Monday, August 20, 2012

Wilt Chamberlain’s family protests movie

Filmmaker and Kansas University professor Kevin Willmott.

Filmmaker and Kansas University professor Kevin Willmott.


Barbara O. Chamberlain-Lewis has written letters that essentially scream “cut!” on local filmmaker Kevin Willmott’s “Jayhawkers,” but the command has fallen on deaf ears.

Acting on behalf of the Chamberlain family, Chamberlain-Lewis has told Willmott that he does not have the rights to the film, but Willmott said his entertainment lawyers have told him otherwise.

“There’s an issue with her, but it’s not an issue with us,” Willmott said.

The two parties first discussed doing a film on Wilt Chamberlain’s Kansas years in 2003 and had entered into a contractual agreement in which Willmott would pay $150,000 for the rights to do the film, according to both sides of the dispute. Willmott made one $10,000 payment and then on Oct. 4, 2006, made another payment of $10,000 in exchange for the contract being extended 24 months.

Six days after that extension expired, attorney Seymour S. Goldberg informed Willmott and Rick Cowan of Big Dipper, LLC in a letter, “your option to proceed with this project has expired without you or your organization fulfilling all of the obligations spelled out in the Option/Purchase Agreement. At this point, it does not seem reasonable to extend your option since no tangible evidence of substantial progress has been demonstrated to my client.”

Last spring, Willmott phoned Chamberlain-Lewis to inform her he was interested in doing a film with a different script from the original one she had read. Chamberlain-Lewis said she told Willmott she was pretty sure the family would not be interested but would think about it and get back to him in a letter.

She responded to Willmott in a letter dated April 2, 2012, which, in part, stated: “This letter is in follow-up to your recent telephone call to me to reconsider the option to produce The Wilt Chamberlain/University of Kansas Life Story. Kevin, after research, prayer and discussion with family and friends, it has been decided that we will not consider any future interest in this venture.”

Willmott did not respond. After reading in the July 1 edition of the Journal-World the news that Kansas University basketball player Justin Wesley had been selected to play Wilt in the film, Chamberlain-Lewis wrote another letter to Willmott dated July 12.

Its final two paragraphs:

“Please be advised that on December 21, 2001, the court approved that the Chamberlain Family are entitled to ‘all of the rights, titles and interests into the intellectual property and rights of publicity associated with the international sports celebrity in the name and likeness of Wilton Norman Chamberlain.’

“Kevin, therefore, I request on behalf of my family, and as outlined in our above-mentioned letters, that you do not violate these rights by pursuing the name and likeness of Wilt since you do not have permission from our family.”

Reached at the Las Vegas home she shares with husband Elzie Lewis, Chamberlain-Lewis said, “What shocks me is back in 2003 Kevin was so respectful of the rights we have. I’m so disappointed he has completely ignored his lack of rights to do this.”

Willmott said the change in the script brought about the change of his viewpoint on the rights to making the film.

“Our entertainment lawyer told us we didn’t need the rights,” he said. “It’s an ensemble film. Wilt’s not the main character, so it’s no longer necessary to buy the rights.”

Willmott said former Kansas Chancellor Franklin Murphy and legendary former KU coach Phog Allen are the film’s main characters, and Wilt’s KU coach, Dick Harp, and jazz musician Nathan Davis are major characters as well. Willmott characterized the film as a story of the role Wilt, Murphy and Allen played in integrating Lawrence.

“This is about Wilt’s time at KU, and KU owns the rights to the story, and the Allen family, and the Allen family is working with us,” Willmott said. “... I’m a professor at KU. This is KU history. This is Lawrence history. This is not Wilt’s life story. This is a much wider, bigger story than the bio pic. This is probably the movie we always should have been making.”

In her July 12 letter to Willmott, Chamberlain-Lewis wrote, “I think we both know that the main character and focus in this proposed movie will be Wilt.”

Asked on the phone if she would pursue legal action to stop the making of the film, Chamberlain-Lewis said, “I’ve already tried to stop him with sending the letter.”

The original bio picture, Willmott said, originally had a $12 million budget, but he was unable to raise the money for it, even after trimming the budget to $5 million. He said he hopes that a minimum of $250,000 can be raised for the making of “Jayhawkers.”

“It’s going incredibly well,” Willmott said of the filming and the fundraising. He also said “everybody’s very impressed” with the work Wesley is doing.


