News Column

'Reunion 108' has fallen into a Catch-22 situation

November 14, 2013


Nov. 14--It's not easy to make a movie.

Once you've made one, it can be even harder to get it out into the world where it can be seen.

Roanoke Valley natives Billy and Thomas Sample have experienced that challenge with their flick, "Reunion 108." You may have heard of Billy Sample -- a star athlete for Andrew Lewis High School, he played major league baseball from 1978 to 1986, mostly as an outfielder for the Texas Rangers.

Since then, he's made use of a voice naturally suited for radio by working in broadcasting, until he set out to make "Reunion 108" about three years ago.

His brother, Thomas Sample, 53, is a co-producer and marketer for the film, but Billy, 58, is definitely the driving force behind it, writing, co-producing and starring in it.

"I'm captain of the ship at times, but he's kind of the admiral," Thomas Sample said.

The "108" in "Reunion 108" refers to the number of stitches in a baseball. The movie centers upon a fictional baseball team called the Alphas, taking a behind-the-scenes look at the personal lives of the players.Much of the story is told in flashbacks as the men share memories during a reunion game.

It's a gritty, raunchy movie in its current form. The poster warns of "pervasive sex references, crude dialogue, language and some strong sexuality."

But Sample's script, rooted in his experience and knowledge of the sport, has some heft behind it. In 2011, at the Hoboken Film Festival in New Jersey, "Reunion 108" won an award for best unproduced screenplay.

Billy Sample decided to get the film made himself, at first in partnership with one of his sons, Ian Sample. The movie was shot in New Jersey and New York for a budget of less than $300,000, Thomas Sample said.

Christiansburg actor Bo Keister landed one of the film's major roles, starring opposite Jack Mulcahy ("Porky's," "The Brothers McMullen") and Billy Sample himself.

Here's a curious bit of coincidental trivia : Keister played one of the more formidable bad guys in "Remember the Titans," the inspirational sports film about the 1971 T.C. Williams High School football team and how they went on to win the Virginia state championship after integration. Billy Sample was part of the Andrew Lewis High School football team that lost the championship to the real life Titans.

"Reunion 108" doesn't have a distributor yet, and it's not clear when the film might get one. Thomas Sample explained that the movie has fallen into a bit of a Catch-22 situation. To get a distributor, the brothers have to prove the film has a following, but to do that, they have to get showings set up and publicize them -- functions a distributor would handle.

The brothers did show the movie at Salem Valley 8 last month, with Billy Sample on hand to answer questions. The screenings were sparsely attended, Thomas Sample said.

Based on feedback from the screenings, Thomas Sample believes some aspects of the film should be reworked -- for example, toning down the edgy profanity and sexual explicitness. And some of the technical aspects aren't finished yet, he said, noting the movie arrived for the Salem screening with the soundtrack playing in stereo rather than SurroundSound.

"We've got some work to do," Thomas Sample said. Despite the obstacles they've faced, "I'm not just going to let it die."

To learn more about the movie, visit the "Reunion 108" page on Facebook.

Two-time winner

Neil Harvey, courts reporter for The Roanoke Times, has for a second time won the Virginia Screenwriting Competition.

Harvey, 43, was one of three winners who received $1,000 prizes at the Virginia Film Festival in Charlottesville earlier this month.

The first time he claimed the award, in 2011, it was for a script called "Hazel Hollow," which is based on a real murder case and was written in collaboration with his sister, Richmond attorney Heather Harvey.

This year, he won with a screenplay for a comedy called "Kangaroo." Here's Harvey's elevator pitch: "It's about a frustrated artist who has to go back and live with his eccentric parents for a week." He added, "It's actually the plot of 'Hope Floats,' but with Jackson Pollock instead of Sandra Bullock."

A number of wide-release comedies hinge on male characters who haven't grown up, but "this kind of tries to go against the conventions of the man-child going back home," Harvey said.

Only two of the winning scripts in the 25-year history of the competition have actually been made into finished movies. The competition's star alumnus is Richmond native Vince Gilligan, who went on to write for "The X-Files" and created the immensely popular "Breaking Bad."

Harvey's hopeful that his new script will find traction.

"This one's a little more commercial, a lot more fun."

On the Arts & Extras blog

Center in the Square in Roanoke is hosting a free arts and crafts event, the 2013 Fall Arts Fair, today and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. To learn more visit


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