OLSKY Brings Hockey and Film Together In Columbus

OLSKY, an independent short film written, filmed, and produced here in Columbus, features a hockey player at the lowest point of his career, and asks if he has what it takes to find his way out. We had the opportunity to speak to Steph Greegor, the writer and director, to talk bout her ties to the c

OLSKY opens with a sharp contrast - the sight of the titular character pulling on his pads and checking his skates, alone in a darkened locker room, while we hear a radio host open the phone lines to allow fans to blast him with both barrels for what he calls "a spectacular fall from grace."

From that moment, we know this is someone who is at a low point, and it's not clear to him (or the audience) how - or if - he can find his way back out.

If the name of the film sounds familiar, it's because of the hard work that writer, director, and producer Steph Greegor has been putting into bringing her project to life.

Greegor, who may be familiar to Blue Jackets fans for her work covering the team for The Other Paper and Fox Sports Ohio in recent years, took on a big challenge. While there is a fairly large community of filmmakers in the Columbus area, much of it is focused on horror projects or documentaries - and much like the larger film scene in Hollywood, almost none of those directors or producers are women.

To help make her vision a reality, Steph looked for help from local resources like the Chiller, The Ohio Center For Broadcast, and even the Columbus Zoo, but she also engaged the local hockey community, both through crowdfunding site IndieGoGo, where she was able to raise over $2,200, and reaching out to amateur players and coaches who could help on and off camera. Several players from the Columbus Adult Hockey League can be seen skating during the on-ice action scenes, and others spent time with the film's star, Aaron Massey, to help teach him the skills he needed to put in a convincing performance as a professional hockey player.

I had the chance to watch a private screening of the film thanks to Steph, and she was also able to answer some questions about what went into making this film - and what the future may hold for expanding the short into a feature length film.

A practice session from the film, shot at The Chiller Easton Photo Credit: Leonardo Carrizo

From both your initial crowdfunding and how you've promoted the film, it's clear that filming in Columbus was important to you - can you talk about that? Did OLSKY happen to find some overlap between the hockey and film communities here in Columbus?

Filming in Columbus is very important to me. Columbus is my home, it's where my daughter goes to school, and it's a city I've covered as a reporter for quite a while, and many different aspects of it. This city, and the people I've been lucky enough to meet, they all mean so much to me. To film my first film here is a truly incredible moment.

Columbus has mostly seen horror films from the independent filmmaking crowd or documentaries, which, to me, is why this film is so important, particularly to Columbus. It's important to see story lines developing that echo what Columbus is about, from all its different vantage points, whether that has to do with sports or art or government—we have a lot to offer here.

From a personal standpoint, I also wanted to be seen as a filmmaker who makes lots of great movies with varying topics. I didn't want to be seen as the hockey reporter who made a hockey movie—I can see where some folks would draw that conclusion, but it couldn't be further from the truth. I'm a storyteller who wrote a script that was based in a world I was emerged in at the time I penned it. There's lots of different worlds I plan to write about—this script just happened to be the first one that really resonated with folks.

Were there any unique challenges in filming OLSKY?

Most definitely. Hockey is a very unique sport, so finding actors who could play hockey, and who could make it look like pro level hockey, was very, very tough. We lucked out with the guys we got—Joe Setticase, who has a hockey and acting background, and our body double, Jeremy Browning, who's an assistant coach in the Ohio AAA Blue Jackets program, did the majority of the scenes. Our lead actor, Aaron Massey, can't skate a lick, so we had to quickly get him a coach, Stephen Lukan, who could get him up to speed on the basic movements. Aaron had to be able to skate onto the ice like a pro, stand on the ice, and take a shot on the ice. It was rough, but he did it well.

As far as filming, shooting in a rink is very tough. It's cavernous, so the sound is really tough to get a handle on, and because it's so large, moving equipment for every shot set-up was a tiring task for our gaffer, Jerod Nawrocki and his crew. They were run ragged after 14 hours of shooting, setting up and tearing down. Plus, lighting a huge rink is tough; it required huge lights that kept blowing the fuses. So, Jerod had to work to solve that problem and get the big lights on different circuits. We could have used a lot more hands to help Jerod and his team; lesson learned, for sure.

Another challenge was that I also purposefully separated myself from the Blue Jackets and the NHL for the making of this film. From a legal perspective, I didn't want there to be any copyright or other infringements, so we took great care to minimize that association. I also didn't want anyone to assume that my film was in any way connected to anything I'd seen or covered as a reporter covering the team. Nothing in my film is even remotely reflective of anything I saw while covering the Blue Jackets.

