Smart and lucky are a good combination.
As a CEO and venture capitalist, with degrees from Lehigh and Princeton, Doylestown’s Paul Martino has had enough business successes to show that his first big payoff wasn’t a fluke. Now, he’s adding a new job to his resume: movie producer.
Inside Game, opening nationwide Nov. 1, is the true story of the 2007 NBA betting scandal in which three Springfield guys from Cardinal O’Hara went to prison for profiting off games being influenced by NBA ref Tim Donaghy. The two accomplices were Donaghy’s longtime buddies, James Battista and Tommy Martino, who just happened to be Paul Martino’s cousin. It would not be a stretch to say that if Tommy had not taken part in a criminal endeavor, Paul would not today be walking red carpets.
Whereas most movies start out with a pitch, a script, and a host of rejections, Inside Game began its eight-year journey to the screen with a good deed.
In 2011, when Tommy Martino got out of prison, he was approached about selling his life rights for a possible motion picture. He needed the money, so he went to cousin Paul to look over the contract.
Paul, who’d been part of numerous multimillion-dollar deals as a founder of Bullpen Capital, was aghast. “I said, ‘Tommy, this is the most one-sided agreement I’ve ever read. You can’t do this deal,’” he recalled. "Tommy said, ‘Look, I want to get back on my feet.’ And I said, ‘Tommy, I’ll do you a favor, I’ll buy your life rights.’”
“I had no delusion at that time of making a movie or anything. It was just a favor to my cousin,” Paul Martino said in a recent phone conversation. He had a little understanding of the movie business, but a big understanding of intellectual property — holding around 20 patents will do that for you. So he set out to protect his cousin. “’If someone ever wants to make this movie,'" he told Tommy, “'let’s put enough intellectual property landmines out there so they’re going to have to deal with us.’”
“That way my cousin couldn’t get taken advantage of,” he said.
And then the luck kicked in.
“It’s my 15th high school reunion, we hosted it at our house in Doylestown,” Paul Martino said, “and my friend Rena is there with her new husband, Andy Callahan.”
It turns out that Callahan is a screenwriter in Los Angeles and his college roommate wrote The Hangover.
He starts to tell Callahan the story of his cousin, Donaghy, and Battista, but Callahan stops him. He knows the story. He also grew up in Delaware County and even played center on the Haverford High School basketball team. Callahan boasts that his team twice beat Kobe Bryant’s Lower Merion squad. He tells Paul, “I can write this story. There’s nobody better in the world to write this story.”
So Callahan speaks with Tommy Martino every week for about a year and writes a screenplay. But Paul Martino is a venture capitalist who never had any ambitions to make a movie, and now that he has a script for one, he has no idea if the script is any good. And that’s when lucky break No. 2 happened.
“I’m in a chance meeting in Los Angeles with a guy named Michael Pierce,” Paul Martino said, “and Michael made one of my favorite movies of all time called The Cooler. It’s about a gambler [William H. Macy] who has such bad luck that if you put him in a casino next to someone, his bad luck will rub off on them... But Michael’s not in the movie business anymore; he hasn’t made a movie in 10 years. We’re meeting about a venture deal.”
Then, five minutes into the meeting, with their business deal complete, Pierce says: “Paul, what else should I know?”
Martino, respected VC guy, says six words heard daily in Los Angeles, usually spoken by waiters, private school teachers, and Lyft drivers: “You know, I got this script.”
To which Pierce laughs in his face: "A Silicon Valley guy is going to hand me a script in Santa Monica? Does it get any worse than that? No, I won’t read your script.”
But Martino couldn’t let the opportunity slip away. “ 'Michael, '” he said, “ ‘I know you don’t know me yet, but I’m going to tell you right now I’m a good person to have owe you a favor, and you’re going to read the damn thing.’
“I flew back to Silicon Valley that night. Michael calls me back about eight hours later and says, ‘Martino, this is the best script I’ve ever read. Who the hell is Andy Callahan? I’m going to help you make this movie.’”
Paul Martino said he hopes his marketing and social media acumen pay off — with radio interviews, sponsored content on WIP sports radio, and custom campaigns with websites like Covers.com.
“For me, this isn’t a passion project," he said. "It’s much more of a venture investment similar to a start-up. But it is a pretty big experiment.”
“Inside Game” opens Friday on 125 screens nationwide. The movie stars Eric Mabius as Tim Donaghy, Will Sasso as Battista, Scott Wolf as Tommy, and Michael O’Keefe as Tim’s dad, legendary college referee Gerry Donaghy.