Carmel Resident and Film Director Works to Bring Angelo Pizzo’s ‘500’ to the Big Screen
Amid all of the excitement for the return of the “greatest spectacle in racing”—the Indianapolis 500—this May, I am thrilled to share a brief history of the Hoosier who is responsible for the very first Indy 500—Mr. Carl Fisher. His extraordinary contributions to the world of racing and automotive ingenuity have been portrayed by Bloomington native and award-winning screenwriter and film producer Angelo Pizzo. Carmel resident Justin Escue has been working on bringing this epic screenplay “500” to the big screen. Escue is founder, director and producer at My First Bike Productions.
From Indiana to Hollywood and Back to Indiana
How do you sum up the creative genius and talent into a short article without omitting so many of the successes realized by both Pizzo and Escue? I shall begin with Pizzo’s outstanding works “Hoosiers” (1986), “Rudy” (1993) and “My All-American” (2015). These films are more than “sports” stories. These films, along with Pizzo’s other screenplays, depict a person’s journey that often touches on relationships, redemption, fortitude, perseverance and the human experience. After spending some time in Hollywood, Pizzo moved back to his hometown of Bloomington in early 2004, where he continues to write and produce. He is currently working on two new scripts that he wrote during the pandemic.
Fellow Hoosier and creative type, Escue was raised in New Palestine, Indiana, and got his start in the performing arts as a musician. He explored the world of filmmaking and acting while at Ball State University, where he began producing and directing feature-length and short independent films. After graduation, Escue moved to Austin, Texas, where he worked on big budget films. His path led him to L.A., where he continued to work as a writer, producer and director before moving back to his Hoosier stomping grounds where he is currently working on multiple projects, including the “500” film.
A few of Escue’s production and directing credits in both film and television include “Cypher” (2021) (TV series), “#2WheelzNHeelz” (2017) (TV series), “To Do List” (2007) (short), “Open Mic’rs” (2006) and “Saving Star Wars” (2004).
A Story a Hundred Years in the Making
Many devout fans of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) and the Indianapolis 500 may know who Carl Fisher was, but as a self-professed fan, I learned from Pizzo and Escue that this man—born in Greensburg, Indiana—was so much more than the guy who was the driving force behind the creation of IMS and advocate for the development of automobiles, aviation and transportation.
Fisher led the Lincoln Highway Commission, and as a real estate mogul, Fisher transformed Miami Beach from undesirable swamplands to the vacation mecca and vibrant city that it is today. Escue shared with me that Fisher Island, Florida, was in fact named after Fisher. Just a few of Fisher’s other ventures include the Dixie Highway and the Prest-O-Lite Company that produced carbide-gas-fired headlights.
Pizzo’s screenplay depicts Fisher’s life in and around the development of IMS and the Indianapolis 500. Pizzo also touched on several aspects of Fishers life that made him both a hero and a heretic, depending on the viewers’ perspectives, including his marriage to Jane Watts, who was 15 when they married.
When asked what about Fisher’s life and Escue’s idea to bring Fisher’s story to the big screen compelled him to write the screenplay dubbed “500,” Pizzo replied, “It was a combination of factors. I’ve been a passionate IndyCar fan all of my life. So, when Justin brought up this idea of the ‘origin story’ about how it all started, it was kind of in my wheelhouse.”
Pizzo emphasized that “500” is not a “racing” story but is the story of Carl Fisher and the journey he went on throughout his life.
“I have two different parts of the audience that I serve,” Pizzo explained. “There are those [in the audience] who are aficionados and have a passion for the particular sport [featured in the film], and then I also have to serve those [in the audience] who could care less. For example, the ideal compliment on a movie like ‘Rudy’ is someone saying, ‘I laughed. I cried. I love that movie, but you know, I don’t like sports. I don’t like football. And I don’t like Notre Dame.’ That’s my target audience. So, in terms of the character of Carl Fisher—he was an extraordinary and complicated figure. I could write 10 movies about him. He was one the great salesmen, entrepreneurs and visionaries of the 20th century.”
In the script, Pizzo touches on the fact that after the first Indy 500, due to the controversy surrounding the multiple fatalities involving both drivers and spectators and the declared winner of the first race—some still debate whether Ray Harroun was indeed the first winner—there was almost never another Indy 500.
“Carl was relentless,” Pizzo shared. “A characteristic that we all hope that we have in ourselves because that’s the way things get done and dreams are realized. The first race was a disaster, so it’s definitely a part of the story and how Carl Fisher recovers from that.”
A Director’s Dream to Create “500” in Indy and Carmel, Indiana
Escue’s vision is to film this historic and exhilarating script in Indiana using local crews and talent.
“Angelo has found a way to capture the spirit of [Fisher] who didn’t have kids, so he had no legacy and is mostly forgotten,” Escue stated. “When we started to research who Carl Fisher was as a man and all the things that he did, it’s insane to me that the story hasn’t already been told—especially here! And to have someone like Angelo with his pedigree be the guy telling Carl’s story is amazing.”
Escue continued, “After graduate school at Ball State, I went to Austin [Texas] and started working for Robert Rodriguez and Richard Linklater. It was 2000, and they had started building their first studio out there. I was sort of on the ground floor of this. They took a city that had relatively not a lot of [film] production, and I watched it grow into this huge, booming community of film production. And right now, Austin is like No. 2 behind Los Angeles.”
Though Escue knows that there won’t be any issues finding qualified and talented crews in the local area and region, the issues of funding for the film and support from local municipalities are his greatest obstacles right now. Escue is seeking individuals and corporations who want to be a part of something big and quite possibly iconic that will complete Pizzo’s trilogy of Hoosier stories made into films.
“My biggest hurdle is finding a group of people who are alternative-minded, who want to do something different and see the vision of something that’s artistic,” Escue shared. “Carmel is a very artistic community, but we’re trying to find people who want to help bring [film] production to this city like Austin did. I’m trying to create jobs and sustain a business model that’s working in other cities. If I can bring this film and any subsequent series to Carmel and to Indiana, that would change everything.”
For more information on My First Bike Productions and Justin Escue, and for anyone interested in learning how they can contribute to making “500” come to fruition, visit myfirstbike.net.