NEW ALBANY ALUMNUS BRINGS HOLLYWOOD – AND A HEARTFELT FILM – HOME WITH “BOMB CITY”
BY GRANT VANCE | PHOTOS BY DANNY ALEXANDER & COURTESY PHOTOS
THANK YOU TO NEW ALBANY HIGH SCHOOL FOR ALLOWING AN ON-LOCATION PHOTO SHOOT
Major Dodge stood in the wrestling room at New Albany High School and shook his head in disbelief. “This is kind of surreal being back here,” said the 1996 alumnus. “This is kind of where all my hopes and dreams originated.”
The actor-producer whose talents are now getting major (forgive the pun) buzz in the world of film for the movie Bomb City, Dodge recalled his humble beginnings. “I was the worst wrestler when I started as a freshman. By the time my senior year rolled around, I’d won over 30 matches. … I often tell people: If you can start off in something and not be very good at it, if you put forth the effort and work hard at it, you can overcome anything.”
After graduating from the Southern Indiana high school, Dodge went on to wrestle at the University of Indianapolis before grappling with an acting career. “I attribute a lot (of my success) to wrestling: There’s no one to blame but yourself,” he said. “I think that’s what a good producer does, they take the blame for everything and make sure everything is going the way it should.”
Dodge’s acting career now spans 17 years and counting, ranging from Broadway to upcoming appearances on NCIS, Reelz’ Murder Made Me Famous and Lifetime’s River Run Red. His producing credits include a variety of short films, as well as being credited as executive producer on An Act of War and associate producer on Racing Legacy.
But it’s his upcoming feature – Bomb City – that is especially close to Dodge’s heart in the great ring of filmmaking and generating positive reviews from the industry. The now-Texas resident produced, executive produced and plays the role of Officer Denny in the film.
Bomb City tells the true story of Brian Deneke, a punk rocker from Amarillo, Texas, who was murdered in 1997 by a popular football player driving a Cadillac during a violent conflict between the “punks” and “preps” within the community. The assailant “didn’t spend a day in jail,” Dodge explained. “It’s gritty, tough, loud. It’s a crime drama about punk rock.”
The subject matter of Bomb City is handled passionately but based very much in realism. Both punks and preps are given perspective through a “beautiful, documentary-style film exploration,” said director James Brooks, who went to school in Amarillo and was 12 at the time of Deneke’s murder.
“The main antagonist is the criminal justice system,” Dodge said. “The football player (who murdered Brian Deneke) didn’t spend a day behind bars for the murder. The jury basically decided the punk rocker deserved to die because of the way he looked. The attorney was so good, he put the punk rocker’s dress and lifestyle and culture on trial rather than the actual event.”
Bomb City displays the cultural tragedy of judging others based on appearance with a contemporary edge.
“It’s a very current film even though it happened in 1997,” Dodge said. “People are still getting judged with how they dress, skin color, income and all that.”
The anti-bullying aspect made the movie personal for Dodge, who gained his confidence and overcome-anything mindset through wrestling and hard work to achieve his dreams.
This wasn’t the only personal connection to Bomb City, however.
What Dodge originally imagined as a personal, character-driven film with “the beautiful dichotomy of punk rockers in dusty, open fields surrounded by steers,” became something more after speaking with Brian Deneke’s father, Mike Deneke.
“I have a son, Major the Fourth. He’s seven years old. People ask what it’s like to have a son. It’s like God ripped your chest open, pulled out a piece of your heart and made another human being,” said Dodge.
“Sitting across from (Mike Deneke) 17 years later, knowing he lost his son and still seeing this pain behind his eyes … that’s what got me into movies, man. The human connection.
“It was no longer about punk rockers in the middle of steer pastures. It was about this man wanting his son’s story to get out there. I gave him my word we were going to tell his son’s story.”
After speaking with Mike Deneke, Dodge set out to finance Bomb City, driven by his ambition to keep his word and assisted by a visionary “look book” put together by Brooks.
The film took three years (2013 to 2016) to produce from start to finish, production lasting 19 days.
Bomb City’s premiere at the Dallas International Film Festival won the film Best Narrative Feature and Audience Choice Award, followed with another Audience Choice Award at the Nashville International Film Festival.
The awards don’t end there either, with Dave Davis (True Detective, The Big Short) winning Best Actor in Nashville for his leading role as Brian Deneke.
Competing against the likes of Burt Reynolds, this is a prolific win for Bomb City, but far from the peak of its profile.
Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, Boyhood) personally endorsed the film, and his daughter, Lorelei Linklater, plays a role as well. Rocker Marilyn Manson also appears in the film.
“(Manson) is the film, in a nutshell,” Dodge said.
He recounted playing the audio of a speech Manson gave about Brian Deneke for potential investors without telling them who was speaking.
“They would always (guess it was) a politician or maybe a lawyer because he’s so well spoken,” Dodge said. “When I tell them it’s Marilyn Manson, their jaws drop to the floor. He’s so well spoken and articulate –and that’s the film. If Iwould have shown themwho that was immediately, I would have lost halfthe audience becausethey would have beenturned off by (Manson’s) appearance.”
Music for the film was provided almost entirely by Brian Deneke’s real-life favorite bands; the score was produced by Sheldon Chick and his brother Cody Chick. Some rap music was provided by another New Albany native and friend of Dodge’s, Rodney Brown, who goes by Young Zillion.
“Two of Rodney’s original songs are in the film,” Dodge said. “What was crazy is I asked if he had anything that could pass as (90s rap) without telling him what the story is about, and he sends me this song about driving around in my Cadillac, (which was) the murder weapon (in Brian Deneke’s death).”
No matter the odds, a wrestler is never going to count themselves out. This is something Dodge believes wholeheartedly. “If somebody is reading this right now and they live in New Albany, and they’ve got a dream but they’re unsure, but they believe their destined for something greater and they can do something great with their lives, I want to tell them there’s nothing they can’t do if they don’t believe in themselves.”
Bomb City will debut Sept. 14 at the Louisville International Festival. Find out more at www.louisvillefilmfestival.org. The movie is scheduled to be released in 10 select theaters, video on demand and iTunes in December. You can also keep up-to-date by going to www.bombcityfilm.com and following @bombcityfilm on Twitter and Facebook.
IF SOMEBODY IS READING THIS RIGHT NOW AND THEY’VE GOT A DREAM BUT THEY’RE UNSURE, BUT THEY BELIEVE THEIR DESTINED FOR SOMETHING GREATER AND THEY CAN DO SOMETHING GREAT WITH THEIR LIVES, I WANT TO TELL THEM THERE’S NOTHING THEY CAN’T DO IF THEY DON’T BELIEVE IN THEMSELVES.” –MAJOR DODGE
I ATTRIBUTE A LOT (OF MY SUCCESS) TO WRESTLING: THERE’S NO ONE TO BLAME BUT YOURSELF. –MAJOR DODGE