NotKansasUniversity 8 years, 8 months ago

Originally a 12million budget, now it's at 250,000? Seems to me the movie will be extremely sub-par. Why bother?

Eric Dawson 8 years, 8 months ago

The article states: 1 -- the $12M price tag was for the original movie, and 2 -- that movie was scrapped, "Jayhawkers" is a totally different movie.

Bangkok_Jayhawk 8 years, 8 months ago

My take: I think of all us alums have heard a rumor or two regarding Wilts "love life" while at KU. This movie could touch on that which would be entertaining but also would not be good for his name.

Martin Shupert 8 years, 8 months ago

"I think of all us alums have heard a rumor... " If you graduated, you didn't major in english. Holy Moly.

John Randall 8 years, 8 months ago

What did you miss while reading the script for "Jayhawkers" ?

This is neither a biography of Wilt nor even a story about athletics. The story is about the changes at KU and in Lawrence during that time period.

Would you expect that the families of Chancellor Murphy and Coach Allen also be able to exert control, since those are the lead roles in the film?

milwaukeeJAYHAWK 8 years, 8 months ago

"CSA" was great. What have you been smoking?

orbiter 8 years, 8 months ago

Or, you could say that a KU alum and professor (Willmott) is working hard to make a film about one small piece of the larger civil right movement that made this country better, a film which focuses on events that took place at the university in which he graduated from and where he now teaches. Then you could say the Chamberlain family is mad they now cannot get tens of thousands of dollars for doing absolutely nothing (well, except cutting checks to their attorney whom will be paid with the money the family is getting for doing absolutely nothing).

And I could say: what are you doing to contribute anything to KU? Is throwing bombs (with no info besides this article) at one of the good guys at KU what you call contributing?

april28 8 years, 8 months ago

Though I'm not a professor at KU, I'd compare my contributions to KU to his, or yours, any day of the week. are no chief sleazeball defender in chief.

LAJayhawk 8 years, 8 months ago

I had several classes under Prof. Willmott, and I can tell you first hand that he is not only one of the best professors in the film department, and not only a top professor in the school, but a tremendously good guy. During my time, he had a high level of care for every student he taught and was always available to anyone that needed help and/or advice about the business. His knowledge of cinema is remarkably deep, and he has an excellent understanding of how media and visual images shape our culture and understanding of social constructs.

I'm not involved with this film, so I'm not familiar with how all of this has gone down, but I can tell you, from my many, many dealings with him that Kevin Willmott is about as far from a sleazeball as you could possibly get.

But I'm glad you were able to make that determination from this one small article on the film project, and what I'm sure is years of experience in the entertainment industry. Bravo, anonymous internet poster. Bravo.

REHawk 8 years, 8 months ago

Hang in there, Justin. This yet could be your bright and shining meteor as a Jayhawk hoopster.

jayhawkinATL 8 years, 8 months ago

I gave some cash to the project, so I better fly! LOL

John Randall 8 years, 8 months ago

The movie the early agreements pertained to was scrapped. The movie I and many others support with contributions is a horse of a different color.

kureader 8 years, 8 months ago

Clearly, Wilt's family is more interested in money than they are in seeng him honored (with many others) as part of a worthwhile film. I wonder if they's still have to "pray" about it, if Willmet wrote them a check for another $130,000?

Whatever their motives, it's probably a mute issue ... I can't imagine someone giving money to Willmott, now that this dispute has surfaced.

kureader 8 years, 8 months ago

"Willmott" ... sorry for my misspelling the first time.

On another note, I wonder if Wilt, himself, would have demanded $150,000 knowing that Willmott didn't even have the cash, yet, to do the film?

LAJayhawk 8 years, 8 months ago

The $10K that Willmott gave them is called an "option." You purchased the right to make the film. Once you are green-lit for production and have the financing, then you owe the remainder of what is in the contract, i.e. the $150K. The option is only for a limited period of time (depends on the contract), often like a year. If that time runs out, you could either pick up the option again for $10K, or give up the rights (or, of course, shoot the film). Those with whom you purchased the option can also refuse to renew said option if they chose to.

johnsont1 8 years, 8 months ago

Leave it to Keegan to incorrectly convey the facts of this dispute. Hope Wilmott makes a masterpiece!

HawkKlaw 8 years, 8 months ago

So, are you going to correctly convey the facts? Or...

HawkKlaw 8 years, 8 months ago

It appears that Willmott found a little work-around where he didn't have to pay a huge sum of money to the Chamberlains to make the film that he wanted. Kudos to him. Sounds like something I would've done.

jayhawkinATL 8 years, 8 months ago

So, I guess the Chamberlains get to keep the $20K?