This film is a very personal experience, tied very tightly to Mike Olsky as he stands at a major crossroad in his life. Since there's clearly more of Mike's story to tell, does that change if you get the chance to expand OLSKY into a larger work?

Mike's story will remain a very personal storyline in the feature film as well. In fact, I prefer to call this a character drama set in the hockey world, rather than a hockey film. It's not a true hockey film in the way Miracle is; this story is about a man who, like all of us at some point, hits a dark road along his life's journey. And the choice he must make is if he's going to let it bring him down or not. The biggest difference in the feature film is that we get to see so much more of the people who influence and support his life, and how they react and change as Mike deals with this crossroad.

It's a very personal film for me as well. I wrote a lot of myself into Mike. I've had that dark walk; I've lost myself a little bit, too; I've been a person I didn't want to be because of things I perceived to be pressing down on me. We all have. And we all just want that moment of glory at the end of the hard road that validates pushing through the pain. And that's what we see Mike really go through in the feature length film.

There was a lot of crowdfunded support to help get OLSKY off the ground - can you talk about how you were able to build that base, and how those supporters influenced the project?

I owe everything to the people who financially supported this film, all of which had a personal connection to someone who was part of the film.

A large part of the film funding did come from my friends, family, and folks who have supported me for a long time as a writer, and that was incredibly humbling. That people will part with their hard earned cash to support a dream I have is the most humbling thing on earth. You can never really truly thank someone for believing in you that much. It's impossible. Because it goes beyond money. It speaks to something bigger than that. Something far less tangible, but far more valuable.

While most folks in Columbus know me from hockey, I've been a journalist for over 15 years and have covered everything under the sun long before I ever stepped in a hockey rink. So, most of the contributors...they are deeply held relationships that I value. Their influence on the project is that I was really driven to give them something they could be proud of. That they could be proud of me. That's all I really want. To do things that make my family and friends proud. Things that make my daughter proud. And things that are 100 percent, authentically, and genuinely me and my point of view. After years as a journalist, where you're writing for someone or for a publication, it was wonderful to just write for me.

The film's already in consideration by the Canadian Sport Film Festival in Toronto - are you planning to submit it to any other festivals or juries?

We were solicited by the Canadian Sports Film Festival's director to submit our film for consideration, which was very cool. I'm still not sure how he found our film, but it was the coolest moment ever to have someone reach out like that and show interest. We'll know next year if we make it in or not.

We have submitted to other festivals and we plan to continue to submit throughout the next year. We have submitted to Sundance Film Festival, Slamdance Film Festival, the Toronto Film Festival, Athens and Cleveland International Festivals, and several more. We actively targeted hockey markets that had burgeoning film scenes and festivals; good crossover between film and sport, where film goers would enjoy seeing a hockey-themed short film.

Creating and directing OLSKY was a big achievement - where do things go from here?

I go home. I take care of my kiddo. I feed my cats. I eat a few Sour Patch Kids. And then I keep writing, and directing, and believing in the possibilities. Wash, rinse, repeat. Anything beyond that will be a huge blessing that comes at the right time, at the right place, with the right people.

Even though it's not discussed in depth in the film, drug and alcohol abuse has slowly become a topic of discussion in hockey, as well as other professional sports. Are you hoping OLSKY will help push that conversation forward?

If that's what people take from this film, then so be it; but it wasn't my intention. While sports certainly have a glaring spotlight put on them for drug and alcohol abuse, there are other professions with equally high concentrations of similar abuse—lawyers, doctors, dentists, military personnel, to name a few. The conversation is about how we, as human beings, handle the hard stuff in life. How we cope. Some of us cope with alcohol, some with drugs or nicotine; others with food.

You could take Mike Olsky and put him against any professional backdrop and see the same story line unfold. He's an everyman, which makes him relatable. So the conversation isn't "drugs and alcohol in sports," it's drugs and alcohol as a means of coping and disguising true emotion—and how do we get past that? How do we learn healthier forms of coping? And how do we get our lives back on track?

A mix of actors and local media, including Dispatch writer Aaron Portzline, appear briefly in the film.
Photo Credit: Steph Greegor

OLSKY will have it's official premier on Friday, December 4th at the Gateway Film Center in a private screening for the film's backers, but there is a teaser available to the public that you can check out, and we'll be posting an interview with Aaron Massey to talk a bit about his experiences getting ready for the part and filming here in town later this week.

You can also find more information about the film at OlskyFilm.com

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