With all the buzz surrounding the new boxing epic, Cinderella Man, I thought I would post this story about the screenwriter of the film. He is an alumni of North Greenville College (my alma mater and my employeer). My boss interviewed him for our Fall 2004 magazine. Here is the story as it appeared in September 2004.
Cliff Hollingsworth, a 1972 North Greenville College alumnus and Barnwell, SC native, anxiously awaits the release of his original screenplay, The Cinderella Man, in March 2005.
Currently [as of the writing] filming in Toronto, Ontario, it promises to be an Oscar favorite for 2005. After all, Universal/Miramax has chosen the same Oscar winning team from A Beautiful Mind: actor Russell Crowe, director Ron Howard and producer Brian Grazer. If that’s not enough, Oscar winning actress, Renee Zellweger will headline as Crowe’s wife, Mae.
The premise is the story of boxer Jim Braddock, who in 1935, in one of boxing’s greatest upsets, defeated Max Baer in 15 rounds to become heavyweight-boxing champion. Braddock was called Cinderella Man because he showed the world, coming out of the Great Depression, that an underdog could go the distance and win the day.
This is the story of Jim Braddock and ironically the story of Cliff Hollingsworth. Both overcame overwhelming odds to rise through the ranks and eventually defeat obstacles that were in the way of success. Certainly with a star-studded cast and crew as this, Hollingsworth has won the first round in a produced screen writing career.
Universal has delayed the picture’s release until March 2005 [eventually settling on June], claiming it needs more time to mount a marketing campaign for the Oscars. Originally set for a Dec. 17 release, the film had been considered a potential Oscar contender in the 2004 race, but now it will have to take aim at 2005 instead.
Cinderella Man was originally scheduled to start filming in Toronto on January 1, but star, Russell Crowe, didn’t want to be on set when his wife, Danielle Spencer, gave birth to their first child.
Crowe is still undergoing intense physiotherapy following his “arthroscopic debridement and repair surgery” for a dislocated shoulder, suffered during boxing training in Australia. In 2000 he injured the same shoulder training for Flora Plum, weeks away from its production start. With sets already built and film crew hired, that project was eventually shelved.
Crowe is not alone when it comes to shoulder pains and arm discomfort. From his boxing days as a young teen, Hollingsworth now suffers from tendonitis in his shoulder and wears a gel patch over his forearm. “It is from hitting a punching bag all those years and it has caught up with me later in life,” stated Hollingsworth.
After Hollingsworth’s graduation from NGC in 1972 he finished his bachelors degree in Journalism from the University of South Carolina and also his masters in education. It was in his final year of graduate school, in 1978, that he knew he wanted to give screen writing a try.
“My first elbow surgery was in 1978. I was told that it would take about six months to heal, but it took a year and a half,” he said. “I couldn’t type, but I managed to write some scripts while my elbow was healing.” He went to Los Angeles in early 1982 to give “Hollywood” a shot.
His arduous climb to become a successful screenwriter became evident as soon as he arrived in California. “The scripts that I first had were in the wrong format. So I took some classes at Sherwood Oaks Film College to learn to write in the correct format,” said Hollingsworth. “I would write a lot out there and come back to visit my mother in Barnwell and have an intense typing period where I would type for several hours a day and then go back to LA to try again.”
Having his scripts in the accepted format was his first hurdle, but finding an agent was his biggest hurdle. “No one will accept anything that is not from an agent signatory with The Writers Guild. You can have another Gone With The Wind, but it won’t get read unless it comes from an agent. It’s like climbing Mt. Everest.”
Writer’s Guild published a list of talent agents that included 54 who would accept unsolicited material from anonymous writers. He wrote a letter and included four completed scripts with a self-addressed, stamped envelope to all 54 agents, informing them that he was looking for representation.
“Only four of them bothered to respond with a scribble that they were too swamped to consider new material,” Hollingsworth said. He couldn’t get an agent to read anything. This went on for about eight years.
He took a writing class from an elderly woman, Veda Thomas, who was “a bottom rung agent” and not well connected in the industry. However, she was an agent and she submitted some scripts for him. None were sold, but he was encouraged by the positive responses.
In the early 90’s there was a glimmer of hope from a new motion picture company called Pacific Arts Group that wanted to produce one of his scripts, but because of the bad economy, funding fell through.
Hollingsworth’s agent, Veda Thomas, retired and he was again left without an agent, putting him back to square one.
A friend, Ed McCormick of Blackville, SC, looked into starting an agency for Cliff and getting signatory with The Writer’s Guild, which is the good housekeeping seal of approval, said Hollingsworth. This came into fruition and the McCormick, Bagwell & Associates Agency opened.
However, the problem with this was that it was viewed as a total flyaway agency on the East coast. People on the West coast will hardly ever accept anything from an agency on the East coast. “So I was up against it again,” said Hollingsworth.
Occasionally, McCormick was able to get a script through and eventually was called in for a studio meeting. But these meetings never brought him a sale. This same scenario continued for four years.
In 1996, about the time Hollingsworth felt like throwing in the towel to pursue another line of work, they got the Cinderella Man script to Penny Marshall’s production company. Marshall loved it and took it to Universal Studios, which optioned to purchase the screenplay.
Six months later, in February 1997, negotiations were finalized. Irby Walker, a Conway attorney, alongside McCormick, handled the negotiations. “I owe a great deal of gratitude to those two individuals,” said Hollingsworth.
Delays in film production are typical, especially when a studio views a picture as a potential award winner. Orchestrating the cream of the crop in the film industry has caused numerous production delays. It seems however, that sometime in 2005 Cinderella Man will be released.
“I’ve done a lot of research through the years and written a lot of screenplays. I am anxious to send these off,” states Hollingsworth.
The Hollingsworth story is no less inspirational than the story of Jim Braddock. Cliff’s struggles to overcome overwhelming odds to become a produced screenwriter have spread over a span of 26 years. Cinderella Man is proving to be the breakthrough project Hollingsworth has been waiting for.
Two thumbs up for Hollingsworth. It seems an underdog, like Hollingsworth, has gone the distance and will win the day, just as Braddock did in his heavyweight fight in 1935.