About a decade ago, Raleigh-based communications agency French/West/Vaughan received a call from a family overwhelmed with media requests following a boating accident involving their son, Nick Schuyler, and his three friends. The group’s boat was capsized in a storm during a deep-sea fishing trip in the Gulf of Mexico, leaving all but Schuyler dead.
CEO Rick French grieved for the family and worked with them to tell their story through an Emmy-winning HBO Real Sports segment and eventually with the New York Times best seller Not Without Hope by Nick Schuyler and Jeré Longman. Now, French plans to tell the survivor story on the big screen as the lead producer of a film with an expected budget of $12 million to $15 million.
“This is the way of honoring the memory of three guys who perished,” he says. “My concern is always that people would remember them for how they died more than how they lived. This movie includes a lot more about them than just how they died.”
The tragedy involved Schuyler’s best friend Will Bleakely and former NFL players Marquis Cooper and Corey Smith. The friends met through football; Schuyler and Bleakely played at the University of South Florida, where Schuyler was injured his freshman year and decided to pursue a career in athletic training. He became a trainer for Cooper and Smith, who were playing for the Oakland Raiders and Detroit Lions, respectively, at the time.
Even with their peak physical conditions, the four men were no match for what French describes as “43 hours of hell,” where they fought for survival in the largest storm to hit the Gulf in 25 years.
Not Without Hope will be produced by and star Miles Teller as Nick Schuyler. “We wanted somebody who could tell the story the right way,” says French of the casting decision. Teller is perhaps best known for his role in Whiplash, a 2014 drama about a jazz drummer. “Miles grew up in the Tampa area, and one of his friends knew Will Bleakley so he had heard these stories. Signing on is Miles’ way of doing what we all want to do, which is to honor the victims and make sure that people know who they are.”
French needed a star who could physically pull off the role of the former football player and nationally ranked CrossFit athlete, and Teller was already bulked up for his role as Maverick in Top Gun: Maverick, an action film starring Tom Cruise that will be released in December. It also helps that Teller is the “best actor of his generation,” French believes.
The film is being directed by director Rupert Wainwright, whose work includes Stigmata and The Fog. Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and singer/songwriter Ciara, who are married, have signed as executive producers. Wilson and Corey Smith each earned All-ACC honors while playing at N.C. State at different times, and Wilson’s participation is a way of honoring his former Wolfpack star. French’s firm also represented Wilson during his first season with the Seahawks.
Filming is set to start at Pinewood Studios in the Dominican Republic on Aug. 17 as one of the first productions to start operations since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.
French co-founded his company in 1997 and has built one of the Southeast’s largest marketing firms. He is a co-owner of the Daytona Tortugas, a Florida minor league baseball team, and is a national trustee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.