INDIANAPOLIS — Mark Pellington remembers his NFL father as kind-hearted, quiet, a deep thinker and a lover of books. After Bill Pellington’s 12-year career with the Baltimore Colts ended in 1964, a career during which the brutal linebacker was called one of the “meanest and dirtiest” to ever play in the NFL, he joined the Literary Guild Book Club.
And, in July 1970, the guild’s choice of reading was “Going All the Way,” by Dan Wakefield of Indianapolis. Bill Pellington got the book, read it and put it on the shelf.
Mark Pellington was 14 years old when he entered his father’s den filled with volumes of Encyclopaedia Britannica, biographies and archives of novels.
“I remember looking on the shelves and seeing ‘Going All the Way,'” Mark Pellington said. – The title attracts you when you are 14 years old. It sounded rude, so he opened it.
“He saw that the book was about sex and young people,” Wakefield said last week, laughing. – And he wanted to read it.
That book, about two young Korean War veterans who return home to Indianapolis in search of love, sex, self-worth and identity, “took me in,” Mark Pellington said. He read it cover to cover and read it again. He read that book at least a dozen times in high school.
When Pellington packed up to go to college in New York, he took “Going All the Way” with him. As he graduated and his career took off in the world of freelance directing, Pellington kept that book.
Kao has directed music videos for U2, Crystal Waters and De La Soul. As his Pearl Jam video “Jeremy” won Pellington four MTV Awards in 1993, including Best Director and Video of the Year, Pellington never forgot the book.
And when, in 1995, he was finally ready to take his directorial career to a higher level, as a filmmaker, Pellington knew which film he would make. “Going All the Way”, that book that captivated him for so long, would make a perfect Hollywood movie.
Pellington knew it was a point blank shot, but he picked up the phone and called Wakefield.
‘At least I’ll get a free lunch’
When Wakefield got the call in the mid-1990s, a quarter of a century had passed since he wrote “Going All The Way.” At the time, he was already in Miami teaching in the graduate writing program at Florida International University.
On the other end of the line, Pellington was telling Wakefield that he wanted to take him out to lunch to talk about making a movie based on “Going All The Way.”
“I thought, ‘Well, at least I’ll get a free lunch out of it,'” Wakefield said. He thought this because his book had already been optioned five times in Hollywood, meaning the studio had bought the rights five times, but never made a movie.
“In Hollywood, if a movie is optioned five times, that movie will never be made.”
But it was supposed to be a free lunch. So in 1995, Wakefield walked into a restaurant in LA and sat across from Pellington.
“He was a bit cynical,” Pellington said, laughing.
Wakefield’s cynicism soon disappeared as Pellington spoke. He knew the book inside and out, all the little details that a writer likes to hear. He knew all the nuances of the main characters, Gunner and Sonny.
“Then Mark leaned across the table and looked me in the eye and said, ‘You know, I’m a little bit of both Gunner and Sonny,'” Wakefield said. “I knew then. I knew this movie could be made.”
Wakefield was even more impressed that Pellington wanted to make a movie in Indianapolis and have him, the author of the book, write the screenplay.
“It was a very original thought in Hollywood,” Wakefield said. “It gave me hope that somehow he could work a miracle.”
Not a blockbuster
In the summer of 1996, Pellington and his team flew to Indianapolis. Wakefield showed them around town, took them to the Red Key Tavern where Wakefield met the real Gunner when he returned from the Korean War in 1954. He took them to Meridian Hills where they went swimming. He showed them the whole city.
The crew filmed for 30 days, soaking up every bit of Indy they could. That team included some now big Hollywood actors, not so well known at the time. Ben Affleck, who played The Gunner, had a few supporting roles, “School Ties,” “Dazed and Confused” and “Mallrats,” but was not the superstar he would later be with “Good Will Hunting” and “Armageddon.” .”
Jeremy Davies, who played Sonny, later starred in Saving Private Ryan. Rachel Weisz, Rose McGowan, Amy Locane, “the rest of the cast kind of came together,” Pellington said.
And in 1997, “Going All The Way,” written by Wakefield and directed by Pellington, made its Hollywood debut.
After being nominated for two awards at the 1997 Sundance Film Festival and following proposed changes from Hollywood, the film did not do as well at the box office as Pellington had hoped. It grossed just over $113,000, ranking 334th among films that year, with the first film, Men in Black, grossing $250 million.
But this was Pellington’s first film so he was “OK” with the way it turned out. But it wasn’t the movie he really wanted to make.
Almost 27 years later, all that will change.
New film screening in Indy this week with Pellington and Wakefield
It was during the COVID-19 pandemic that Pellington was digging through all that stuff and came across the full three hours and 30 minutes of footage he recorded for the original “Going All the Way,” which had been cut down for Hollywood to an hour and 43 minutes in 1997.
“It got good reviews,” Pellington said. “But a few reviews were, ‘It was a little choppy.'”
He showed the entire cut to Leo Trombetti, an Emmy-winning editor. Trombetta loved the original and was willing to help.
Together, he and Pellington made a longer (two hours and seven minutes) film, a little more melancholic than the original and much more faithful to the novel Wakefield wrote in 1970, a novel that Pellington fell in love with as a 14-year-old.
“It’s not a murky, nostalgic ‘Happy Days’ version of ‘Going All the Way,'” Pellington said. “It’s darker, more meaningful.”
A remastered cut of the film with added scenes, new music, voices and a deeper story about mortality, friendship and love will be screened in Indy this week at the Kan-Kan Cinema. After the film is shown, Pellington and Wakefield will host a Q&A with the audience.
Wakefield and Pellington are excited to see what the city thinks of the film, which has its roots firmly planted in Indianapolis. Pellington has an inkling of what the audience will think.
“It’s much better,” he said. “So nicer.”
Check out the new “Going All the Way” in Indy
A re-edited and restored version of “Going All the Way” will be shown Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. at the Kan-Kan Cinema, 1258 Windsor St., with a post-film Q&A with director Mark Pellington and writer Dan Wakefield. Get tickets
Follow IndyStar sports reporter Dana Benbow on Twitter: @Dana Benbow. Contact her via email: [email protected]