The Sundance Film Festival will soon get underway, when filmmakers arrive with distribution deal dreams. Even those lucky enough to get such deals often watch the films they slaved over disappear or go straight to video, especially documentaries. That was the dilemma facing the makers of Everything In Between, a film that tracked the 4-month period from when Tim Tebow led the Florida Gators to a blowout 2010 Sugar Bowl victory to the NFL draft. The subject matter was compelling: despite Tebow’s unprecedented college success, many pundits—especially at ESPN—felt his mobile style of play and throwing motion would leave him lucky to be drafted at all, and that his NFL dream was a long shot. Director Chase Heavener became Tebow’s constant companion as he worked to prove the skeptics wrong, while dealing with the burden of fame (his clean-cut Christian values have made him an icon). Heavener talked Tebow into participating, helped by the fact their fathers were college roomies at Florida 40 years ago. The director financed the film through his company, Fiction, with former WMA agents Rob Lee and Dave Phillips, and Bill Heavener producing.
Chase Heavener ended up with 1000 hours of footage he cut into a feature. Unfortunately, the market for such a film is daunting. Even The Tillman Story, the superb Sundance-launched docu about the government cover-up of fratricide in the death of football star-turned Army Ranger Pat Tillman, grossed only around $800,000 in a short theatrical release. Instead of trying to go the festival route, Heavener called an audible and made an ESPN deal for the film, which launches the network’s series of hour-long specials on NFL passers. Heavener had to cut his docu to 50 minutes, but said that after tonight’s 7 PM airing, he’ll restore the length for a wide DVD release. Most important, he gave his film a chance to be seen by a wide audience, a lifeline that cable TV provides indie filmmakers more and more. Tebow, by the way, got picked in the first round by the Denver Broncos and ended the season as starting quarterback and rallied the team from a 17-0 halftime deficit to a late season 24-23 victory against the Houston Texans by passing for a touchdown and rushing for another.