Justin Escue is convinced his dream of directing and producing a film about the first Indianapolis 500 is getting closer to a reality.
My First Bike Productions, Escue’s company, typically produces commercials and audiobooks but is also behind the proposed movie, tentatively titled “500.”
“I’ve produced films in the past, and I kind of conceived of this project a while ago with the hopes of directing,” the Carmel resident said. “I’ve directed before, but this would be my big launching point.”
After graduating from college, Escue, 46, moved to Austin, Texas, to work in the music business.
“I was working in the recording studio and switched over to working on movie sets,” said Escue, who also is a drummer in a band called PictureYes. “I came back to Indiana to get my graduate degree and decided I wanted to make movies. I made two movies in Indiana, and they were semi-successful.”
One film Escue helped produce was 2004’s “Saving Star Wars,” which he said has developed a cult following. The other is “Open Mic’rs,” a 2006 mockumentary on standup comics.
Escue decided he wanted to tell the biggest story in Indiana he could and began his research. He was compelled by the story of Carl Fisher, who was the driving force behind the creation of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. That led to the first Indianapolis 500 in 1911.
“I found all the other things he had done, like built Miami Beach and built Montauk, New York,” Escue said.
Fisher also helped conceive and develop the Lincoln Highway, the first road for automobiles across the U.S.
Escue approached filmmaker Angelo Pizzo, who relocated from Los Angeles to live in his former hometown of Bloomington, to write the script several years ago.
“Having the writer of ‘Hoosiers’ and ‘Rudy” on your team, you can’t go wrong,” he said. “It’s been an uphill battle trying to get it made.”
Originally from New Palestine, Escue relocated from Los Angeles to Carmel during the pandemic.
“I’ve focused solely on this project, and it’s taken on a life of its own,” he said. “We’re negotiating actors currently. Once I can attach my actors, which is the next big step, then we can push it forward. That’s when the industry starts taking it seriously. I’m negotiating with the people that I want, and as soon as I can announce who they are, we can really get the ball rolling.”
Following the business model in today’s film industry is more feasible and realistic than trying to raise money on his own, Escue said.
“All these networks are producing their own original content,” he said. “It’s a matter of putting the right package together and going to the right exhibitor.”
Escue said he wants to start filming in May 2023 in Indiana to coincide with the Indianapolis 500 and then release the film in May 2024. He is aiming to have the first theatrical release followed by a series using the same actors.
The script starts in 1909 and goes through the first Indianapolis 500.
Escue describes Fisher as a genius.
“I call him P.T. Barnum and Howard Hughes,” Escue said. “He had no children, so he had no legacy and became a forgotten figure in American culture. He died broke in Miami Beach as an alcoholic. You start looking at the things he’s done, and it makes for compelling drama.”
Indiana sports triple crown?
Having completed films about Indiana high school basketball with “Hoosiers” and Notre Dame football with “Rudy,” filmmaker Angelo Pizzo, who grew up in Bloomington, had always wanted to do a film about the Indianapolis 500.
“I’m always hopeful about all the scripts that I’ve ever wrote,” said Pizzo, who said he finished the script about the race in 2006 or 2007. “I’ve always thought there was something unique about this one for two reasons. One, personally, is it would be the third jewel in the triple crown of Indiana sports films. That’s something I’ve aspired to do. Second, I’ve always loved the race. I always thought it would be interesting to do a true origin story. When Justin (Escue) came to me with this idea, I jumped on it. I thought it was right up my alley.”
Pizzo said the script includes the backstory of when Greensburg native Carl Fisher was a driver, competing on a dirt racing circuit. In addition, it shows Indiana was in line to be the car capital of the world before circumstances changed.
“This movie wouldn’t be what it is without that extraordinary character of Carl Fisher,” Pizzo said. “What he did besides the 500 is worth another two or three movies. We’ve talked about a mini-series on his life, which would be fantastic.”
Pizzo said he is more optimistic than ever that the film will get made. He said the way technology has advanced, it is more economic to film some of the scenes than it would have been 15 years ago.