The 27-year-old Albany native grew up a college football fan in the heart of Georgia and has built a career in the movie industry largely revolving around sports, working on football films such as “The Blind Side” and “We Are Marshall” and producing the upcoming boxing film “Counterpunch.”
All of that experience has been a primer for what he hopes will be his most successful undertaking yet as head producer of the film “Erk,” which will chronicle the career of the legendary college football coach Erk Russell.
He’s not taking it lightly, and neither are those interested in seeing the beloved coach’s story on the big screen.
“I’ve already gotten death threats. People keep telling me I better not mess this up,” Turpin said, maybe only half-joking.
In hopes of doing some justice to the story of Russell, a former Georgia assistant and Georgia Southern head coach, Turpin has immersed himself in interviewing with those who knew him and in studying what others wrote.
“In researching this film, I’ve come across so many different people’s perspectives of who Erk was,” said Turpin, a Georgia Southern alumnus. “Everybody who knew him can say they have their own special elements that describe him, and that’s the wonderful thing about it. But one thing everybody repeats is that Erk had the uncanny ability to, if you were in the room talking to him, make you feel like you were the only person there. Everybody has stories about Erk’s patience and the time he took to talk to them about their life.”
Therein lies the challenge for Turpin and director James Kicklighter, also a Georgia Southern graduate. Russell, who died in 2006 at age 80, was hardly a one-dimensional man, and capturing such an intense and caring character will be no simple task with so many of Russell’s friends, family members, co-workers and athletes watching intently for glimpses of the man they knew.
And that’s to say nothing about the man’s accomplishments, which include 17 years as a Georgia defensive coordinator and a eight-season, three-title stint as GSU head coach. To keep it neatly packaged, Turpin has plans to focus the film on the late 1980s, when Russell was defensive coordinator at Georgia, through the 1985 season at Georgia Southern.
It’s just going to take a little bit of finessing to squeeze it all in.
“To describe Erk Russell in two hours, it’s impossible,” Turpin said. “Some events will be moved around for creative purposes, but we’re not making anything up. It’s all a true story still. The only creative liberties we’ll be taking is maybe moving something that happened in 1987 to 1985 so that we can share as much of his story as we can in a short time.”
Turpin is co-writing the screenplay, and barring any setbacks, hopes to start shooting in the summer with a release date sometime in the fall of 2014.
One of the first hurdles will be casting the film. Turpin said he does not have a lead actor in mind to play Russell and will open casting in January.
“This isn’t a role that’s just going to be given to an A-list actor in Hollywood,” Turpin said. “There’s not a single person I trust off the top of my head to pull it off. He was such a legend and such an interesting person that it’s going to take an actor to do his homework. He’s going to have to fly to Athens and Statesboro and do some research on the community and who Erk was. We want to find somebody who can make this one of the best films you’ve seen because it’s not just a sports film.”
Turpin has started the ball rolling on fine-tuning the logistics of filming, having met with government officials in Athens and Statesboro as well as at Georgia and Georgia Southern.
From the story to the locations and crew, Turpin said the movie should be a decidedly home-cooked affair.
“So far, we’ve had everyone’s blessing, and we’ll be doing a lot of shooting in Athens, at the university with the majority of it filmed in Bulloch County and some in Savannah,” Turpin said. “All of it will be shot in Georgia, though, and I don’t think there has been a movie on this scale that has been shot about Georgia, in Georgia and by Georgia filmmakers.”
Turpin is hoping the impact goes even further than the state lines, though.
“We want this to be a blockbuster hit and to really inspire people, make them cry, make them laugh and make them want to get up and run out on the field and hit somebody,” Turpin said. “It’s definitely more than a sports movie.”