SBJ/March 19 - 25, 2007/SBJ In Depth

Case study: NHL and ‘Breakfast With Scot’

When Paul Brown, a movie producer, read Michael Downing’s book “Breakfast With Scot,” he knew he’d found his next film.

The story of two partners, a chiropractor named Sam and a fashion magazine editor named Ed, who become legal guardians of an 11-year-old boy was packed with emotion and comedy. All Brown thought it lacked was depth, so he recast Sam as an attorney for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ed as a former player on the team.

The NHL and Toronto Maple Leafs have
granted the use of their marks in the film.

The character change meant Brown added another step to the filmmaking process. If he wanted to use the Maple Leafs name and logo, he needed approval from the NHL and the Leafs, a decision that would require the league and team to become the first in professional sports to lend their name and marks to a movie built around a homosexual relationship.

Brown sent his script to the NHL in the spring of 2006. The league, which gets 300 scripts a year, processed it like any other. It was read and discussed by Susan Cohig, vice president of club services; Nirva Milord, a senior manager from corporate communications; and Peg Walsh and Randy Rose of NHL Productions.

The group liked the story. They believed it was the contemporary tale of a family intended for a family audience, and that reach appealed to them. According to them, no one raised the matter that it focused on a gay couple.

“For goodness sakes, it’s 2007,” Cohig said. “That wasn’t anything we really thought about.”

The group did express concerns about one scene in the script that had Ed refusing to sign an autograph for a kid before skating onto the ice. The league felt that might negatively reflect on its players, Cohig said, and they shared that concern with Brown. He said the scene illustrates Ed’s selfishness, which later gives way to selflessness.

Relieved of their concerns, Cohig and her colleagues signed off on the movie in September 2006 and sent the script to the Maple Leafs. Tom Anselmi, chief operating officer with Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, thought the inclusion of the Leafs “was somewhat innocuous” and granted Brown permission to use the team’s name.

Cohig drew up an agreement giving Brown the right to league and team marks as well as league footage, and the league the right to review a rough cut of the film. The league declined to disclose the cost of using the marks and footage.

After the film entered production in November 2006, headlines such as “Leafs give their OK to gay-themed movie” and “Gay movie bound to cause stir” appeared in newspapers in the U.S. and Canada. Groups who oppose gay marriage, such as the Canada Family Action Coalition and Americans for Truth, accused the team and league of implicitly endorsing homosexuality.

The league brushed off the criticism, saying it was not making a statement about homosexuality with the film.

“There are individuals who aren’t getting the picture,” said Bernadette Mansur, the NHL’s senior vice president for communications. “They’re attacking it for their own purposes.”

Still, the increased scrutiny has gotten the league’s attention. Usually, the group that reads and approves a script is also the only one to watch a rough cut and grant final approval. But Commissioner Gary Bettman or Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly may join them in watching the film’s rough cut in the coming months, Mansur said.

The movie is being edited and shopped to U.S. distributors for a yet-to-be determined release date. Mansur said she doesn’t believe final approval for the movie by the league will be an issue.

“The league is getting some high marks for not being defensive on this,” she said. “It’s not a statement on homosexuality; it’s a statement on marriage and partnership and a relationship today.”

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