Ryan Churchill's friends were at a summer practice in 2004 when they noticed a for sale sign in the front yard of a house that was essentially in the parking lot of Lambeau Field, the home of their beloved Green Bay Packers.
“Lambeau field is in the middle of a neighborhood basically, like if you plopped it down in the middle of Mar Vista … so on a whim they called the phone number,” said Churchill, a filmmaker. “The guy came out and said, 'Yeah, I just put that out there ... they said, 'How much do you want?' He gave them a number and they said, 'We’ll take it.' They bought it sight unseen on the spot.”
That house is the inspiration for Churchill's film “The 60 Yard Line.”
Churchill, a lifelong Cheesehead born in Beloit, Wisconsin, brought the film to digital platforms and DVD this week, after a theatrical run and award-winning film festival screenings. The film was 10 years in the making and hit theaters due to the support of a few beach cities filmmakers, as well as Hermosa Beach resident Jon Neuhaus. Because of his love of the Packers, Neuhaus became involved in the film industry for the first time.
“Through a series of conversations, I was able to understand where they were going, what their vision was, and got excited about it,” said Neuhaus, whose day job is in finance. “I understood they were a little challenged with funding … I said, 'Get to a certain point and I'll get you the rest of the way.”
'The 60 Yard Line'
“The 60 Yard Line” is set during the 2009 football season when best friends and co-workers Ben “Zagger” Zagowski (played by Churchill) and Nick “Polano” Polano (played by Nick Greco, who was also a co-writer), stumble upon and purchase the home in the parking lot of Lambeau Field.
There are two major problems: Zagowski doesn't consult his fiancee (Kimberley Crossman) and financially they can't afford the house, which is named “The 60 Yard Line.” But when the home becomes party central for Packers fans and some of the players, Zagowski's relationship with his fiancee is put into jeopardy. He has to choose between the “perfect Packer's lifestyle” and his future wife.
Churchill first went to the house when one of the home's owners invited him to a game during the 2006 season. He said there were “rumors about how cool it was.” He had recently moved to Los Angeles to pursue writing and acting and was looking for projects.
“The second I drove up and saw this gigantic Lambeau field basically in the back yard of the house, 'I said, 'This is a movie. I don’t know what it is yet, but this is a movie,'” recalled Churchill.
Then “typical indie film stuff” happened around 2007 after he wrote the script and had financing. When the housing crash hit in 2008, Churchill said he put the film on the backburner.
After an Indiegogo campaign for seed money in 2014, Churchill began shooting in the fall of 2015. They shot 18 days in Wisconsin and some interiors shots in L.A. They waited for some snow in January 2016 and shot four more days in L.A. in February before wrapping in February of 2016.
Neuhaus, whose parents are from Wisconsin, but grew up on the East Coast, said he was reading the Green Bay Packers Gazette when heard about the Indiegogo campaign and was “taken by the story.” He said by happenstance he was able to connect with Churchill.
The Green Bay Packers are the only pro sports team in the United States owned by fans. As such, tickets are hard to come by. Neuhaus took his father to his first Packers game 22 years ago. And then, after waiting nearly 10 years, the Hermosa Beach resident and his sister finally became season tickets holders.
“I had one thing to ask of the whole team involved,” said Neuhaus, who has lived in Hermosa Beach since 1996. “I said, 'Make a film that Packers fans will be proud of and they would enjoy. I'm a season ticket holder and I want to go back and walk around. If I'm somehow associated with the project, I want people to look at me and if they recognize me say, 'Hey you're part of 'The 60 Yard Line.'”
Neuhaus added he was at a game a few weeks ago, while “The 60 Yard Line” was still in theaters.
“I was walking into the Packers pro shop and I was wearing a '60 Yard Line' pullover and a few fans stopped me and said, 'Hey, '60 Yard Line, that was awesome,'” Neuhaus said. “The feedback in Green Bay has been a lot of fun.”
Neuhaus and Churchill agree Packers fans are some of the most dedicated.
“The analogy I use is when you’re born in Wisconsin, the Packers are kind of like your brother,” Churchill said. “You love them, you hate them, it's like blood is thicker than water. Packers games are always part of your life.”
Churchill said he's seen his grandfather ruin Christmas.
“When the Packers lose, he would literally scream at the TV and throw his glass and throw the remote at the TV and make everybody leave. It gets pretty intense,” Churchill said.
Churchill said parties at the 60 Yard Line start early, even if it's an early afternoon game.
“When we stay overnight at the 60 Yard Line and we wake up on game day, if you wake up at 7 a.m, you’re pretty much already too late,” Churchill said. “All the cars have already been lined up, they shut down the streets around the stadium and everybody comes in and they start tailgating all day long ... front yard, back yard. The neighborhoods around it are completely filed with tailgaters.”
Neuhaus introduced the film to South Bay filmmaker Kirk Harris, CEO of Fairway Film Alliance, an independent film sales and production company. They coach youth baseball together. Fairway Film Alliance sold “The 60 Yard Line” to El Segundo-based Gravitas Ventures, which distributed the film.
“I am a film lover and huge sports fan, 'The 60 Yard Line' combined it all for me,” said Harris. “It's a fun film about a crazy, but endearing Green Bay Packers fan. I'm very proud to have our company representing the film.”
The film finally opened on Sept. 7 and was screened in 62 theaters in the Midwest and the South. It was also a hit on the film festival circuit. It took home the “Best Comedy Award” at the Independent Filmmakers Showcase Film Festival and the “Jury Award” at the Phoenix Comicon Film Festival and the Wisconsin Film Festival.
“To even be able to say 'Release' and our movie title in the same sentence goes two ways for me,” Churchill said. “On one hand, I was confident that we could finish and make a great film, so a release and distribution pick up was expected. On the other hand, among peers and other filmmakers, most films never see the light of day. I’m proud that everyone will get to see 'The 60' and proud that it's actually a really good film. And it’s not just my mom saying that.”
For more information, visit the60yardline.com.