The screenwriter behind Steve Austin's upcoming family drama discusses the origins of the movie, on Blu-ray and DVD April 26th
Knockout, a new family film from director Anne Wheeler starring Steve Austin, is set to hit Blu-ray and DVD on April 26th. The story follows Dan Barnes (Austin), a former pro boxer who retires after growing weary of his violent existence. Now a school janitor, Dan tries to help a new student, Matthew Miller (Daniel Magder), who is being targeted by bullies. While Matthew learns how to box and stand up to his tormentors, one of whom is the school boxing champ (Jaren Brandt Bartlett), Dan's new found role as a teacher helps him come to terms with his tumultuous past.
We recently caught up with Evan Jacobs, who wrote Knockout, to find out more about the origins of the film, and to gain some insight into the world of screenwriting for low budget, direct-to-DVD movies. Here is our conversation.
This was originally written under the title 'The Boxer and the Kid'. Why the title change? And what did you think about the promotional materials that have come out in support of the film, which don't really talk about the relationship between Stone Cold Steve Austin and the young boy he is training to be a boxer?
Evan Jacobs: It was originally called The Sensory Kid, and it was about this kid who had autism. He was a big boxing fan. As it got closer to being made, that idea of a boy with autism being a fighter made some people uneasy. So they asked, "Can we change this a little bit?" From that point, the movie became known as The Boxer and the Kid. Up in Canada, its now called The Knockout Kid. Down here, they went with Knockout. The poster just has Steve Austin's face. I don't know what the thinking is behind that. I just know that Steve Austin is the star, and he's the reason it got made in the first place. As the guy who first wrote a script that featured a kid with autism, I would have loved to have had that image of a kid with his arms raised in victory. But I guess they did what they could to sell it. I have a one-sheet that they gave me, when it was called The Knockout Kid. And it has that exact picture of the kid. Then there is a little picture of Stone Cold down at the bottom. I think, what they were thinking, was, "For American Audiences, lets slap his face on it!" Then, boom! People will know that this is a Steve Austin movie, even if its not really. I guess you could call it an action-family film. It's not really an "action" film. Its not The Expendables.
The first ads I saw for Knockout glossed over the fact that there is a kid in this at all. You wouldn't automatically think that this is an ode to the Karate Kid, or that it was even geared towards tweens and families...
Evan Jacobs: That's the thing. They sent me a trailer for it a while ago, and it looked exactly like what I had in my mind for it. I got really excited. It's a kid movie. He is nervous about going to this new school. He is getting picked on. Stone Cold comes in, and its just like The Karate Kid. Mr. Miagi comes out, starts helping him a little bit. One thing leads to another. He starts training him. But I have not seen that trailer anywhere. Personally, I have to be honest with you, I love all of it. Dude, I have been writing forever. I have had some small scripts made here, and some made there. Maybe its because I am older, but I think this is great. I work in the world of independent cinema, and I understand how fragmented things are. People don't go to the movies like they did before. So studios, production companies, and distributors are doing whatever they can to get an audience. This is how the market is. I think what you are saying is right, they are not promoting what it is. But this is a Steve Austin movie. Hopefully you will want to see it just by virtue of the fact that he is in it.
When I look at IMDB, you don't have a writing credit on this movie. Yet it was your original script. What is going on with that?
Evan Jacobs: Dude, I hit up the production company after that happened. I asked them to include my name on there. They said they didn't update IMDB. The company that made the movie is busy. They just signed a deal with Universal. They are so busy. Aside from the fact that we are working on a lot of stuff together at this time? My vanity, and me wanting my name on the movie on IMDB, if I want that to happen, I am going to have to work that out myself. Just a few days ago, I sent them a request to change that. It takes seven to twenty-eight days for that to happen. Hopefully that will happen. But when I saw this movie on Amazon, when I saw the artwork, I found the distributor, and I called them. I asked them, "Hey, just out of curiosity, I am Evan Jacobs, and I wrote the movie, so am I on the packaging?" They said, "Oh, yeah. You are!" I've already been paid for this, so if I am being ripped-off, it's a credit thing only. I am working on other projects with this company. We always hear about how writers are treated. This company in particular has been great in terms of being hands on with me, and being up front with me. On everything. I am just happy to be here. I am going to be writing no matter what. The fact that I found people who like my stuff, and they are asking me to write more stuff? Great!
So when I sit down and put this movie in my DVD player, your name is going to come up in the credits...
Evan Jacobs: Yes. I would say so. I don't know why I would be on the packaging and not in the actual credits. When you finally get a copy of the movie, if I am not in there, send me your copy! I will re-edit my name back into the movie.
When you first sat down to write this, and its about a kid with autism who becomes a boxer, were you aware of the Tom Arnold movie The Kid and I? Which has him helping a kid with cerebral palsy to make an action movie?
Evan Jacobs: I actually watched that beforehand. Because I wanted to see how similar my idea was. I will be honest, my movie is basically The Karate Kid. There are some changes. It takes place in a school. It's boxing. The thing is, I work with kids that have autism. It's incredible, once you rally get into it, and find out what that is. The more I worked with these kids, the more I realized that they really respond to movie references. I would say something, and they wouldn't get what I was saying. They would want me to further explain it. But they knew a lot about movies, and that is how I found a way in with them. To answer your question, in that Tom Arnold movie, the kid had cerebral palsy. I liked that movie. They got together and made an action movie. It was directed by Penelope Spheeris.
I like movies like The Kid and I, where the main character has to face these types of adversities. Hollywood doesn't seem to make too many of them. When you change that idea, it does change what the movie is about. It changes what the movie is supposed to be..
