Show horse and workhorse Borgnine star in movie that shoots in Memphis

Ernest Borgnine

Ernest Borgnine

A local equestrian has turned his passion for the “fine-stepping” Paso Fino breed of horses into a family-friendly motion picture scheduled to begin shooting Feb. 8 in the Memphis area.

Oscar-winning star Ernest Borgnine — now 93, but still active in movies and television — and Armand Assante, 60, are among the more familiar actors cast in the currently untitled production, said Los Angeles director Jonathan Meyers, who should be in the Memphis area through February, shooting at various farms and horse show arenas.

Ernest Borgnine

Ernest Borgnine

Also coming to Memphis will be several veteran movie horses, trained to perform stunts and “act” on cue.

However, producers are seeking local performers for both large and small roles. Coordinated by the Lisa Lax Agency, an open casting call will be held Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Crossway Church, 2633 Altruria Rd. in Bartlett. Would-be actors are asked to bring a headshot and resume. (Call 246-8249 to find out if the auditions have been canceled or rescheduled due to the nasty weather.)

The movie tells the story of a rugged champion horse rider whose career is cut short by an accident with a drunk driver, causing serious injury to the man and to his prize Paso Fino horse, Fandango. Redemption is found with the assistance of the young daughter of a rival horse breeder, who becomes Fandango’s new trainer and rider.

The movie was scheduled to be called “Fandango,” but that title was discarded, to avoid confusion with Fandango.com, the popular online movie ticket service.

“I originally called it ‘A Horse Tale,’” said Memphis writer Keith Suggs, 58, who collaborated on the script with the story’s originator, Fayette County businessman and champion Paso Fino rider Dennis Sonnenschein.

A popular breed in West Tennessee, Paso Finos — the name derives from the Spanish words for “fine step” — are known for their smooth ride and natural four-beat gait. Reportedly, they were introduced to the New World during Columbus’ second voyage, in 1493.

Produced by Hollywood veterans Bret Saxon and Ari Palitz, working with the Insomnia Media Group and with such local investors as Sonnenschein, the movie is intended to recall the type of horse sagas that are enjoyed by adults as well as young people, such as “My Friend Flicka,” “The Black Stallion” and “The Horse Whisperer.”

“There is something about the bond between a horse and a person that can really connect,” said Meyers, 28, a Los Angeles native who said he has a lot of experience riding the area’s horse trails, some of which run below the famous Hollywood sign. “When that kind of story is done right, it can be really powerful.”

Meyers previously directed “Confession,” a 2005 revamp of Alfred Hitchcock’s “I Confess” set in a Catholic boarding school. The film starred Chris Pine, before the actor was cast as Capt. Kirk in the new “Star Trek.” Robert Pine, Chris’ father, a longtime character actor, will appear in the Memphis horse movie.

Meyers said the Memphis production will employ about 40 to 50 crew members a day, most of whom will be local hires, so the producers can take advantage of government filmmaking incentives and tax rebates. In a unique set-up, two crews will work simultaneously at different locations on the feature, “to maximize our daylight and time,” said Meyers, who said he will “Ping-Pong” between the units.

— John Beifuss: 529-2394

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