The last time Hollister residents heard about the exploits of native son Kirk Ward, he was pitching his new television pilot, “Skyward,” that aired on Amazon Prime Video. At the time, Ward encouraged the hometown crowd to watch the pilot and vote for it in hopes of launching a series.
“Skyward” is now dead, but Ward’s future as a filmmaker, screenwriter, actor and television producer is not. He’s back with his newest project called “Wayne.” The pilot received such a tremendous reception in Hollywood circles that it resulted in a 10-episode run scheduled to begin streaming Jan. 16 on YouTube Premium.
Ward, 48, described the offbeat and raw series about a teenage vigilante as “‘Dirty Harry’ with a heart of gold, who sets out on a dirt bike from Boston to Florida with his new friend Del to get back the hot ’78 Trans Am that was stolen from his father before he died. It is an action comedy in the mode of 'John Wick' as if directed by John Hughes.”
A crashed pilot
What may have been seen by some as a serious setback when “Skyward” failed to launch in 2017, Ward saw as a detour on the way to experiencing a pretty terrific 2018. Last year he worked simultaneously on “Wayne” and a feature film called “Turkey Bowl” that he wrote and starred in.
“At the top of 2018 the film and the series were green-lit at the same time and I thought ‘this will be no problem,’” Ward said. “It turned out to be one of the most creative years in my life so far, and the most exhausting. I actually ended up in the emergency room, suffering from dehydration and exhaustion.”
“Turkey Bowl” was shot in Norman, Oklahoma. The location was sentimental to Ward because it’s his business partner Greg Coolidge’s hometown. There, Ward was able to recruit famed University of Oklahoma football coach Barry Switzer to act in the movie.
“He steals the movie,” Ward said. “He plays an old, senile coach. Getting to know and hang out with Barry Switzer was just as good an experience as making the movie.”
Ward said his philosophy when it comes to working in movies or television is everything goes well, until Monday comes and everything is gone. That was what happened to “Skyward.” He said the pilot did great and even received two Emmy nominations.
“We were going to get picked up and then [Amazon] wiped out the entire live-action kids department,” he said.
Ward explained that even though “Skyward” didn’t become a series, those in Hollister who voted for it mattered, because streaming companies like Hulu, Netflix, Amazon and YouTube know when people log on and how long they stay on, which is taken into consideration in determining how popular a show is.
“It was a blow because we really wanted to do the show and people really believed in it,” he said. “It’s a strange thing to go to the Emmys knowing your show is not going to be picked up. But we took it out and shopped it around. We got interest from Netflix, but it was too similar to ‘Stranger Things.’ Then time goes by and you’re moving on to other projects.”
When a new writer, Shawn Simmons, came into the production office and pitched “Wayne” to Ward and his partner, they were immediately onboard. Ward said he loves revenge films and “Wayne” struck a chord. The comment that landed the deal was, “Imagine what Charles Bronson (‘Death Wish’) was like in high school.”
“We knew it was something special because Shawn was so passionate about it,” Ward said, “and it was so unique to Brockton, Massachusetts.”
Because Ward was not familiar with Simmons’ writing, he wasn’t sure how the script would turn out. But while on a plane to Nashville to star in Billy Ray Cyrus’ show “Still the King,” Ward received the script on his computer and read it during the flight.
“It was one of those rare moments that I knew it was unbelievably special,” Ward said. “I was so excited and so sad because I couldn’t share it with anybody on the plane.”
The next question was what streaming company to shop the show to. Ward said he knew he needed some industry muscle to back it, so he went to his friends Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, the writers of “Deadpool” and the reboot of “Pirates of the Caribbean.”
“Imagine what that was like because ‘Deadpool’ had just made $800 million and everybody in town was calling them,” Ward said. “They read it and wanted to meet one morning. When they came onboard that’s when our opportunities took off.”
The group took the project to Hulu, Amazon and YouTube Premium. Ward said it turned into a bidding war between YouTube Premium and Hulu. YouTube guaranteed it would produce the pilot and Ward said they would go with YouTube only if it promised not to change a single word of the script. In only a few months, Ward and his group were shooting the pilot and 10 episodes in Toronto.
BenitoLink had the opportunity to view six episodes of what Ward calls a “very raw and very real story.” Each one begins with a warning that it may not be suitable for all audiences and each lives up to that warning. “Wayne” is dark in places, extremely violent in others and nearly always profane. Ward said the language is strong, not to be edgy or cool, but to accurately reflect the way people near Boston talk to each other.
Wayne, the show’s main character, is perplexing because it’s hard to figure out why he does what he does. He’s willing to take a brutal beating to make a point and he’s loyal to a fault. He’s a smoldering, off-kilter kind of guy who will take untold amounts of punishment, but once he decides to take action he’s more than a bit terrifying. The bullied kids at school idolize Wayne because he is their protector and bullies turn the other way when he walks down the hall. All this lethality is packaged into a skinny teenager who mumbles most of the time, but comes alive when he meets a girl named Del, who tries to sell him stolen cookies.
Ward wrote two episodes and was on the writing staff that tweaked all 10 scripts. He also appears in five episodes. He said the show’s hoped-for audience age is between 16 and 44, adding that his 84-year-old mother who lives in Hollister saw the pilot and said she related to it the most out of everything he has been involved with.
“My generation will be nostalgic about this comparing it to ‘Death Wish,’” he said. “Today’s generation will compare it to 'John Wick.' Younger kids will think of him as a superhero who stands for justice. Personally, I think people will relate to Wayne in this day and age because he is a character who truly believes in justice and standing up for what is right, even if he looks bad or gets hurt. There’s not a lot of people in the world who do that.”
When Ward appears as villain Calvin Clay, his character is a tribute to his old friend Alex Naccarato, who still lives in Hollister. Ward said because he, like the character Wayne, is from a small town, he wanted to base Calvin Clay on somebody real, and tough.
“I shaved my head and put on a handlebar mustache based on his Facebook picture and said ‘I want to look just like this guy,’” Ward said. “All of my friends who saw photos of me knew who it was. Alex got word about what I did and loved it.”
Naccarato has known the Ward brothers a long time.
Kirk and I have some great memories growing up," he said by Facebook Instant Message. "I am proud of what he’s done, his accomplishments, and especially proud to call him my friend."
Ward said he will be back in Hollister when “Wayne” premieres on YouTube on Jan. 16, watching it along with his family. Ward’s brother, Kip, principal of Ladd Lane Elementary School, will be right there binge-watching the series with him. Kip told BenitoLink that he had already seen the pilot and episode two. He said he liked the edginess of the show.
“It’s going to strike a chord with a lot of people who grew up that way and can relate to that toughness,” Kip said. “I’m excited he was able to get a hold of a project like this. He’s just a grinder. The fact that this is working for him makes me proud as a brother.”
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