By Jerry Glick: Many boxers have a story to tell. Some have had the opportunity to tell their story on the big screen including Rocky Graziano, Joe Louis, Jake LaMotta, and more recently, Micky Ward. Now another fighter whose life reads like an adventure novel is about to become the subject of a movie, the great Robert Duran; Hands of Stone. It will be more than just a story about a boxer; it will be a story about a man who was idolized by a nation and treated like a king.
His 33 year career in the ring is one of legend. In reality his fight for pay career started for Roberto as a child fighting in the back allies of Panama at the demand of local gamblers who matched youngsters in street fights and bet on the outcome.
Duran has lived a life in and out of the squared circle that most people may not be aware of. From the torrid streets of El Chorrillo, Panama to success under the hot ring lights of New York, Los Angeles, Miami, and Las Vegas. He finally retired at the astounding age of 50 and it took a near death experience in a car accident to convince “Cholo”, as he was known, to hang up his gloves.
The idea of a film about Duran started when film and stage producer, Dave Schuster (“Kid Shamrock”), and writer/producer Scott Pardo (Scott Pardo Films) came together a few years ago when Pardo had an inspiration that came to him when he read a book about Duran and knew that the go-to guy when it came to producing a boxing movie is Schuster.
Schuster is a charismatic, intelligent and inspired creator of stories that are filled with heart. I met him at his production of Bobby Cassidy Jr.’s gritty and triumphant reprise of his play, “Kid Shamrock,” the story about the playwright’s strong willed father, former middleweight and light-heavyweight contender Bobby Cassidy Sr.
Schuster was born in 1960 and grew up in Bayside, Queens, New York. He was a 1977 graduate of Cardozo High School, and received his BA in Communications from University Of South Florida in 1981. In the 1980’s and 1990’s, David manufactured designer jeans in the garment industry of New York City, and has worked as an investment banker while raising money for charities, various projects, and businesses, including independent films. He formed "Winner Take All Productions" to realize one of his dreams which is to produce movies and plays. Schuster worked with Bobby Cassidy to make “A Fighting Chance” a moving film about the plight of Cuban boxers.
Recently I had the good fortune to talk to Schuster about his next project.
“A couple of years ago I got together with Scott Pardo,” recalled Schuster. “Scott had approached me; he’s a writer who has done a number of feature films. He mentioned that he wanted to do something about Roberto Duran. He knew I was a big boxing guy. We realized that the book about Duran, which inspired him, by Christian Giudice, “Hands of Stone: The Life and Legend of Roberto Duran,” was available for a rights offering. I said no problem; let’s see if we could get it done. My company, Winner Take All Productions, went out and got the rights to any type of motion picture or feature done based on Christian’s book about Roberto Duran. I asked Scott to write a great script, which he did; and one thing led to another and I got involved with producers Jeff Waxman and Tony Grazia ("21 and Over" and "Narc"). Waxman co-produced the award winning movie, “The Fighter” with Mark Wahlberg, and “Law Abiding Citizen". He just finished a 150 million dollar movie, Snow White, which is now named “Mirror Mirror”. Jeff was very interested in the Roberto Duran story; he’s also a boxing fan. They loved Scott’s script and over the last number of months we have been working on getting things together and we decided it’s time to go so we’re moving forward.”
“I met them through several different projects that we were working on at Winner Take All. We were currently working on the film version of Kid Shamrock, in which we have Kevin Connelly from Entourage involved. His uncle Pat was in our show. The producers loved our due diligence that we did for the project, but it was the script that really hooked them.”
The Duran project is still in the early stages and production has not begun, but plans are in the works including the inspirational idea for the locale being looked at to represent Duran’s homeland of Panama as it was decades ago. It is no longer the same Panama that existed when Duran was young so they are thinking about getting permission to film in Cuba which, presumably, will look more like the Panama of the 1950’s and 1960’s than the Panama of today does.
**A LESSER DURAN**
This film on the great Duran is only one of two in the works, but, Schuster explains, his is the only one with legitimacy, “First of all the other one has been bouncing around in ‘possibilityland’ for a long time.”
Schuster said that there are many people who believe that they own the rights to tell Duran’s story. “There are a number of people that claim that they bought the ‘Life Rights,’“ said Schuster. “The only real rights that are out there for Roberto Duran, as far as we can assess, is the right for us to do the movie based on the book. We bought the rights to the book. It’s the only legitimate offering out there that has true rights to it. We are the only ones who own it. As a matter of fact, the reason Jeff Waxman, who is with a big movie studio, was interested in working with us is because he did his homework as well and he felt that we were the only ones with any real rights that can be researched and found to a Duran story because it is based on the book.”
Schuster further believes that his film will be the definitive one because of the people behind it. “Jeff, being one of the biggest producers out there right now with his Academy Award winning “The Fighter,” speaks for itself. Scott wrote a fantastic script which blew Jeff away and we believe that we will put together a great cast.”
Schuster added that several major studios have expressed interest the Duran movie.
**BENTT ON BOARD**
To add to the quality and authenticity of the movie they have brought in former WBO Heavyweight Champion and actor turned director Michael Bentt to do all boxing consulting for the film. “He trained Will Smith for ‘Ali’ and played Sonny Liston. We are happy to have him on board and we know that he will do a phenomenal job getting anyone in shape who we decide to go with in the role.”
“Jeff Waxman had a meeting with us and he said Dave I respect you,” added Schuster. “Jeff showed up at my Kid Shamrock show and brought with him Catherine Hardwick who directed the first Twilight movie. He brought another producer with him, Jamie Marshall, and they were blown away by the show and he said, ‘Instant credibility’. He was very excited about the prospect of doing a movie with me. After seeing Kid Shamrock he said it was phenomenal; and he loved Michael Bentt’s work.
While there is much work to do to fill all the roles Schuster admitted that they are looking at a lesser known, but accomplished actor to play Duran and his name is Michael Peña. Peña has appeared in “Tower Heist,” “Crash,” and “World Trade Center”. And, said Schuster, has the right look to play Duran.
**AND THERE’S MORE………**
Winner Take All is working on another movie involving a fighter, Harry Haft, a Jewish holocaust survivor who becomes a boxer and ends up fighting professionally in the US.
“It’s based on a true story,” said Schuster. “He fought for the pleasure of the guards at Auschwitz.” Haft boxed Heavyweight Champion to be Rocky Marciano and future challenger Roland LaStarza. Schuster said that Haft fought Marciano because he knew that he would get in the papers and that way he could find the love of his life who he found out was in the US. “It’s really a love story.”
NOTE: In the death camps Haft was forced to fight other Jews to stay alive. His son, Allan Scott Haft wrote that his father realized that to survive, he had to win bare knuckle fights.