A number of months ago, while I was chatting with Jerry Kramer regarding the book we are working on, he suggested I call someone.
Jerry told me to call Glenn Aveni, an award-winning filmmaker who was in the process of doing a documentary on Kramer. Jerry thought we might be able to share some information. Before I called Aveni, I checked out his biography and I was very impressed. I also noticed that Aveni was a Milwaukee native, just as I am.
When I called Glenn, I soon found out that we had a lot in common. We both grew up on the northwest side of Milwaukee and we knew a lot of the same people, although Aveni is a couple of years younger than I am.
Both of us agreed that we surely crossed paths at some point because of a mutual friend and also because we had similar interests, like sports and music. And just like I am with Jerry, I was at ease talking to Glenn, just like he was a close high school or college buddy.
One thing that really stuck out for me in my conversation with Aveni was hearing the passion that he had for the Green Bay Packers. Like me, Glenn grew up when the Packers under Vince Lombardi won five NFL titles in seven years, including the first two Super Bowls in the 1960s.
I also found out that at the age of nine, Aveni read Instant Replay, the classic book co-written by Kramer and the late, great Dick Schaap, which was a diary of the magnificent 1967 season for the Packers. A year when the Packers won their third straight NFL title under Lombardi, who was coaching his last team in Green Bay.
The documentary that Aveni is producing about Kramer is called You Can, If You Will – The Jerry Kramer Story. The Kickstarter campaign about the film is going live today. You can pre-order by going to this page.
I talked again with Aveni recently and he told me how this documentary idea about Kramer originated.
“A photographer friend of mine, who had done some photos of Jerry a few years ago, saw him at a signing event here in Milwaukee,” Aveni said. “So my friend called me on the phone and told me that Jerry Kramer was there. He told me that he saw Jerry there and congratulated him on being recently inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“So my friend said to Jerry, ‘Isn’t it about time that somebody does a film on you Jerry?’ And Jerry said, ‘You know, I was just talking about that with my marketing agent, Mark Mayfield.’
“So my friend says, ‘I know the perfect guy to do this. His done films on people like Les Paul, plus he’s from Wisconsin and a huge Packers fan.’ Jerry told my friend to have me call him on his cell phone. So I called him and had short conversation and I told him my background and apparently Jerry had seen my Les Paul film and liked it.
“Jerry cut to the chase and said, ‘How would we do this?’ And I told him that we would basically use the same template I utilized when I did the Les Paul piece. So I told Jerry that my company, Icon TV, would produce the film, handle the distribution and that I would direct the film.
“So Jerry goes, ‘That sounds really good and I think that we could make this work. I’m going to be up at Lambeau tomorrow and perhaps we can meet there for lunch. At least I can look in the whites of your eyes and maybe we can finalize this along with my marketing agent Mark.’
“So we met for lunch and I got us a private table in the back. We had a real nice lunch and I gave Jerry my ideas about how we would do the film. Then he looked at me and says, ‘Let’s do it!’ And then he says, ‘What do you think Mark?’ And Mark goes, ‘I think it’s a great idea. I have checked out Glenn’s background and he checked out great.’ So we shook on it.
“The one thing that was real reaffirming to me, because I’m such a passionate fan of the Packers, was that when we left our table, the entire 1919 Kitchen & Tap crowd stood up and gave Jerry a standing ovation. The place was packed too. Plus, he was mobbed by everyone. Young and old. I knew then that this film was going to be fantastic!”
So Aveni started working on the film and was in Canton for Jerry’s enshrinement and was able to film Kramer’s acceptance speech. Plus, Aveni and his film crew were able to get a number of interviews with pro football icons like Ron Wolf.
Aveni told me about when he decided to utilize Kickstarter for this film.
“Well, when we started the project, I told Jerry that I would put up my own money to get the film started,” Aveni said. “My business model for all my films is to put up money to get rights for a film. So I put up enough money to start shooting material to get into production. But I can’t really fund the entire film out of my pocket, as I just don’t have the resources to do that.
“The first goal in my films is to try and get some pre-sale. So I went to the obvious choices, who are NFL Network and ESPN. While both were very interested in the project, because they love Jerry, they really didn’t want to pre-buy, they preferred to wait until the project was done.
“So when I realized there was a high probability that we wouldn’t get pre-sale, I had told Jerry in our very first meeting that would probably crowd-fund the film, like I had done in the past with one of the other films I directed, which was called The US Generation.”
That film was about the Us Festival in 1982, which included musical acts like The Police, Tom Petty, Fleetwood Mac, Santana, Jackson Browne, The Cars, The Talking Heads, The Ramones, The Grateful Dead, Pat Benatar & The B52s.
Aveni worked with Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak in getting that film done. Aveni sees a lot of similarities comparing Kramer and Wozniak.
“Steve is very much like Jerry,” Aveni said. “Steve’s whole goal in life is to help other people’s lives. Not enriching himself, but to help other people. I took that project to Kickstarter and it definitely helped us get over the finish line. The film has had a fantastic response as well.”
One of the people who is assisting Aveni with this film is Jerry’s son Dan, who has had also worked with Kickstarter in the past. In fact, I did a story about his project, which was for his Return To Glory book.
Aveni talked about his association with Dan.
“I met Dan in Canton,” Aveni said. “He did some photography work there and he told me a little bit about his background. Dan is a really talented photographer. He’s very savvy about the media, plus he also has a past with the Kickstarter program.
“Dan and I hit it off personally. Jerry’s family is really a warm, loving family, as I’m sure you know. They were very gracious and very kind to me. They were thrilled that I would be doing the film about their dad.
“Once we realized that we were going to go the Kickstarter route, we thought it would be a good idea to bring Dan aboard on the project and be part of the production team. Dan is going to be invaluable.
“We are also working with Mark Mayfield of Mayfield Sports. Mark is an executive producer for the film. Mark has unbelievable contacts within the sports community, the Green Bay Packers community, as well as the NFL community.”
Aveni summed up to me why Kickstarter is the perfect vehicle to drive this film.
“Kickstarter is the best, as I’ve had a great experience with it,” Aveni said. “They are more suited towards films and documentaries as well. Kickstarter makes you reach your goal. There is no funny business. You can’t raise a third of the money and just not deliver.
“We think that this will give great rewards to people who pledge to be part of this film. The thing I really like about Kickstarter is the unity that it creates. So whatever story that you are telling, you are able to work within a community of people who have a similar love and passion like you do.
“One of things I would like people to know is that we are going to give a tribute to Bart Starr in the film. Packer Nation loved Bart and they love Jerry as well. I know they will love this documentary.
“The people who help out feel like they are making the film with you. People will get a lot of real cool stuff for the money that they pledge. It’s just a unifying enterprise where the people who are backing you become your biggest cheerleaders. It’s just a fantastic journey.”
Similar to the journey that Kramer and his teammates made on that epic 68-yard drive in the “Ice Bowl” or the 44 years it took for Kramer to get his rightful place among the best of the best, which is being a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
This film will illustrate all that and much more!