After 11 years the Brandon Burlsworth movie ‘Greater’ is set for debut

by Rose Ann Pearce ([email protected]) 9,277 views 

Any fan of Razorback football and any student of college football would agree that if there were ever a player who personified the “can do” attitude, it would be Brandon Burlsworth. And after more than a decade in the making his story is set to debut on the big screen later this month.

“He did everything right,” said Brian Reindl, a Fayetteville real estate investor turned movie producer. “He never missed a practice. He never pushed his faith on anyone. He worked and made himself into an incredible football player. He believed in himself.”

The story of Burlsworth’s short life is depicted in the movie “Greater, the Incredible True Story of the Greatest Walk-on in the History of College Football.” It was produced by Reindl and is set for general release Jan. 29. The Northwest Arkansas premiere is planned for Jan. 26.

The movie was directed by David Hunt and stars Christopher Severio, as Burlsworth, with Neal McDonough, Leslie Easterbrook, Michael Parks and Nick Searcy.

THE STORY
After Burlsworth graduated from Harrison High School in 1994, he was offered scholarships to play football at several small colleges but he had his sights set on becoming a Razorback. He enrolled at the University of Arkansas, joining the team as a walk-on and eventually becoming an All-American.

He was known for his thick black glasses and his resemblance to comedian Drew Carey, besides his incredible talent on the football field. Burlsworth was killed in a car accident at age 22, 10 days after being drafted by the Indianapolis Colts in the third round of the 1999 NFL draft.

He was traveling back to Harrison from Fayetteville to go to church with his mother.

Reindl, 51, spent the last 11 years immersed in Brandon Burlsworth’s life. The first eight years he developed a screenplay based on the 2001 book “Eyes of a Champion, the Brandon Burlsworth Story” by Jeff Kinley. The screenplay was co-written by David Hunt, the film’s director.

The screenplay took eight years to write. It was his first experience at writing a screenplay — “I’m a glutton for punishment” — although likely not his last. He now describes himself as a “walk-on filmmaker.”

“The story begins when Brandon was 12 or 13 and just beginning his football career,” Reindl said. “It covers 10 year of his life. The last 10 years.”

The story of Brandon Burlsworth’s short life is depicted in the movie “Greater, the Incredible True Story of the Greatest Walk-on in the History of College Football.” It was produced by Reindl and is set for general release Jan. 29. The Northwest Arkansas premiere is planned for Jan. 26.
The story of Brandon Burlsworth’s short life is depicted in the movie “Greater, the Incredible True Story of the Greatest Walk-on in the History of College Football.” It was produced by Reindl and is set for general release Jan. 29. The Northwest Arkansas premiere is planned for Jan. 26.

The best moment in the whole process was the satisfaction he felt in seeing the finished product and the audience giving the movie a standing ovation and “seeing them crying and laughing,” he said.

More than 2,000 showed up when casting calls went out in Fayetteville, Little Rock and Louisiana. Much of the movie was shot in Fayetteville and Little Rock. There are other local links to the movie.

Yes, he said without hesitation, he would do the whole project again but only “after a rest.” He already has an idea for his next project.

ARKANSAS TIES
Reindl is a University of Arkansas graduate, and an avid Razorback fan who bleeds Razorback red “down to the bone,” he said.

“I remember Brandon and saw when he was drafted by the Colts and I was watching the same television 10 days later when it was reported he had been killed,” Reindl said. “My motivation was to tell his story. It feels really good to have the movie coming out. It’s exciting to birth the baby. … I had no idea it would take this long.”

Reindl also found ways to link Arkansas in this story. Former Arkansas coach Houston Nutt and former Athletic Director Frank Broyles have cameo appearances in the movie as does Quinton Aaron, the actor who portrayed football pro Michael Oher in the movie “The Blind Side.”

A special feature is the performance of the hymn “I’ll Fly Away,” one of the most recorded gospel songs ever. It was written by Alfred Brumley in 1929 while he was attending the Hartford Musical Institute in Hartford, Ark., which operated in the early half of the 20th Century. His son sings the song in the movie.

Another song, rooted in Arkansas, is also featured in the movie. “Victory in Jesus” was written by E.M. Bartlett in 1939. Bartlett founded the Hartford Music Co. He conducted singing schools around Arkansas and in bordering states for 20 years.

Members of the Chi Omega sorority at the University of Arkansas also make a cameo appearance in the movie.

BURLSWORTH LEGACY
In death, Burlsworth left a legacy with the foundation that bears his name carries on his belief that every child is a gift. The foundation is dedicated to support the physical and spiritual needs of children, especially those with limited opportunities, and of working with disadvantaged children, meeting health care and other needs.

The Burlsworth legacy is advanced through eye care programs, football camps and game tickets and other activities.

“This is not a traditional faith-based film but more a hope-based one,” Reindl said. “I want people to walk away feeling inspired or to become a better person. I set out to tell Brandon’s story.”

The road from screenplay to completed movie has not been an easy one, Reindl admitted. People whom he met along the way tried to derail his vision for the film; conflicting advice came from the so-called experts in the industry. He didn’t identify which studio but said a major studio tried to buy those rights as recently as two weeks ago.

“Up until the end people tried to buy the distribution rights and to delay the premiere until later this year,” he said.

The first public screening of the movie, three years in the making, was held last week at the Ron Robinson Theater in Little Rock as a fundraising event for the Arkansas Hall of Fame, Reindl said.

The movie opens in general release on 400 screens around the country on Jan. 29, mostly in southern California and Arizona and in southern and southeastern states including Arkansas and surrounding states.