When a Studio Investigates Its Own Project – The Hollywood Reporter

It began with an anonymous note and ended with the scuttling of a $35 million feature. Skydance was about two months away from starting production on Dallas Sting, an inspirational true-life tale that was to star Matthew McConaughey, when the film was scrapped Sept. 14. It was to focus on a high school-age girls soccer team that in 1984 defeated some of the best women’s teams in the world, and their coach, Bill Kinder.

McConaughey’s representative at WME received an anonymous complaint about Kinder, forwarding it to producers at Skydance and Berlanti Productions. In an interview with the Daily Mail on Sept. 15, Kinder said the letter accused him of inappropriate touching and namecalling. (Kinder, who was alerted to the letter Aug. 29, denied the claims.)

Sources tell The Hollywood Reporter that Skydance hired an investigator to track down the accuser, launching a probe that saw many interviews conducted during the next two weeks.

It is unclear what the probe revealed or whether it had even finished as a chilling effect frosted over: McConaughey, who was going to play the coach, and director Kari Skogland left the project, which had the potential to become radioactive. No one wanted to face the possibility of being in a junket a year down the road answering questions about a character’s alleged misconduct. “People got spooked,” notes one insider.

Producers working in the real-life arena watched with some trepidation as the project got its plug pulled and Skydance took a hit of several million dollars. After all, no formal accusation had been made; no one had stepped out to publicly criticize the coach. Underscoring the rarity of the situation, one executive focused on the journalistic adaptations says studio investigations like this “never happen,” with companies assuming skeletons will shake out as journalists write articles.

Still, there have been instances in the past when allegations surfaced late in the game. In late 2019, Apple had to adjust course on the Samuel L. Jackson, Anthony Mackie film The Banker, after the son of Mackie’s character, Bernard Garrett Sr., was accused of molesting two girls in the family decades earlier. Apple abandoned an Oscars push for the film and moved its release out of awards season.

Observers don’t believe the Sting situation will have a chilling effect on the telling of true-life stories, as its dynamics seem to be pretty specific. One producer who has adapted works of journalism for TV dramatization says that you usually see smoke before there is fire if you talk to enough people in a subject’s life. Because the film featured someone — Kinder — who isn’t a household name, there were fewer available public records against with which to weigh moving forward on the biopic.

Still, “the takeaway is, all it takes is allegations, and that’s enough to make it true.” Says another producer: “The whole value of the project is contingent on that story. If the story becomes questionable, the value is gone.”

Aaron Couch contributed reporting.

A version of this story appeared in the Sept. 27 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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