The Wright Brothers may be coming to the big screen, with strong Dayton connections.
In the last week of his life, David Lightle, chief executive of Dayton’s Wright Brothers USA, signed a contract with a Hollywood film production company to start work on an animated feature film based in part on a 2004 children’s book by Timothy Gaffney, Wee and the Wright Brothers.
Lightle then went off to China, where he had many business dealings. He died there Aug. 28 at the age of 58.
The contract he signed before he left defines roles for the production company, Mechaniks, and Wright Brothers USA, which has drafted sketches for characters featured the movie.
Lightle also agreed that a writing credit would go to Boris Damast, a Mechaniks principal, to help develop the screenplay, said Kenneth Botts, Wright Brothers USA president and one of Lightle’s surviving partners.
Lightle’s screenplay follows a mouse named “Wee” as he accompanies the Wright Brothers from Dayton to Kitty Hawk for the brothers’ first historic flight. In the story, other mice and the Wrights contend with birds who don’t want humans to fly.
The first task is to find voice talent to commit to roles in the movie, said Botts and Doug Knopp, Wright Brothers USA chief designer and creative director. Then work begins to attract investment support for what they expected to be a $60 million to $80 million project.
With the right talent and support, Botts and Knopp believe the film could attract a studio and a distributor for domestic release in 2019 and for release in China in 2020, that country’s “year of the mouse.”
“We’re waiting for names (of cast) members before we go to the investment community,” Botts said.
The Dayton firm has developed the characters for a year and will be listed in the film as executive producers, he said.
The news comes at a time when David McCullough’s best-selling book, The Wright Brothers, has brought new international attention to the Wrights. HBO and Tom Hanks’ production company, Playtone, last year bought the rights to that book.
“I think one of the things that made this a viable project is largely the attention the Wright Brothers are getting, ” said Gaffney, a spokesman for the National Aviation Heritage Alliance and a former Dayton Daily News reporter.
Gaffney said he and Lightle spoke many times about his screenplay based on his book, but Lightle did all the writing, and he “doggedly” pursued producers for a film.
“We all want to really fulfill Dave’s dream,” Gaffney said. “We kind of feel that way. It’s like something you want to do for Dave.”
Lightle, Botts and Knopp founded the Wright Brothers USA LLC, guiding the licensing of the Wright brothers’ name and images to sell carefully selected products — mainly bicycles and watches — for two years before staring an online commerce site in May 2015, TheWrightBrothersStore.com.