LAJayhawk 8 years, 8 months ago

Yes. That is for the option to make the film. Standard procedure in procuring rights for a story, idea or script.

Marcia Parsons 8 years, 8 months ago

I just hate to see a rift between KU and Wilt's family. It took so many years for him to come back, and he's such a big part of our history. I don't think his family has a case in this dispute since it sounds like the movie is really about KU and Lawrence and the people who affected the prejudice of the time, and not about Wilt specifically. No different from doing a movie about one of the pro teams he played for. If they'd never been approached about doing a movie just about Wilt I don't imagine this dispute would have occurred. I believe HawkKlaw is right about this being a work-around, and I'm sure the family recognizes that. Still, it should be a better movie this way.

jaybate 8 years, 8 months ago

My sympathies go out to both sides, but especially to Wilt up in heaven.

Wilt tried to set things right with KU and KU tried to set things right with Wilt.

It would seem a shame for a movie to undo any increment of that reconciliation, even briefly.

Rock Chalk.

Sparko 8 years, 8 months ago

Frankly, I think they have lost this one. It is pretty simple to see this was basically a legal maneuver to try and move forward with Wilt's Kansas story on the cheap. There is a decade plus of negotiation to bring to court to substantiate the family's claims. I am not seeing the good legal advice here. The courts will have to decide if there is enough difference to allow this to proceed with payment for Wilt's family, and I don't see how that can go forward unless the film is now titled "Phog."

RJ King 8 years, 8 months ago

The working title appears to be "Jayhawkers."

1983Hawk 8 years, 8 months ago

Wilmott is indeed an excellent filmmaker. But I just have a hunch that -- whether people on here think it is right or wrong -- he's going to lose on this one legally and that a court injunction is in his near future.

Ryan Mullen 8 years, 8 months ago

The question is how many are in Wilts family? If my math is correct 10,000 women times..... That is a big family. No wonder they are trying to milk this for all it's worth.

jaybate 8 years, 8 months ago

You ought to take into account budget constraints and the technology available at the time the film was made. The film was favorably reviewed at the time of its release, though not called a masterpiece, as I recall. Today's technology available to high school students might well enable a better looking film than what that film's budget and technology enabled back in the time it was shot.

But I have to remember who I am kibitzing with here and recall that you are often immune to reason. :-)

LAJayhawk 8 years, 8 months ago

The purpose of CSA was to make it look like a History Channel documentary, which aren't shot (at least back then) at a very high production level. Willmott did have a very limited budget to work with, so he took a different route than your typical Hollywood story structure.

Obviously, you are entitled to your opinion on it.

jaybate 8 years, 8 months ago

"Three More Possible Jayhawk Related Scripts Churning in the Rumor Mill"

~"Operation Columbia": When Kansas is turned from a state into a resource directorate by the secretly agreed to International Fracking and Cracking Agreement, leaders of an international resource oligarchy order NORTHCOM to invade Kansas and crush an enclave of crazed basketball fanatics calling themselves John Brown's Jocks that are resisting the Coup'd One Private Oligarchy by Another by occupying Allen Field House Armory and defending it with bic pens and plastique spit wads. NORTHCOM commander and KU alumnus General Jay van vander Hawk orders both the states of Kansas and Missouri be put under a media black out internally and externally, before launching a seemingly devastating directed energy strike on Columbia that in reality is a new 3-D upload to The Cloud and then using NORTHCOM cyber warriors to use the internet to dupe the international resource oligarchy into thinking Lawrence, not Columbia, Missouri, has been taken out, when in reality neither has been though General van vander Hawk, being the loyal KUer that he is, did entertain a real strike on Columbia, but nixed the fantasy, because he is really, really good guy. Next, the wily and tirelessly constitutionally loyal General van vander Hawk, orders all loyal elements of NORTHCOM to dig in on Mt. Oread (and all prove to be loyal) along with John Brown's Jocks and to "hold it at all costs to their bodily fluids," against an army of private contractors, while General van vander Hawk orders other elements of NORTHCOM to find, abduct and deliver the leaders of the international resource oligarchy to the floor of the Kansas Senate, where they are then tried as treasonous enemies of of even the least competitive forms of managerial capitalism, found guilty and sentenced to life at hard labor cleaning up the Oglala Aquifer with electric tooth brushes and coffee filters donated by an organization calling itself "What Did We Ever Do to Deserve Peter Drucker?" (Science Fiction Thriller)

