“I think he’d be so proud.”
Jim Packer’s father may have passed on, but the documentary creator can’t help but wish his dad could be sitting right in one of the 49 seats at Cinema Capitol as his film is shown locally for the first time.
“Loopers: The Caddie’s Long Walk” will be shown through July 11 and is described as a visual “tour de force” shot on the iconic courses of Pebble Beach, Augusta National, St. Andrews, Carnoustie, Prestwick, Ballybunion, and Lahinch. The 80-minute film documents the game of golf as seen through the eyes of the caddie.
Packer grew up in San Marino, Calif., but he has fond memories of summer visits with family members in Rome. His father and grandfather were natives.
“I spent my summers in Rome. There’s my Aunt Jennie, and my dad was from Rome,” said Packer during a phone interview. “I remember sneaking down to go fishing in the fish hatchery with my cousin Dusty (Rowland).”
The president of Worldwide TV and Digital Distribution at Lionsgate Studios, Packer said he got into making documentaries as a “hobby” and passion, and Loopers is his second film. His own father, James Sr., went on to own a Hollywood production company in Los Angeles, while his grandfather, James W. Packer, ran an insurance agency in Rome. Jim III is the nephew of Virginia Packer Rowland who still lives in Rome, and the late Dudley E. Rowland.
Besides serving as Loopers’ executive producer, Packer also executive produced the 2014 documentary, “A Lego Brickumentary,” which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Another thing both films have in common is that they were backed by financier Chris Brown. Packer and Brown became neighbors and friends back in 1971 when both their families moved to San Marino’s Charlton Road. Each will boast about their 40-plus year dispute over who really owned the treehouse built between both their homes.
“We still debate over who owned the treehouse that we shared,” Packer laughed. Chris became a “big financier in New York, and I’m in L.A., and he funded both documentaries with me. Now we’ve produced two of them.”
Packer pridefully recalled his connections to Rome, with his dad Jim Packer II (Sr.) and other extended family.
“My uncle, David Packer, was a big boat racer in Rome,” he said. “Back in the 1970s, he was one of the top boat racers and he won a lot of awards. His boat is at the (Rome Sports) Hall of Fame. My Aunt Jennie is my closest relative who is still in Rome, and she’s the matriarch of the family. Kim Rowland lives on Lake Delta and my cousin, Dusty Rowland, lives in Seattle now. A lot of different family members actually moved back there” to Rome.
“There’s a definite love for Rome” in the family, Packer said. “I remember coming to Rome and time spent playing putt putt golf and hanging out.”
It’s perhaps the Copper City where Packer was originally bitten by the golf bug that would eventually inspire his new documentary.
“I used to play in Rome at Teugega. I used to just love going there,” Packer remembered fondly. “It was a very important club to Rome — it was well designed and just such a great spot.”
After reading the book, “Men on the Bag: The Caddies of Augusta National,” by Ward Clayton, and talking with his own caddie, Packer said he was inspired to make a film that hadn’t been done before.
When reading the book, “I realized that was something I wanted to do,” said Packer as to what inspired the making of Loopers. “I hired Jason Baffa as the director, and I hired a couple of producers. It’s taken three years to produce, and the toughest thing was trying to get Bill Murray” as the narrator.
One of the actor’s most famous roles was as Carl Spackler in the 1980 comedy “Caddyshack” — the tormented greenskeeper who obsessively hunted down the groundhog responsible for wrecking his course. But golf is actually a sport the Murray family takes quite seriously — Bill and his five brothers who caddied in the Chicago area, have been inducted into the Caddie Hall of Fame.
“My goal was to get him,” Packer said passionately, explaining how he had to find Murray’s 1-800 number. Yes, the actor of Saturday Night Live stardom actually has his own 1-800 number “that you call and say you want him to do a movie — he doesn’t have an agent,” the film producer laughed.
Packer went on to further explain how he found someone in Murray’s “inner circle” in Los Angeles, showing him some of the movie and giving him the book that influenced it. This contact so happened to be a golf caddie as well, so he agreed to present the film to Murray, Packer said.
“He said, ‘Lucky for you, I was a golf caddie, so I will at least present it to him. So a month later, I got a phone call from this guy, David, and he asked, ‘Do you want the good news or the bad news?,’” Packer recalled. “I said, ‘Give me the good,’ and he said, ‘He’s interested; he didn’t say no.’ And then I asked, ‘So what’s the bad?’ and he said, ‘He’s interested, and he didn’t say no.”
“David” said Murray’s “kind of hard to pin down and it’s not like you’re paying him millions of dollars, so he has to do it when he’s free,” Packer said.
The documentary producer went on to explain that he was then directed to give “David” the cell phone number of one of his producers, and was told if this producer received a text or call from a number out of Charleston, S.C., then he better answer it.
“Finally in the sixth month, I gave up — every month I’d check in with the producer,” Packer said. “I believe in fate, so ultimately I gave up and the producer came to my house. He, my wife and I started to go through names, and we had a list of six on a Friday night.”
That weekend, “I was going to get a new narrator, and I was away camping with my son, when the phone lit up — ‘The White Unicorn called. He wants to do it Sunday night, 9 p.m., in Charleston, S.C.,’” he continued.
But on such short notice, Packer and his film crew couldn’t book a sound stage until a Tuesday morning. So with the crew’s hesitation, and without definite confirmation from Murray (seeing he requested Sunday), all flew down to South Carolina.
But then the producer “got a text at 8 p.m. Monday that said, ‘See you in the morning, boys,” and Bill showed up” at the sound stage “the next day at 9 a.m. with his dog,” Packer said. “He completely re-wrote this movie and he read for four hours. Then he took the two guys around Charleston in his convertible and then said in the middle of the tour, ‘OK guys, time to go.’”
But despite how crazy things got, “Having him as narrator makes it a bigger movie,” the producer added. “He played it straight, adding a little element of humor, but it’s not over-the-top.”
According to the film’s synopsis, “Centuries old and enjoyed by tens of millions of people worldwide, golf is seen by many as more than a sport. Yet what do we know about the other person on the course? The man or woman behind the player carrying the bag. In a narrative never before covered in any feature length documentary, ‘Loopers: The Caddie’s Long Walk,’ explores the incredible personal bond that a golfer and a caddie develop through hours of time together.”
It continued, “It is often said that a good caddie does three things: show up, keep up and shut up. But a great caddie wears many hats. They’re the player’s psychologist, mother/father figure, technical advisor and confidante. The film unveils the working dynamic between famous partnerships like the heartfelt story of Tom Watson’s and caddie Bruce Edwards. Conversely, it delves into the making of a caddie’s career with stories like Greg Puga — a young Bel Air Caddie from East Los Angeles who fought his way to Augusta to play in the Masters as a Mid-Amateur Champ. Whether familiar or new, these are stories that will make you re-think the way you look at golf, and especially the job of the caddie.”
Loopers: The Caddie’s Long Walk was in nearly 100 theaters across 29 states throughout June and can be pre-ordered on Apple iTunes now for release later this summer. Cinema Capitol in Rome is one of only two locations the film is scheduled to be shown in New York — the other was in Bronxville on June 12.