“It’s a football story like we’ve never seen depicted on the big screen before,” said Antonio Saillant, Angel Light Pictures’ founder and president, about his directorial debut, The Golden Knights.
Based on the true story of the Northern Valley Regional High School Golden Knights, this family-friendly film will focus on the underdog team’s infamous 1979 season, where it ended a 24 game losing streak by defeating rival Westwood High School in the season’s final game. “It’s a story about overcoming adversity and regaining the edge to succeed,” said Saillant, who has been developing the film since 2011.
The project intends to illustrate how a struggling football team fought back against the odds and reinstill a sense of pride and foster a winning spirit in the team, school, and town. For the Golden Knights, until this final game, losing had become the expectation – “You would get on that football field and practice and you already knew that, come Saturday, you would lose,” said Steve Bruman, the Golden Knight former offensive lineman who is currently assisting in developing the film. After three winless years, the Golden Knights had lost hope, but the fire was reignited by a young coach and the team’s captains – “The film is personal; we learned to be successful in games and in life,” said Bruman.
Both men working on bringing this story to the big screen – Antonio Saillant and Steve Bruman – are alumni of Northern Valley Regional High School and their hope is that “this story will awaken people to the spirit that sometimes we lose, but with leadership, a winning spirit, and a belief in yourself you can do anything you want,” said Saillant. “My biggest inspiration for developing this film is my brother, Angel, who actually was one of the captains of the Golden Knights.”
“The most important goal is the art of storytelling. This particular film, because it was basically part of me growing up and it had significant moments in my life that sharpen my senses, made me listen carefully, look for the detail, and awaken my curiosity. I’m hoping that this story will spread a positive message to the audience that they understand that many kids go through in high school,” said Saillant. It is the film’s intention to “maintain the integrity of the school and portray it in a favorable light,” said Brumen.
Film production and development has been slowed since Northern Valley Regional High School was contacted in 2011 with the initial idea for the movie. “With this film, it’s important to try and keep true to the spirit of the initial idea,” said Saillant, who intends to keep the film’s New Jersey roots.
Production can be scouted to be filmed anywhere – New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania – but to keep true to the story the producers have been fighting to ensure the story about New Jersey remains in the state. Funding for independent films can be a struggle, which often times benefit from state tax credits. Investors have been found to move the film forward; however, investment by the state would help with its development.
Part of the problem for Saillant and other filmmakers is that politics, and in particular, myopic anti-tax groups stepped in and pushed Governor Chris Christie to end tax credits for movie and television production. While The Golden Knights had been in development as far back as 2011, Christie ended the tax and film credits in New Jersey, forcing many filmmakers to look elsewhere for locations. While the move made sense for Governor Christie, as he eyes a presidential run in 2016, the decision dealt a blow for production companies and they soon looked elsewhere for locations. “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit,” “Boardwalk Empire,” and other television shows and films relocated to states that incentivized filming.
From the non-partisan Tax Foundation:
Back in the spring (2011), motion picture industry lobbyists and their supporters successfully pushed the New Jersey legislature to quintuple the size of that state’s film subsidy program, but were met with a veto from Governor Chris Christie (R). The bill has been reintroduced but in the meantime the New Jersey Economic Development Authority awarded $420,000 in tax credits to the popular (infamous?) television show Jersey Shore.
Christie vetoed the award: “My serious concerns with the Film Tax Credit Transfer Program (the ‘Program’) are well documented. And, as you know, the EDA’s February 2011 review noted the Program’s questionable returns to taxpayers and recommended its termination. In this difficult fiscal climate, the taxpayers of New Jersey should not be forced to subsidize projects such as Jersey Shore. We must ensure that our limited taxpayer dollars are spent on programs and projects that best benefit the State of New Jersey. I have no interest in policing the content of such projects; however, as Chief Executive I am duty-bound to ensure that taxpayers are not footing a $420,000 bill for a project which does nothing more than perpetuate misconceptions about the State and its citizens.”
“The tax credit to Jersey Shore illustrates the potential for wasteful spending inherent in the implementation of the Program. Such potential was the prime reason for my veto of legislation earlier this year which would have grossly expanded the Program’s funding.”
There is hope though for aspiring and established filmmakers. New Jersey’s Senate Economic Growth Committee pushed a bill out of committee that increased tax credits past the current cap of $10 million a year. Whether it passes is another story.
Undaunted, Antonio Saillant and Steve Brumen soldier on with their project to bring the legacy of the Golden Knights to the big screen.