How We Came By The Rights
A branding effort for Lane Furniture involved a series of national television advertisements. Michael Erkel’s design firm developed these ads for a successful roll out of children’s bedroom furnishings.
Heading home after a pretty intense day of shooting, Michael fondly considered how much his toddler would have fawned over all the horse statues decorating the set for the girl’s bedroom. At the time their youngest, Elizabeth, already had a serious case of horse fever and, at the ripe old age of three, had grown out of the ABC horse videos and graduated to National Velvet. What other famous horse stories had not been made into films, he wondered. When he put the question to Cynthia, she was baffled that they couldn't remember ever seeing a Billy and Blaze film - not even an animation.
With that, Cynthia decided to see if Welkin Studios could possibly obtain the rights. If it was left to Hollywood the gentle masterpiece might end up showcasing life-and-death struggles with lots of dancing. Since this was a pretty far stretch from the approach the books required, the couple wondered if Welkin Studios could be trusted with a script that could rise to its level and possibly become one of the classics - if they could just get the chance.
So, as they continued to go about their daily design and IT businesses, Michael and Cynthia quietly worked on the concept and began making connections that led to the C. W. Anderson Estate, and most notably, Mrs. Phyllis Anderson Wood. Mrs. Wood was the niece of C. W. Anderson. In their first conversation, Cynthia was to find Mrs. Wood had no interest in the book becoming a movie. She was a published author in her own right and was not impressed by scripts that had already been submitted. As the conversation went on, however, both authors were intrigued by their mutual commitment to keep the integrity of the stories intact. Hollywood had approached her about the stories but thought they required more tension, intensity, and action. Billy and Blaze is more about awakening a gratitude for beauty in the natural world around us.
With Mrs. Wood's encouragement, Cynthia began to write a script that would honor C. W. Anderson's every illustration. This took over a year and an amazing amount of creativity, but, once the script was finished, Mrs. Wood only requested that the girl in the story have a sweet but subtle admiration for Billy. When the changes were reviewed, Welkin Studios was given the green light on its viability and began to work on the locations and funding. Several very trying learning experiences involved all manner of movie business types. Every year there seemed to be one component missing. They had a Blaze, but no Billy. They had a Billy but no Blaze. With no real funding, they were spending their own money. Then, after several years, they finally were encouraged by a very kind individual who, without hesitation, offered half the “green light” monies needed to begin, IF they could find the other half.
Working on that premise and building resources for the investor packages became almost a full time job. Soon, however, the pieces began to come together with an initial investment that was subsequently increased to help cover the production phases. Other investors joined in and with the help of all of these wonderfully hopeful people behind them, the Erkels were able to run the production of the movie and get it "in the can".
On the very day of final cinematography Michael was in Washington DC representing the movie at the 60th anniversary Washington International Horse Show, by invitation. The two and half minute promotional video that the company produced for this event was shown all weekend long and generated very intense interest. This promotional video has subsequently been shown at each of the latest regional Equus Film Festivals with the same enthusiasm. Everyone wants to see the movie.
Currently, the movie is in full post-production.