jaybate 8 years, 8 months ago

"On the Basketball Court": Unattributed remake of Elia Kazan's Brando classic "On the Water Front" in which fictitious Jayhawk basketball player Terry Malloyprime is ordered to throw a KU-KSU game during a stretch when the referees are reputedly swallowing their whistles. Malloyprime's brother, a sleazy talking head working for a media-gaming complex-owned network called BSBM has sold out his brother so that unsavory elements within the media-gaming complex can make a killing and reimburse Malloyprime's debauched brother with an all expenses paid vacation to a sex tourism resort in Myanmar. Malloyprime halts play at the moment he is supposed to allow an incomparably slow muscle baller from Snakey State University to drive and dunk on his grill (a try for stark realism, because games reputedly tend to be thrown on defense). Malloyprime walks toward the media kiosk and begins shouting, "the game is fixed, the game is fixed" and that the media-gaming complex has fixed it. Malloy is attacked by referees, talking heads and camera crews who try to knock him unconscious before he names names. At first, all look on in shock. But one by one, first teammates, then coaches and then fans surge in, save Malloyprime, then surround the evil doers and take them to Potters Lake and force them to drink the magic, algal-rich waters there that purge them of their evil ways and turn them into followers of the gang that's trying to do it the right way. (Drama)

"Mondo Universitatis": In an eery homage to Blue Velvet Director David Lynch, two naive freshman go out after a KU basketball win for a bite and instead stumble into a morbidly obese private oligarch's conspiracy to construct a vaguely bondage and discipline themed monument to himself larger than Allen Field House itself. The private oligarch is involved in all sorts of menacing underworld criminal activity throughout the state, is independently wealthy, inhales propane fumes and lights his breath during fits of rage, but cannot shake a dream vision of his own head topping a statue that is otherwise an exact copy of The Colussus of Rhodes. In the end his fetishistic pursuit of self-monumentalizing is stopped when a common house cat surprises him and cause him to fall head first into a cement mixer and drown. (Paranoid Thriller.)

(Note: All fiction. No malice.)

Matt Herrera 8 years, 8 months ago

Rumor has it Brady Morningstar and White Owl will also have significant roles in the film.

jaybate 8 years, 8 months ago

"Some Forgotten Silent Films about Jayhawk Hoops"

• THE GREATER YELL LEADER: Chaplin's Little Tramp pretends to be a Phi Gi to avoid a bill collector, then is sent by hung over actives to be a yell leader at a basketball game, then is forced by Phog Allen to play guard when the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1917 strickens half the KU team. Charlie scores six two handed set shots to lead KU over MU.

OVERTIME: Bespectacled Harold Lloyd in straw hat and coon skin warm ups misses 12 straight free throws against KSU to blow a huge KU lead, only to be chased by angry students up a fire escape in old Robinson until he is forced out onto a ceiling rafter, and in one of silent films iconic moments finds himself hanging perilously from the hand on an old timer's clock on the scoreboard.

Ron Franklin 8 years, 8 months ago

I met a man in Fairview, Kansas a few years ago who referred to himself as "DR and "Professor". He was small, white-haired 80 something that claimed to be an associate professor during Wilt's time here. He explained to me that he was responsible for tutoring Wilt. Wilt could hardly read according this guy.

As the story was told this Professor considers himself the reason Wilt left college a year early.

Wilt had come into study toward the end of the year and he was sobbing because it was the end of the year and WIlt had to make his decision to turn pro or stay at KU.

Wilt really wanted to stay, but he struggled with the academics according to the professor.

So, the professor tells me that he gives Wilt this advice to help Wilt make his decision to either stick around, continue his education, go for a National Title, or go pro.

"Well, there is no place in society right now for a 7 foot black man. So I don't know why in the hell you would want to stay and get a degree anyway. Your only chance to make in this country is by playing basketball. And the sooner the better."

Something tells me that the Professor didn't like being his tudor.

jaybate 8 years, 8 months ago

Racism, all prejudice, is horrific not just for the obvious wrongness and obvious abuses and obvious inequities it enables, but also for the harrowlingly cruel unforeseen consequences it triggers on the young. That any young man, let alone one of the most gifted athletes of a generation, should ever have had to have had such an encounter in college with a tutor, or any official of a university, is a disgrace--a sin--a stain on the human race. And yet, if you speak with any person of any race that has ever been a persecuted minority, such hideous conversations are not unusual.

