Oscar winner Jim Wilson’s latest film, 50 to 1, the inspiring true story of Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird and his misfit New Mexico cowboy trainer and owners, is opening in dozens of new states in response to growing demand across the country.
“Audiences are thoroughly enjoying the romp,” says Wilson, Oscar®-winning producer of Dances with Wolves. “I feel good releasing a film that reaches all ages and leaves you feeling great at the end.”
50 to 1 recounts the tale of Mine That Bird, trainer Chip Woolley, and owners Mark Allen and Leonard ‘Doc’ Blach, who end up on the journey of a lifetime when their crooked-footed gelding qualifies for the Kentucky Derby. Fish out of water in the land of Kentucky’s blue bloods, the cowboys face a series of mishaps on their way to Churchill Downs, becoming the ultimate underdogs in a final showdown with the world’s racing elite.
The film stars Skeet Ulrich (Jericho, Scream, As Good As It Gets), Christian Kane (Leverage, Friday Night Lights, Secondhand Lions, Just Married), William Devane (24, The Dark Knight Rises, Marathon Man, Knots Landing), Todd Lowe (True Blood, The Princess Diaries, Gilmore Girls), Madelyn Deutch (Lowlifes, Like a Country Song, The Dog Who Saved Easter) and Hall of Fame jockey Calvin Borel, who plays himself in the film.
“I had been waiting for a great racehorse story for a very long time,” says Wilson, who produced, directed and cowrote 50 to 1. Wilson says he read numerous horse racing scripts throughout the years but never found what he was looking for. “But when I watched what unfolded at the 2009 Kentucky Derby, I was stunned. I’ve always been a fan of true underdog stories, and after meeting the owners, trainer and finally Bird himself, I was hooked. This story had all the cinematic elements you could ask for. It’s been a real adventure and one I am proud to share with the world.”
Ten Furlongs, the movie’s distribution company, has been releasing the film around the country since its initial seven-state rollout, which began March 21 in New Mexico and continued through Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky. The rollout mirrored the road trip Woolley took with Mine That Bird from New Mexico to the Derby back in 2009, and has since expanded to 34 states.
“This is just the beginning,” Wilson says. “We’re speaking with theaters across the country every day.”
As part of the rollout, cast and filmmakers traveled for five weeks in a 45-foot-long tour bus to promote the film, making stops in cities and towns from New Mexico to Kentucky, also mirroring Woolley’s Derby-bound trip. “It was a fantastic experience and a totally unprecedented way to promote a film,” Wilson says.
On tour were Wilson, co-producer/co-writer Faith Conroy, Ulrich, Kane, Lowe, Deutch, Hugo Perez (Machete, The Longshots, Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay), and Jamie McShane (Argo, Southland, Sons of Anarchy). The real Mine That Bird, owners Allen and Blach, and Borel also made special appearances along the way.
“The tour gave us the chance to see firsthand how audiences felt about the movie,” Conroy says. “Everywhere we went people thanked us for making it and talked about how it made them laugh and cry and cheer, even though they already knew how the story ended. It was incredible.”
Inspiration for the tour came during a brainstorming session by Wilson and Conroy. “I thought, why not meet the audience this movie is intended for, introduce them to the stars and shake their hands,” Wilson says. “It’s the audience that matters the most. It’s why we make these stories, to share them with the world.”
The cast and filmmakers arrived in the bus for the premiere March 19 at the historic KiMo Theatre in Albuquerque. Mine That Bird was also in attendance, reuniting with his Derby-winning partner, Borel, who planted a big kiss on the gelding’s nose to the delight of the crowd.
“We decided to open the film in New Mexico because it’s a New Mexico story,” Wilson says. “It’s about a very special group of people and their little racehorse who went up against impossible odds and ended up shocking the entire racing world with a victory like I’ve never seen before.”
During the tour, cast and crew attended numerous special events across the country, stopping at racetracks, colleges, theaters and local hot spots to sign posters for fans and participate in Q&A sessions about the film.
For Wilson, a racing enthusiast and horse owner for 25 years, it was critical for the film to be authentic. It was shot in 40 locations across New Mexico, Kentucky and California, including the actual racetracks where Mine That Bird ran during his U.S. racing career.
“We shot for two weeks at Churchill Downs and were able to use the real barn and stall where Mine That Bird stayed,” Wilson says. “Chip Woolley even gave Skeet the shirt he wore at the Derby to wear in the movie.”
The film also includes actual Derby race footage, which Borel says brought back the emotions he felt during and after his winning race. “It’s so real,” Borel says. “I have never seen a horse movie as real as this one.”
“This is a feel-good film,” Conroy says. “It’s a real romp, but it’s also a film with a great message of hope for dreamers of the world.”
Wilson won the Academy Award® for Best Picture for Dances with Wolves, which he produced. Other producing credits include The Bodyguard, Wyatt Earp, Swing Vote, Mr. Brooks and Message in a Bottle. Wilson’s previous directing credits include Head Above Water, Whirlygirl and the critically-acclaimed documentary about Hall of Fame jockey Laffit Pincay, Jr., Laffit – All About Winning.
Mine That Bird was born May 10, 2006, and began racing in 2008 in Canada, winning four of his first six starts. His career slumped after he was purchased by Mark Allen in the fall of 2008, going winless until his monumental upset at the 2009 Kentucky Derby at 50-to-1 odds. Mine That Bird continued his run for the Triple Crown that year, finishing second in the Preakness Stakes and third in the Belmont Stakes. He amassed $2,228,637 in earnings throughout his career but never won another race in nine starts after his win at the Kentucky Derby. Mine That Bird was retired from racing in November 2010 and currently lives with his owners at Allen’s Double Eagle Ranch in Roswell, New Mexico.