His grandma’s story charmed Tom Brady. Now it’s a Hollywood movie
Four years ago, Elizabeth Pensavalle knew what she wanted for her 90th birthday party — to watch quarterback Tom Brady play football. Sporting a long-sleeve shirt that said, “Over 80 for Brady,” with the veteran NFL quarterback’s face on it, the grandmother summoned her guests — “Everyone to the den!”
“It was an order,” recalled her grandson Max Gross, who at the time was a 29-year-old coordinator at talent agency WME.
His job, which involved sifting through scripts, answering phone calls and arranging meetings, was low-ranking and hardly glamorous. But in his grandma’s story, he saw the makings of a Hollywood movie — and big-screen dreams. On the plane ride home, Gross envisioned a tale of elderly female Brady fans who go on a trip to the Super Bowl to see him play.
“I was curious and dug deeper down the rabbit hole,” Gross said. “So I just kept going to see how far it would take me.”
Gross’ idea eventually became the Paramount Pictures comedy “80 for Brady,” which opens in theaters Friday, starring Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Sally Field and Rita Moreno. Brady, a WME client, appears in the $28-million film and serves as a producer. Entertainment studio Fifth Season, a former WME sister company, produced and financed the picture.
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The film is a bit of a gamble. Usually the movie ideas come from agency clients, not employees. Big-budget action films like Paramount’s “Top Gun: Maverick” and Disney’s “Avatar: The Way of Water” dominate the box office. The movie’s target demographic, women over 30, has been among the audiences most reluctant to return to cinemas after the COVID-19 pandemic.
But “80 for Brady” boasts ample star power, and films like the “Top Gun” sequel and Universal’s “Ticket to Paradise” have brought older audiences back to auditoriums. Plus, the film’s subject matter — the NFL — is the most-watched show on TV, with nationwide appeal across multiple generations.
Paramount saw a chance to attract audiences usually ignored by the big studios. Production had slowed during the pandemic, and there haven’t been enough films released to draw in moviegoers week after week. Few comedies are being released theatrically, and there aren’t many movies that appeal directly to older women.
That leaves the door open for offerings like “80 for Brady,” which was originally intended to be streamed on Paramount+ but was changed to a theatrical release after successful test screenings indicated broad appeal. (Shari Redstone, Paramount Global’s non-executive chair, happens to be a longtime fan of Brady and his former team, the New England Patriots.)
“We really felt like it was something that addressed a segment of the audience that previously had been a little more skeptical about returning to the theaters, and we just saw what we thought was an opportunity to deliver something for a really under served audience,” said Michael Ireland, co-president of Paramount Pictures’ Motion Picture Group, which had acquired the film at the end of 2021.
“80 for Brady” is projected to open with around $10 million to $12 million in ticket sales domestically, according to pre-release audience surveys. The movie arrives in theaters at the same time as M. Night Shyamalan’s horror film “Knock at the Cabin.” It’s well timed, coming after Brady on Wednesday announced his retirement from football “for good.”
NFL great Tom Brady, who won a record seven Super Bowls, announced his retirement Wednesday, saying he was stepping away from the sport ‘for good.’
Gross always thought his concept had commercial potential. The story contained elements of previous hits, including “Book Club” ($104 million in global box office), about older women discovering “Fifty Shades of Grey,” and “Get Him to the Greek” ($91.7 million), a comedy about bringing a music artist to the Greek Theatre.
But when Gross came up with the idea in 2018, it wasn’t clear how it would get to the end zone. Could he land a studio to back the movie? Would A-list stars be interested? And would Brady approve?
After Gross returned from his grandmother’s birthday party, he started making calls. He reached out to film executive Christopher Slager at Endeavor Content, a production company then owned by WME’s parent company, Endeavor. (It was renamed Fifth Season after Endeavor sold an 80% stake of the scripted production business to South Korean entertainment company CJ ENM to resolve a dispute with Hollywood writers over agency-owned production entities.)
Gross told Slager to “check your email.” When Slager pulled it up, he saw a photo of Gross’ grandmother and her friends wearing “Over 80 for Brady” shirts.
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Slager saw the potential. He had worked on “Book Club” and understood the power of the 55-plus audience.
“It was an incredible spark of an idea,” Slager said. “We just love the idea of this story in this world of a group of older female friends connecting over football. My 92-year-old grandmother often connects with all of us over football. It’s one of her favorite things.”
It still wasn’t a sure thing that the idea would gain traction with talent, so Gross got to work. WME talent agent Scott Henderson took it to his client Tomlin, who was game. Other stars, including Fonda (Tomlin’s co-star on Netflix’s “Grace and Frankie”), were interested too.
Slager and Samantha Racanelli from Fifth Season brought in producer Donna Gigliotti, known for crowd-pleasing fare such as the Oscar-nominated “Hidden Figures.” But they still needed help from Brady’s agent, Jason Hodes.
Hodes was at WME’s Beverly Hills office for a staff meeting in late 2019, where he encouraged the group to do more to place nonscripted clients, including sports stars, into movies and television. That was the cue for Gross, who had been promoted to agent, to pitch the idea.
In less than 10 minutes, Gross revealed his idea, went over the names of the interested actors and flashed an article on his phone about his grandma’s Tom Brady fan group.
“I get approached all the time with different ideas, and this one, it really struck a chord with me,” Hodes said. “I love that it was clearly based on a real group of people that were real fans.”
Hodes called up Brady, who was intrigued.
Tom Brady announced his retirement Tuesday at age 44. The quarterback was the embodiment of success and amazement during his 22 seasons in the NFL.
“This story is not just about football, but it’s about the relationships of these women who are on the adventure of a lifetime,” said Brady in a statement. “A true testament of how sports can bring people together and forge these life-long bonds and friendships.”
With Brady on board, it was time to inform another key stakeholder — Gross’ grandmother. In a recorded video message, Brady told Pensavalle, “I am so grateful for all your support over the years. ... I want to make a movie based on your over 80 for Brady crew, so we can’t wait to bring your story to the big screen.”
Upon seeing the video, Pensavalle put her hand on her chest. She could hardly believe it, telling her grandson on the phone, “Oh, my God, Max! How did you do that? ... Is that really him or an imitation?”
In December, Gross’ grandmother was finally able to watch the film in a theater with her friends and family, beaming with pride in her grandson.
“He took this on by himself and did a wonderful job getting it to the right people,” said 94-year-old Pensavalle in an email.
She’s already thinking about a sequel.
“Tom won another Super Bowl for Tampa Bay. But they better do it quick!” Pensaville wrote in an email. “I also think it could be a fun series like ‘The Golden Girls.’”
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