An avid reporter never wants to let go of a piece of news until it receives its due. But that can work the other way, too: A piece of news may bite hard on a reporter and never seem to let him go.
Charlottes Mark Ethridge has been hooked by the killing of a black teenager in Fairfax, S.C., for almost four decades. He brought the story to light with fellow reporter John York in the mid-1970s, as a Charlotte Observer newbie. In 2006, he came up with Grievances, a novel about the incident.
Now comes the movie, renamed Deadline to make its journalistic roots clear. It gets a red-carpet premiere Wednesday in Raleigh. Premiere proceeds will benefit the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina.
This is not Mark Ethridges life story, said Ethridge, president of Carolina Parenting Inc.Producer-director Curt Hahn noted it is inspired by a true story. As Mark likes to say, Its not all factual, but its all true.
The killing happened in 1970, the same year as a racially motivated murder in Oxford that inspired the nonfiction book Blood Done Sign My Name. But the S.C. murder had never gone to trial.
A few years later, an academic type shows up in the Observer newsroom with a stack of folders, Ethridge recalled. He says, I think Ive solved a murder. You had to talk to these people, in case this was the one out of a hundred who was telling the truth. He was a rich Yankee blueblood named Beekman Winthrop, and he was right.
The tale contain a lot of detail from Ethridges life: The main character marries an intelligent and independent ceramicist, as he did, and comes to grips with a father a famed journalist dying of cancer who has never fully expressed his love.
Hahn and Ethridge had known each other as classmates at Phillips Exeter Academy in the 1960s. Decades had passed without contact when they met at a 40th class reunion.
He said hed been approached about optioning Grievances for a movie, Hahn recalled. Mark really wanted to stay involved with the story. But when he expressed the desire to write the screenplay, Hollywood people would say, Thanks very much. Well get a professional to write it.
When I first talked to him about partnering on the movie, I told him Id want him to do it, because hed lived that story.
Financial constraints inspired changes. Hahn knew Tennessee locations, so the Charlotte Times office was reproduced in the Nashville Tennessean. Ethridge trimmed a couple of dogs from the story because their handler wanted $10,000 to put them on the set.
Hahn felt the plot had too many male heroes of roughly the same age. So they kept the crusading reporter (played by Steve Talley), crusty newshound (Eric Roberts) and crafty editor (Jeremy Childs). But they turned the character based on Winthrop into a woman, played by Lauren Jenkins.
More crucially, they updated the story to the present.
Now they had no worries about possible 1970s anachronisms or depictions of clunky computer monitors, which might be off-putting to the flat-screen generation.
We wanted this film to be accessible to all ages, especially people in their 20s who dont appreciate newspapers as much as they might, Hahn said.