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'Million Dollar Arm' Producer Profits from Clean, Uplifting Sports Sagas

'Million Dollar Arm' Producer Profits from Clean, Uplifting Sports Sagas

Don’t bother telling Mark Ciardi the odds.

The former University of Maryland standout made the big leagues before injuries derailed his pitching dreams. He then steered his ambitions toward another industry almost impossible to crack–Hollywood. In a few years Ciardi was producing some of the most inspirational, and family-friendly, sports films in recent memory.

Secretariat. The Rookie. Miracle. Invincible.

Now, Ciardi is bringing the true story of baseball’s first Indian athletes to the big screen.

Million Dollar Arm stars Jon Hamm as a smug sports agent trying to find the next great pitcher in India. Yes, India. It’s based on a remarkable true story, and the tale features not just some of that country’s most inspiring vistas but the sense that the American dream is open to immigrants with talent and heart.

Ciardi was 33 when he decided to give Hollywood a try.

“We just decided, ‘let’s go make movies,” Ciardi tells Big Hollywood. “We worked out of a garage. You just think you’re going to succeed. Later, you realize how difficult it is.”

He used his brief pro career as a conversation starter, made some friends in the industry and soon was flexing his sports savvy in a creative fashion. It’s still never easy, even when producing a story like Arm which seems tailor-made for the big screen.

Aligning the Million Dollar Arm shoot with Hamm’s schedule–his Mad Men gig alone keeps him busy–meant enduring the hottest time of the year in India. Temperatures soared well past the 100 degree mark during the production.

“You came away with such a memory of the place, an assault on the senses,” he says.

Working with the Disney brand with Arm proved a cozy fit for Ciardi, whose previous sports films avoided the kind of raunchy scenes found in grittier fare like Slap Shot.

Million Dollar Arm is going to box office war against The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Godzilla and other tentpole films. To even the odds a bit, Disney has aggressively screened the film for audiences nationwide, resulting in sky-high testing scores.

“That become the best weapon to sell the film,” he says.

Ciardi will be crossing his fingers this weekend, but the competitive Hollywood scene doesn’t intimidate him like it might many others. His brief time in The Show helped.

“There’s nothing scarier than pitching in front of 40,000 people. That’s real pressure,” he says.

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