Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: Since they got a big write up in the Wall Street Journal late last month, the “Tag Brothers” have been swarmed by movie producers hoping they would tell one of them, “you’re it.” Meaning he gets the chance to translate their story to the movie screen. Who are the “Tag Brothers?” They are the 10 classmates at Gonzaga Preparatory School in Spokane, Washington 23 years ago whose long-running game of tag got national attention, thanks to the Russell Adams article. Now in their 40s, the former classmates have spread across the country in various fields (one’s a priest), but they stay in touch during the month of February by chasing each other across the country in an obsessive game of tag. They will jet cross country, break into each other’s homes, hide in the bushes until a target appears, or leave for a long vacation to avoid being tagged, all in the name of not ending up “It,” and having to wear that loser title a whole year.

Well, the “Tag Brothers” have just told Broken Road’s Todd Garner that he’s it. After hearing pitches from more than a half dozen established producers who wanted to turn their story into a feature film, they’ve optioned their life rights to Garner, in a deal put together by ICM Partners (which reps the guys) and UTA (which reps the WSJ). Garner will put together a package that he’ll shop to studios. Since studios have been among those making calls, it shouldn’t be a hard sell.

The rights chasing game is something to behold, especially in this day and age when most producers have little or no money to pay the hot subjects of the moments. What they have is the power of persuasion that maybe, just maybe, they can figure out a movie that a studio will buy, which means real money for the subjects. Of course, the track record for movies on fact-based subjects has been hit or miss. In the win column is that time Texas high school chemistry teacher and baseball coach Jim Morris found that his injured arm healed well enough to uncork a 98 mph fastball, which got him to the big leagues at 39. That became the Dennis Quaid hit The Rookie. Successes like that or Chris Gardner’s unlikely story that became The Pursuit Of Happyness are countered by other subjects that created a frenzy and stampede, but cooled and got forgotten before a movie could be made. So far at least that includes J Mac, Sony’s attempt to make a film based on high schooler Jason McElwain, the autistic teen who was his hoops team manager, but who was put into the team’s final game in the waning moments in 2006. He promptly drained six three-pointers, all of them captured on ESPN Sports Center telecasts, which had producers swarming.

When studios get directly involved, the stakes get much higher, but that doesn’t always lead to a movie. Another rights chase which still hasn’t panned was a New York Times story about the Fugees, a youth soccer club comprised of international refugees who settled in Clarkston, Ga, and coached by a Jordan-born female coach. That front page article created such demand that Universal beat three other studios and paid $2 million against $3 million for movie rights. That was back in 2007 and no movie has yet materialized. But those refugee kids weren’t left high and dry:  part of that deal called for the studio to pay $500,000 to build a soccer field for immigrant kids from war-torn countries who’d been banned from playing on a grassy field in the local town park. Studios rarely pay development money like that anymore, but the Tag Brothers saga seems promising to me. Who can resist a tale about a group of adult men who refuse to completely grow up by devoting themselves to such an adolescent pursuit as a cross country version of a school yard game that keeps up the bonds of friendship in the process?