"If you can’t speak out against this kind of thing, a crime that’s so unjust

Your eyes are filled with dead men’s dirt, your mind is filled with dust

Your arms and legs they must be in shackles and chains, and your blood it must refuse to flow

For you let this human race fall down so God-awful low!"

--Bob Dylan, "The Death of Emmett Till"

Bob_Gone 8 years, 8 months ago

Kevin Willmott was bar-none the greatest professor I ever had during my years at KU. He's insightful and engaging and I NEVER took him to be greedy or unscrupulous. He always conducted himself with a high level of character and I would be very surprised if this film came back to 'bite' the chamberlain family.

Also, I really enjoy the film criticism of the classic american buffoon.

"manginorh00lz 13 hours, 16 minutes ago I'm not comparing it to today's technology. That would be stupid. It was poorly done, even for its time." - regardless of how the film looked it told an interesting story in an intriguing way.

Martin Shupert 8 years, 8 months ago

The story of how Lawrence was integrated is very interesting. I could be wrong about all of this because I am not even sure of my source. He said he was writing a book and came to the Ballard Community Center for pictures. I was working there at the time. He told me this story. A few high school football players from both schools (Ballard was the black high school, as I understand it) came to Liberty Hall to watch a movie. The blacks were supposed to sit in the back. The whites were supposed to sit in the front. The group decided to all sit in the back together. The owner came out before the movie to ask them to move. One of the players said something to the effect of, "You're Jewish. You really believe we should follow Hitler's plan?" The owner's eyes teared up and he walked away. During intermission, he came back out on stage to announce that people could sit anywhere they wanted. One couple got up and left. The show went on and the theater was integrated from that point forward. If it didn't happen, it should have.

ironhead80 8 years, 8 months ago

It's about $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Brad Watson 8 years, 8 months ago

How many of the 10,000 women were during his Kansas years?...

LAJayhawk 8 years, 8 months ago

Ok, so Wilt's claim was that he slept with 20,000 women, which is essentially physically impossibly for a non-porn star to do. Let's calculate it out. Say Wilt started when he was 15. If he had sex every single day... every day, including Christmas, game days, when he had the flu, etc. etc. etc.... from the age of 15 to the age of 45, he would have had to had sex with 1.83 women.

Every. Single. Day.

Think about that. Basically two different girls, every single day. And you couldn't be with the same one twice to reach 20,000!

So, yeah. Fun number. Not possible.

Sam Constance 8 years, 8 months ago

Another fun way to illustrate the problem you've so eloquently laid out:

It would take 55 years of sleeping with a different woman EVERY. SINGLE. DAY in order to reach 20,000 women.

So if he started at the age of 15, he wouldn't have been finished until he was 70, and as we all (sadly) know, he never reached that age. Let alone whether or not even an athletic adonis like Wilt would have 55 years of peak sexual performance.

milwaukeeJAYHAWK 8 years, 8 months ago

I thought it was 10,000?

lol. either way....he was embarrassed by something he just threw out there without thinking too hard about.....

Brad Watson 8 years, 8 months ago

what can i say...wilt truly was the definition..the man.. the myth...the all areas...the man averaged over 50 pts a game for a whole season..average over 30 rebounds a agame for a whole season..they built allen field house because of people could watch him should be chamberlin field house..and wilt thought that in later years..and then there were the women..wilt must have joined in on alot of orgies...and because he carried a big stick...women followed this guy everywhere.and in the free love sixties.....well..what can i say..the legend ...GO WILT!!!!!

Brad Watson 8 years, 8 months ago

i'm sorry/// but i must comment again..Wilt Chamberlain...a man who scored 100 points in a awesome man...though arrogant...who else has scored 100 pts..or even come close...nobody.....and for all his achievements..he seems have been lost...and thats not right..there should be some building at KU named after him..what about robinson gym..rename ot chamberlain gym...i think it should be Chamberlain court at the phog..and as far as Jamrs Naismith...rename robinson after him..who was Robinson anyway..he was no Naismith..or Chamberlain...the Chamberlain name is always used in recruiting...yet the man doesn't get the respect he deserves...Why did Wilt not come back to KU for so many years?...Duh..Wilt was smart...and he knew he was being used...and he knew the university was making huge money because of him..and he got nothing...and he didn;t appreciate you like being used?...of course not..its time to make amends

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