For all you aspiring filmmakers out there, here’s a story about the rewards of patience. Way back in the palmy summer of 2011, I wrote a profile of Russell Morton and the screenplay he was writing called 12 Mighty Orphans, about how his grandfather “Rusty” Russell turned a bunch of shoeless Fort Worth orphans into a championship-contending high-school football team. Today, the word has dropped that the film has not only been made but has been picked up for distribution by Sony Pictures Classics, the distinguished boutique outfit that has put out such films as Pain and Glory and The Climb. A statement put out by SPC reads, “There is a reason underdog stories hold so much weight in the popular imagination, and we know the Mighty Mites’ true story of triumph over adversity—set in a time when much of the country was suffering—will lift the spirits of audiences worldwide.”
There is no word yet on a release date, but when it comes, it will be the culmination of a 10-year journey for Morton, who adapted the script from Jim Dent’s book about the team and Rusty. While Morton’s name appears nowhere in the Fort Worth-made film’s credits on its IMDb page, his producing partners Ryan Ross and Matt Barr are listed as executive producers. He mentioned wanting A-list talent to act in the film, and sure enough, Luke Wilson portrays Rusty while Robert Duvall plays a Freemason benefactor and Martin Sheen plays a team doctor and assistant coach. As the film’s press notes, this is the first time Duvall and Sheen have acted together since 1979’s Apocalypse Now. The director is Midland native Ty Roberts (who previously made the Fort Worth-set The Iron Orchard in Austin) and Dallasite Lane Garrison is a co-writer and actor in the film as well. Morton also detailed how various producers wanted to pull the story out of shape as he was writing the script. When 12 Mighty Orphans hits our screens (with, we can only hope, packed theaters to greet it), we’ll see how much of his vision made it to the end of the road.