Networking is key to any business. Cynthia Sperry is a Fullerton-based producer that has made connections in Los Angeles' entertainment industry, but the passion and inspiration for her current project came from a philanthropist based out of South Africa who raises money for children with cleft palates. Cynthia shares a story that is one of many examples of how business can be done just by getting the right people in touch with each other.
By Cynthia Sperry:
In July, 2012, I flew to England and signed an option agreement with famous South African chef/extreme athlete/inspirational speaker David Grier to produce a TV series based on his treks across several countries. We met while he was running the length of the U.K. from John O'Groats to Lands End. He ran this trek in 25 days for the children's charity Miles for Smiles, providing facial reconstruction surgeries for children born with cleft palates. To date, David has run the entire length of the Great Wall of China in 2008, the perimeter of South Africa (2009), solo kayaked across the Mozambique channel (2010) and a run the length of Madagascar following the kayaking. Last year, he completed an amazing five-month run from the Northernmost temple of India to the Southernmost temple in Kaniyakumari India (2011). David and his running partner for this trek, Andrew Stuart, are currently running the length of Ireland.
As a former FCLO performer and waitress at the Cellar, and Mulberry Street, I decided to pursue filmmaking and screenwriting several years ago. I finished an accelerated film school program with a producer's diploma and made a couple of short films. I was asking the universe to give me something really special and worthwhile to be involved in, something I could have great pride in developing, and this [project] just dropped in my lap! Funny how that works!
I first heard of David Grier in 2010 when I was writing a screenplay about two girls on a quest in Madagascar. I was twittering with people from that country to learn more about the coup that had taken place in early 2009. Several persons mentioned about this South African named David Grier who was running across the country. I began to follow his treks after that. In early 2011 I contacted him about purchasing his beautiful coffee table books with his stories and stunning photos. I wondered in my inquiry why he wasn't filming his treks. He said that he had HD footage of all his treks but was having problems finding anyone who wanted to develop it. I was stunned. I sent out an e-mail to a very big Hollywood producer that I had been studying screenwriting with and sought his advice. I received a very helpful and inspiring e-mail from him, and another reply the following day from him saying that another producer was interested in this project, so we met in Hollywood to discuss it over lots of coffee and tea. The new partner basically said that he would co-produce this TV series with me if the footage was right.
My next hurdle was to get the footage. David and I sent many e-mails back and forth, and last year he sent a hard drive containing the footage along with copies of his three printed books: "Courage and Rice," his trek along the Great Wall; "Hope and Thyme," a journey along South Africa's coast; and "Burnt Vanilla," about his trek across Madagascar. The hard drive made it to me in Fullerton; the books never did. I was so excited to receive the hard drive, it was like Christmas morning! I ran to my friend's house to view, as it was formatted to Mac and I was working from a PC. I was horrified to see that the whole hard drive had been magnetized in transit and completely erased all of the footage.
Now David was flying to India to begin his five-month run, so I had to wait another five months to solve the footage transfer dilemma.
After his run across India, I began to plan a trip to South Africa to meet him and get the footage, books and to have him sign a formal agreement giving me rights as Executive Producer to develop his footage. This was an important meeting to me as this would mean many hours invested. I wanted to be sure we had a solid agreement before I started and I wanted to meet face-to-face so that he would know who I am and my level of integrity toward this TV project. It turns out David was making his final preparations for his run across the UK. I decided to meet him there, just because it was half the distance for me as South Africa would have been.
I flew to Manchester on July 4th and met David Grier, Andrew Stuart and Darren Swartz (driver/crew) at the Black Bear pub in Whitchurch, UK just on the border of Wales. We enjoyed a fantastic meal which concluded with the chef asking to meet David in the kitchen for pictures. I took possession of two hard drives containing all the footage and three books to carry home with me.
Early in his run across the UK, David suffered an injury to his Achilles heel and was walking for 13 hours a day to keep up his distance of 50 km or more per day...in the rain! David and Andrew completed the run across the UK in 25 days and started a bonus challenge of running Ireland as well. They are currently running near Limerick, Ireland.
The TV series will probably have names following the titles of his books...there will be upcoming books on his India run, "Tea and Philosophy" (I think), and he has not finished the UK as yet. In 2013 there will be a solo kayak from Key West to Cuba, a run across Cuba and a paddle back to Key West, so we will have a series of seven episodes so far, probably formatted in 30 min. episodes.
The best part in all of this is that David does all this running to raise money for the Charity "Miles for Smiles" which funds facial reconstruction surgeries for children born with cleft palates. He attends the surgeries personally with his wife Lizelle and 10-year-old daughter Jade, who comforts the children and hands out stuffed animals to them when they are scared. His devotion to this charity is amazing as he is truly changing lives step by step, country by country. The TV series will also highlight some of the children who have been affected by this life-changing surgery.
The option agreement will be for the development of the series over the next 18 months, and the final sale and distribution will be determined after that.