Sunday, April 16, 2000

Moviemaker pitches 'Perfect Game'

Cincinnati native teams with brother to make family movie for Disney video

BY Margaret A. McGurk
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Dan Guntzelman left home a long time ago.

        The Anderson Township native quit his job at WKRC in 1976 and moved to Los Angeles. There, he made it big writing and producing television series — most famously, WKRP in Cincinnati and Growing Pains.

        But only now is he reaching the goal that led him away — to make movies. On Tuesday, his first feature as writer-director, Perfect Game, will be released on video by the home entertainment arm of Disney.

        Though he made the film independently hoping for a theatrical release, he is not displeased at the exposure it will receive in the booming market for family-oriented fare on video.

        The movie stars Cameron Finley (Leave It to Beaver) as the worst player on the worst team in his park league, coached by his widowed mother (Tracy Nelson) and a former minor-leaguer (Ed Asner), who comes out of retirement to lend a hand. Patrick Duffy plays an opposing coach who embodies the belief that winning is everything.

        The movie's charm lies in the authentic youngsters who make up the struggling team.

        “I wanted to make a movie for boys that was not kung fu or incredibly violent,” Mr. Guntzelman said. “I wanted to make one that was set in this world, not someplace where people are transformed into mushrooms or something.

        “This is a story of kids in suburbia playing baseball and it's treated with respect,” he said.

        For instance? “We don't do funny little rock 'n' roll cues off their nervousness about the game. This is serious stuff to the kids.... They really respond to the challenge of batting a ball, of not looking foolish in front of your friends, of getting through with some dignity.”

        The story was inspired in part by Mr. Guntzelman's experiences with his son Kanin, 14, and daughter Logan, 10; he even named the star character and his kid sister after them.

        It is also no coincidence that in the movie Kanin is grappling with the death of his father. “I lived through that at the age of 12,” Mr. Guntzelman said.

        Even after so much time away, the filmmaker said, he still feels connected to his hometown.

        “It's funny; as the years go on, you miss it more and more. Three years ago we started making trips home at least once a year with the kids — usually once a summer.

        “What I miss about it is...reality. There's a certain practicality, a certain sense of perspective” in the Midwest, he said. “Some of the early attractions of L.A. end up being less than attractive now. It's pretty much caught on the wave of what's current, and that can have an amazing impact on kids.”

        The filmmaker brought his brother, cinematographer John Gunselman (they spell their last name differently), from Anderson to California to shoot the film.

        “The key to doing a picture and having it look like a real movie is who's gonna shoot it. John, he just did me the ultimate favor of coming out and doing this, and the overwhelming response to how it looks amazes me. It's such a gorgeous movie, it's off the charts. And it's his achievement.”

        Now working largely in commercials, John Gunselman began his film career in the mid-'60swhile still a teen-ager. According to former McNicholas High School civics teacher Bill Fanning, he wanted to avoid writing a term paper and instead produced a movie about Cincinnati called A Bend in the River.

        Before filming began almost two years ago, John Gunselman described Perfect Game as “very exciting for me and just a monstrous departure from things I have been doing....But once you get moving, you just do what you always do.”

        The brothers also worked together — John as director, Dan as writer-producer — on the TV series Just the Ten of Us.

        Creating a film without the security of studio backing proved an education, Dan Guntzelman said.

        “I thought if you make a pretty good film, and if you aim it at a particular segment of the audience, and if you pull all of that off, it can't be too difficult. (I learned) it's more complicated than that.

        “I had no idea how crazy I was when I started.”


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