News Column

North Canton movie 'Underdogs' getting extended local run

August 14, 2013


Aug. 14--It's time for more Underdogs.

The movie, made in North Canton, had a short trip into Northeast Ohio theaters back in April, when it was shown during the Cleveland International Film Festival. That showcase, which included screenings in Cleveland and in the main Akron-Summit County Public Library, was a success for the movie, which won the audience award at the festival.

But director Doug Dearth hoped for a bigger premiere in North Canton, and he's getting it at 7 p.m. Thursday when a special showing of Underdogs kicks off a multiday run at the Cinemark Tinseltown in North Canton.

Dearth, a Lake High School graduate, will be attending the premiere along with actor Logan Huffman, who played football star Bobby Burkett in the movie. The red-carpet arrivals begin at about 6:20 p.m.

There will be other events tied to the premiere, including a contest for moviegoers to vote for their favorite Ohio high school to receive a $3,000 prize and a screening of the movie at the school.

Ballots will be handed out at showings in North Canton and Columbus, where it opens Friday, for as long as Underdogs is showing at those locations. The duration of those runs is not yet set; Tinseltown expects to have the movie for at least a week. The second-place school in the vote will get $2,000.

For those of you tuning in late, the movie blending nationally known actors and local performers tells a pair of overlapping underdog stories. One involves a struggling St. Thomas Aquinas High School football team with a new coach (D.B. Sweeney) and a troubled young quarterback (Huffman). The other is about Burkett's inventor father (William Mapother) trying to market a space heater despite opposition from a powerful but unscrupulous local businessman (Richard Portnow). The space heater is called the EdenPure; entrepreneur Ben Suarez, whose products include the EdenPure, is a backer and executive producer of Underdogs.

After the local event, Dearth and Huffman will head to Columbus, where Underdogs will open in three theaters, Dearth said. He hopes this is the beginning of a gradual rollout to theaters nationwide.

Depending on how the movie does in the Ohio screenings, "we will then open in a few more theaters, this time outside Ohio," Dearth said. And then, if things work out, it will expand from there.

"We definitely have a rollout plan that extends [next] to five or 10 markets ... across the U.S.," Dearth said. "It'll depend on our box-office numbers, but I have a feeling, with it being in Ohio, that we'll have a pretty strong opening weekend.

"Once we get past that, I think we'll have a real chance. But these films are tough to do in the current market," he said.

The competition not only for ticket buyers but theater space pits a small film like Underdogs against big-budget, heavily advertised would-be blockbusters. If the theater opportunities dry up, Dearth said, "We'll move on to a TV deal, video on demand and Netflix -- those kinds of avenues."

Up to now, the movie has been on the festival circuit, showing not only in Cleveland but Newport Beach, Calif,, and Phoenix, Ariz. While Dearth was pleased with the response in Cleveland, he was even more taken by the reaction in Phoenix, where the movie seemed to strike an especially strong chord with families.

"I'm getting a lot of people, mostly parents and kids, happy that this sort of alternative is available this summer. ... Besides the animated films, there aren't a lot of family films being released at the moment. So that might end up being our sweet spot, the family-film market. That's kind of how it's playing out, anyhow."

The movie has reached out to audiences not only with traditional advertising and promotion but through family-oriented film audiences like church groups, he said.

Rich Heldenfels writes about popular culture for the Beacon Journal and, including the HeldenFiles Online blog, He is also on Facebook and Twitter. You can contact him at 330-996-3582 or


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