and, finally, distribution.”
While technology is important in building a movie-making business, and The Film Foundry has some of the nation’s most advanced digital finishing and color correction technology, Eldridge believes that having the best people is even more important
“We have some of the best creative and technical people anywhere,” he say“Most have come here from somewhere else because of the better quality of life in the Charlotte area. Our people are committed to doing the best possible job for every client and each project.”
While Eldridge maintains an office on the West Coast, he finds it easier to operate outside the Hollywood environment.
“People want to work in a more relaxed environment,” he says, “And, in a growing city like Charlotte, there are always new and emerging opportunities for development.”
The Film Foundry currently has two movie projects and five animation projects in development, and Eldridge is looking at several new partnerships. Once the company is fully settled into its new facility, he hopes to expand the base of business to offer an even wider array of services to the local and regional commercial marketplace. Within ten to fifteen years, he hopes The Film Foundry will be known as a world class facility for production finishing and recognized as a mini major releasing company with national projects that have strong merit.
“We’ll never be a Disney,” he says, “but we will have a national profile.”