Evan Jacobs: I originally thought that. I originally said, "I will not be able to change this." They worked with me. Eventually, everything worked out. It was one of those things. Though autism has been around forever, it's still so new that people don't really know what it is. We are all on the autism set. We are all somewhere on it. That's the way it is. That is why, two or three years ago, one out of every two hundred and fifty people born had autism. Now its one in every ninety-one. We are all somewhere on it, but where do you fall? That is a byproduct of the spectrum being widened. It was one of those things. I told the producer, look, I am not some primadonna. I am not some writer that is like, "What I write is gold! You can't touch it!" I totally understood. You think of someone with autism, or any disability, and the last thing you want to see is them getting hurt. So, I understood that. I think that is why...Hey, I am a hack, so I would have been good with it anyway...But I totally understood that. I told them, "If you want to change this, I need some help really knowing what you guys are going to do." It wasn't the usual notes that you get, and then you take them, and you try to work with them. In my mind, this is what I had in mind. When we first started to do this, they would send me stuff, and it was awesome. They did a really good job of it. I wish the autism element had of stayed in there. That is very personal to me. I really do care about that. But, at the same time, what I am hoping is, I can continue writing for this company, I can get those credits, and then that will enable me to do something with autism in the future.
Speaking on the movie as you changed it, and what it is now, we had a remake of the Karate Kid hit this past summer. And it was very successful. You'd think Knockout would be trying to ebb on that tide a bit...
Evan Jacobs: I have two points on what you said. Number one: I think the success of The Karate Kid had a big hand in why Knockout came together so quickly. Truthfully, when the producer came to me, and told me he liked the script, and that he was going to get it made, he promised it would be done in ten months. He turned around and got it done in four! That was incredible to me. That just doesn't happen. I've had a script optioned to a director, and this guy has had it for nine years. He tried to get it made, and he has come close a bunch of times. He hasn't been able to do it. This other guy comes, gets the movie, runs with it, and gets it made in four months. I think a big component of that is how well The Karate Kid did. The second part, going back to how the market is now, from what I understand, this movie was made for about $9 millon dollars. Around that. As you realize, I make independent movies. I make low budget movies. My stuff is nine hundred dollars. I am super low, low budget. But in today's market place, $9 million isn't a lot of money. I wonder, does the company figure: This is what the movie will do on VOD, this is what the movie will do on DVD...Is it worth it to have that theatrical release? They look at it, and it makes more sense not to do that. To you and I, nine million dollars seems like a lot of money. But I don't think it is. Sure, Black Swan was made for maybe $11 million and it did great in the theater...But we're talking about two very different kinds of movies here! I don't want you sitting there thinking that I believe I wrote a movie as brilliant as Black Swan. I did not. Please do not think that! I will be honest with you. I love After School Specials. I love that stuff. So, a movie like Knockout, I am stoked that I wrote a kid's movie and that it got made. Who knows, maybe some kid will be sitting at home, on a weekend, he'll see the movie, and he will like it. I am a sucker for that kind of stuff, so that's why I'm glad this got made.
Now, lets address something else. We have Billy Bob out in Nashville, where Steve Austin has a big following. He sees Knockout on the shelf so he rents it, thinking he is going to see something hard, full of action. What do you hope that guy, who isn't necessarily getting what he thinks he paid for, takes away from this experience?
Evan Jacobs: If he is expecting something like The Expendables, he'll be mad! I mean, the DVD doesn't show him holding a gun or running through the jungle. Punching the guy in the face. From what I have seen, if you walk into a video store, you are going to see Steve Austin hanging on some ropes. Then there's the names of the two co-stars. Its one of those things where someone might walk into the video store and see Knockout, and know that Steve Austin has been in a lot of direct-to-DVD movies. Some of them are from the same company that did Knockout. They will look at the back of the DVD, and I would guess, before they even rented it, that they will know what it is. There is a description of it. If it's a younger kid, they might go, "Oh, I will give it a try!" But if its like a father and a wife, and they are sitting at home and it comes up on Netflix, or DirecTv, or whatever, and they watch it...What I hope they take from it is that it's a well-worn story about someone being different, having some trouble, and then finding their groove. It's very simple. That's the thing. Even when I did the first draft, before I sent it out, it was just a really simple story. Going back to the autism thing, what I began to realize, as a writer, is that I didn't bring across autism as well as could have. Maybe I should have spent more time on that aspect of it. I had taken some things that I experience working with these autistic kids, that was so striking and powerful to me, but maybe I didn't explain it well enough. Ultimately, had I done that, maybe the original idea of the boy having autism could have stayed in the script. I think it was probably my fault as a writer. When I was in school for writing, my teacher would say, "I wonder about you. I know you can write. I wonder if you are just lazy." But then, there is another school of thought that Robert Rodriguez talks about. Don't get everything perfect. Write a script. Get it as good as it can possibly be. Then write another one. Then another one. And another. I like to go that route, because I hate rewrites. Hate doing the labor. I will do it. I have done it. But what I have found is that if rewrite it too much before I send it out to producers, its very hard for me to rewrite it. You become married to it. And it's harder for me to change it. That is what I want Billy Bob to take away from it. All of that. In a nutshell.
Knockout was released April 26th, 2011 and stars Steve Austin, Daniel Magder, Jaren Brandt Bartlett, Emma Grabinsky, Tess Atkins, Samuel Patrick Chu, Julian Domingues, Scott Hylands. The film is directed by Anne Wheeler.