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The 5th Quarter returns to Winston-Salem and Wake Forest University for premiere

by Mark Burger

It was an even more festive St. Patrick’s Day than usual for Wake Forest University and the city of Winston- Salem, as Thursday marked the premiere celebration of the feature film The 5 th Quarter.

It was only appropriate that the premiere reception would be held in Deacon Tower, overlooking the Wake Forest football stadium, BB&T Field. The film, which is scheduled for release throughout the Southeast on Friday, recounts the Wake Forest Demon Deacons’ ACC triumph in 2006 and how this miraculous season was inspired by player Jon Abbate (played in the film by Ryan Merriman), who had lost his younger brother Luke (Stefan Guy) in a car accident.

Donning his brother’s No. 5 jersey, Jon Abbate and his teammates paid tribute to the fallen boy with one of the most successful and memorable seasons in the school’s history. It was a season that many Wake Forest fans will never forget, and did much the soothe the grief of the Abbate family. Aidan Quinn and Andie MacDowell play Steven and Maryanne Abbate, Jim and Luke’s parents.

The production worked in close collaboration with the university’s athletic department, and the film was shot entirely on location in Forsyth, Guilford and Davie counties. The Abbate family and Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe acted as script consultants to further ensure authenticity. (Michael Harding plays Grobe in the film.)

“The athletic department could not have been more cooperative,” said Rebecca Clark, executive director of the Piedmont Triad Film Commission, who worked closely with the production from the very beginning. “This was a film that really needed to be made here, where it actually happened.

A star-studded lineup of local luminaries included Winston-Salem mayor Allen Joines; award-winning author John Ehle and his wife, actress Rosemary Harris (an Academy Award nominee for Tom & Viv in 1994); Jon Abbate; and members of the cast and crew, including writer/producer/director Rick Bieber, executive producer and former Wake Forest and professional football player Bob McCreary; and Merriman, who won the Best Actor award at the 2010 California Independent Film Festival in San Francisco. The event was covered in a live remote by WXII Television (Channel 12).

The 5 th Quarter is a project “I feel very strongly about,” said Bieber. Although it was an independent production, “it really resonates with universal themes, and it’s also a very commercial movie.

“We’ve had a nice, successful festival run,” he said, noting that the film has won awards at nearly every festival it’s played at, including Best Feature prizes at the Long Island International Film Expo and the Louisville International Film Festival.

The 5 th Quarter marked Bieber’s second film as a director (after Crazy in 2008), but his prior film and television producing credits include Made in America (1993) and Richard Donner’s Radio Flyer (1992). His is currently in post-production on his latest directorial outing, Rehab. He also has good memories Winston-Salem beyond this film because one of his previous productions, Aurora Borealis (2005), was screened in competition at the RiverRun International Film Festival and won the Audience Choice Award for Narrative Feature and the Jury Prize for Best Actor for Donald Sutherland.

Bieber estimated that between 70 and 75 percent of the crew was based in North Carolina, and “Wake Forest was an unbelievable partner in every way.”

“This has been a long time coming,” said McCreary, founder of the McCreary Modern furniture company and a long-time supporter of Wake Forest athletics, twice named Deacon Club Member of the Year. “Looking back on it, I would not change a thing we did. [The film] has a tremendous story, and it commemorates a great time in the history of Wake Forest University.”

“It’s great to be back,” said Merriman. “I love it here. It brings back many great memories because I became good friends with the people I worked with.”

Merriman, whose film credits include Final Destination 3 (2006) and Home of the Giants, which was also filmed in the Piedmont Triad but has yet to be released, currently enjoys a recurring role on the ABC Family series “Pretty Little Liars” with Ashley Benson and Holly Marie Combs, in which he plays resident bad boy Ian Thomas. Having played a heroic role in Jon Abbate, he admitted with a smile that he’s enjoying playing a more ruthless character.

The assembled crowd then convened for a special screening of the film at the Grand 18 theater on University Parkway, which was so well attended that it necessitated the opening of a second auditorium. Following the screening, the party wrapped downtown at the Community Arts Café on Fourth Street.

For more information about the film, the official 5th Quarter website is the5thquartermovie.com.

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