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An Honest Pitch: Brand Placement Helped Get ‘Game’ to Bat

After being derailed by bad economy, producers took inspiration from their movie’s story and stayed in the game

It was in spring 2006 that we humble producers first heard the true tale of a group of penniless kids from Monterrey, Mexico, who inconceivably won 13 games in a row en route to winning the 1957 Little League Baseball World Series.

The man relaying the story was first-time screenwriter William Winokur, who had just returned from Mexico after gaining the life rights of each of the original championship team members.

The Perfect Game Emilie de RavinMandalay Sports Action Entertainment — under the Mandalay Banner, where we both honed our craft and still worked at the time — was skeptical of the idea.

Would anybody really be interested in a period piece about a Mexican Little League team? For us, self-described “sports guys,” the answer was obviously Yes!

And thus began the journey of the film "The Perfect Game."

After securing the finances necessary, filming finally began in the summer of 2007. In our mind, the vision was clear: First and foremost, we were striving to make a positive film. Secondly, thanks to Winokur, we understood the great affection and pride that the people of Monterrey had and still have for this team, a true closeness that is unparalleled.

With that knowledge in mind, we knew we needed to capture that magic, and we knew we couldn’t let down the citizens of Monterrey. Easier said than done.

A schedule change, an investor fallout and a director switch nearly left us at square one, all before things had really began.

But 37 days of shooting and $10 million later, the film wrapped, and the next phase of the project came into focus.

Securing brand participation has recently become a key element in many entertainment-based platforms.

For the independent filmmaker, which we now had officially become — with the film serving as our springboard, we left Mandalay in 2007 to start HighRoad Entertainment — integrating corporate brands into the marketing plan is one way to raise financing without the help of a traditional studio bank.

When the pitch is honest, the pitch is simple. For us, it was The Perfect Game Clifton Collins Jr.merely a matter of articulating what we knew to be true: "The biggest thing a brand can become is a brand ambassador."

With this film, we had not just a compelling story, but also a compelling vehicle.

We felt that with this vehicle we’d be able to convince brands to associate themselves with the message. And so they did.

By spring 2008, "The Perfect Game" had branding deals with Coca-Cola, Fruit of the Loom and Spalding, just to name a few.

Adding to the film’s hot streak was a worldwide distribution deal with Lionsgate encompassing a wide-scale domestic release scheduled just before the Little League World Series was to air on ESPN. It seemed everything was in place and coming to fruition just as we had envisioned.

Then, the economy collapsed, and with it the financial foundation of the film. In a blink, the great momentum of "The Perfect Game" had evaporated.

Within months, the deal with Lionsgate was lost and the film was mired in the muddy waters of government receivership.

Now designated with the task of reviving the film while in the midst of the worst financial disaster of our times, suddenly, it was we who needed inspiration. Luckily, we knew just where to look.

Perhaps it was a blessing in disguise (as most blessings seem to be), because while experiencing the worst of it, we rediscovered our motivation. We thought about those 1957 kids. We thought of them walking across the border with nothing except a sack lunch and a dream. They didn’t whine and complain, they dug in, and they won!

With those kids in mind, we had to ask ourselves: Are we going to quit? Or are we going to win!? Of course, the answer became obvious.

On paper, "The Perfect Game" is a lock for those seeking an "underdog" movie experience; in reality, it’s much more than that.

Yes, it’s definitely about overcoming the odds, yes it’s a sports movie, yes it’s a family movie that portrays Latinos in a positive way.

But mostly, it’s about following your dreams, whatever they may be. It’s why we make movies; it’s why those kids first picked up a bat and ball. It’s about the realization that true fulfillment is only achieved if you’ve followed your own personal rainbow.

After all, what else could one truly desire other than to follow one’s own heart?

So it goes in Hollywood… Life inspires art, and very often art inspires life.

For us, the journey will inevitably continue. And more importantly, so will that of the boys who first trekked across the border more than 50 years ago. "The Perfect Game" opens domestically on April 16.

David Salzberg, president of HighRoad Entertainment, is a seasoned veteran with more than 15 years of experience in branding and branded entertainment. Christian Tureaud, principal of HighRoad Entertainment, is an expert with more than a decade’s worth of experience in both sports branding and marketing. Salzberg has worked with major companies such as Coca-Cola, Subway, Volvo and Motorola, while Tureaud has forged major deals with several conglomerates, including Major League Baseball Properties, Major League Soccer, Universal Studios, Warner Bros. and Viacom. HighRoad Entertainment partnered with Coca-Cola, Little League and Fruit of the Loom for "The Perfect Game," as well as working with charity H2O Africa on its film "Running the Sahara" to help provide clean water for Africa.