Unless you’re dealing with a proven hit-making quantity in Hollywood, there’s a good chance that your would-be project will have some growing pains and setbacks along the way to production. One of the most recent examples of perseverance winning out at the movies is director Reginald Hudlin’s sports biopic Safety, which debuts on Disney+ this weekend, and comes after nearly two decades in development. Telling the true story of former Clemson football player Ray McElrathbey, and how he tried to balance the life of a college student with caring for his younger brother, the film is purely in the wheelhouse of the same studio that brought us top tier sports movies like Remember The Titans and Miracle. But this wasn’t always how it was meant to be.
In fact, as I was able to speak with several key players behind Safety’s journey to Disney+ during the film’s press day, a greater story started to emerge behind the film’s origins. And it all starts with producer Mark Ciardi, the man who helped bring those Disney sport pictures we mentioned above, as well as others, to life. Becoming inspired by the McElrathbey story as it was unfolding, Ciardi has wanted to tell this uplifting story since 2006. He described the beginning and near end of that journey in the following anecdote:
You know, initially, we set it up, it wasn’t at Disney at the time. I tried at Disney, and for whatever reason, the timing wasn’t there. I can’t even remember back [to] why. But we set it up at another studio, we wrote a draft, I thought the draft was pretty strong, and we came close to making it. But it just didn’t happen, I mean there’s a lot of stories in development, that are worthy of having a movie made, the script might be good enough; but these are multimillion dollar investments. And a lot of it is like what the schedule looks like, and timing of things.
A twist that already puts the story of Safety’s production into an interesting context is the fact that, initially, Mark Ciardi couldn’t get the film made through the mainline studio system at Disney. Which, naturally, led to what any good producer would do: shop the project around to other studios that might want to adapt Ray McElrathbey’s inspiring true story for the masses. Ciardi is one of the best people to play in that particular game as well, as his experience with inspirational sports films in the Disney canon has yielded cinematic offerings that people still enjoy watching to this day.
Of course, that tactic only found Safety delayed even further when it came to its eventual production. As Mark Ciardi pointed out in his story above, there was a point where the film was almost made, but eventually scrapped. This left him with a rather interesting option that allowed Ciardi to bring Safety back home to the Disney fold. As the studio announced its Disney+ initiative, as well as the new slate that would be required to stock the content pantry with goodies for would-be subscribers, a prime opportunity for reunion came in the following package, as Ciardi explained:
So when Disney+ announced a few years ago that they were gonna kind of launch this service, I brought it back over to Disney, and the timing was perfect. They loved the idea, and it was a whole new regime, Sean Bailey and a bunch of great executives over there. So we kinda continued to work on the script, brought in Randy McKinnon, terrific writer, and then [Reginald Hudlin] came in on the project. And you know [you] just have to put together the right team, and have the very best script you can, and put it together. Then all of a sudden we were making it. We knew that once we were making it, that the movie should be successful based on what we were saying and what was on the page. It’s exciting to see this everything come together, and I’m really happy for this to finally get out into the world.
Over a decade of finessing Safety into its final form, a campaign of hustle turned a story that could have easily fallen by the way side into a streaming debut arriving when the world needs it most. The uplifting story of Ray McElrathbey can be seen in its cinematic incarnation, as director Reginald Hudlin’s Safety debuts on Disney+ this Friday. If you’re interested in the film, you should keep it tuned here to CinemaBlend, as we’ll be running more of our coverage in the run up to game day. Though if you’re curious about what’s coming to theaters in the year ahead, our 2021 release schedule is available for your perusal, ready to help you make your game plan for the future.