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SEVEN DAYS IN UTOPIA

About The Production
"We all get caught up chasing status, ambition and dreams, but when things go awry you sometimes have to trust in the course your life is taking. That can lead to greater moments than you ever imagined.” -- Matt Russell, Director, SEVEN DAYS IN UTOPIA

Sometimes it takes getting pushed to the end of your rope to finally take a daring leap of faith. But no one does it alone. In every walk of life – from sports to career to family – when someone reaches a crisis point so dizzying it turns everything upside down, we all hope for the same thing: a friend, a hero or a teacher to remind us that success in life won't ever be counted in trophies or paper achievements, but in the way we touch other people's lives.

That power of true mentorship to rebuild hope, no matter how lost hope seems, is something many have experienced but remains a rarely explored theme at the movies. With its tale of a down-and-out golf prodigy taken under the wing of a crusty but sly old rancher aiming to renovate his attitude in one action-packed week, SEVEN DAYS IN UTOPIA explores the authentic heart of these unseen relationships that uplift, drive and change us. In the process, it becomes the story of a man's roller-coaster journey of discovery, as a son, an athlete and a man uncovering what really matters.

The film, which stars two Academy Award® winners and an exciting cast of rising performers and critically acclaimed veterans, as well as featuring some of the most popular stars of the golf world, started modestly. But much like the lead character of Luke Chisholm, it soon developed friends and supporters who transformed its path into something of magnified significance.

The path began with David Cook's best-selling, inspirational novel, Golf's Sacred Journey: Seven Days at the Links of Utopia. First published in 2009, the book was, on the surface, the story of an aspiring golf champ confronting insecurity, frustration and fear of failure – but in reality goes much deeper about life and the courage and trust that it takes to slay one's inner demons and realize any long-shot dream.

With the character of Johnny and his three-point strategy for finding yourself in order to find your game – see it, feel it, trust it – Cook touched a universal chord. The book was passed from hand to hand not only as a fun read but also as a kind of practical template for carving out a meaningful life. It became a favorite of athletes needing a boost of every stripe – from PGA golfers to NBA basketball players –but also of those overcoming adversity of any kind. When filmmaker Matt Russell – who makes his writing and directing debut with SEVEN DAYS IN UTOPIA after years of work in visual effects – read the book, it not only spoke to him personally, he couldn't help but imagine it unfolding on the screen. "It was such a quick read that I couldn't put it down, and yet it resonated for a long tine,” Russell recalls. "It didn't strike me as a story so much about golf as about a man finding a bigger sense of purpose, which is a beautiful theme.”

The story had much in common with the tradition of inspirational movies that follow an athlete's last-ditch bid for a redemptive comeback. "When this kid golfer comes to Utopia he's broken inside and the real fun of the story is watching Johnny bring him to a much better place,” Russell says.

But for Russell, it also was a chance to explore something seen less often on screen: the profound impact of teachers, and the need for one generation to help another get through the toughest of times. "I saw it most of all as a story about mentorship, about passing moral wisdom down from generation to generation,” the writer/director explains. "I've personally had a lot of people in my life who have taken me under their wings and mentored me and I firmly believe it's made me a much better person. That's what Robert Duvall's character gives to Lucas Black's, and at the end of the day, I think that's why we're all here. When you see how Johnny changes Luke, it makes you want to go out and help someone else who maybe just needs a break or some advice on life.”

Russell worked closely with Cook to develop an early screenplay that turned all these strands into a narrative with a kind of homespun storytelling quality that matched the Southern setting of Utopia. "David was helpful every step of the way, through every high point and low point. He laughed and cried with me and he brought all of his knowledge – of golf, of mentoring and of life – to help make the adaptation completely authentic to spirit of the book,” says the director. Cook in turn was thrilled that Russell was so passionate about bringing a novel often categorized in the self-help or coaching section to the screen as a moving and authentic sports drama. "Matt was everything I hoped for,” he says. "He's a great friend, we discovered that actors really love him and it was just a blessing to work with him.”

Most of all, Cook felt that Russell seemed to really understood that the core of the story was about the incredible influence of coaches, mentors, guides and inspiring friends at those crux moments when everything seems to falling to pieces – but one word of insight can make a major difference.

"I think there are a lot of young people in need of wisdom and a lot of people out there who have done a lot of living and have that wisdom to give,” Cook offers. "We just all need a time and a place where we can slow down enough to ask for or give that kind of help – and Utopia is the epitome of that place.”

Russell knew that he, too, would need quite a bit of help to make this movie a reality, but he could not have imagined just how much help, and from Hollywood royalty no less, they would get. "When David and I first started talking about making this into a movie, we really had no connections, no money and no support – and we just went down this road blindly because we believed so much in it,” he says. "Somehow it all came full circle and exceeded our wildest expectations, and suddenly we were making a movie with Robert Duvall, Lucas Black, Melissa Leo and so many remarkable people. Of course, we had our rocky moments but the experience was full of amazement every step of the way.”

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