Raleigh Agency Debuts Survival-At-Sea Thriller Not Without Hope

Raleigh-based production company behind new survival-at-sea thriller

“On a blustery day, four friends embarked on a fishing trip. A harrowing two days later, only one man returned. This is his story.” … In 2009, Nick Schuyler’s life changed forever when he became the sole survivor of a boating trip gone wrong in the Gulf of Mexico, which claimed the lives of his best friend Will Bleakley, along with NFL players Marquis Cooper and Corey Smith (the latter of whom was also a former NC State football star).

In the wake of the tragedy, Schuyler worked with Rick French, chairman & CEO of Raleigh-based agency French/West/Vaughan, to document his story while honoring his late friends via his inspiring yet heartwrenching nonfiction survival tale Not Without Hope—which went on to earn a spot on The New York Times bestselling list and resulted in Schuyler’s appearances on The Oprah Winfrey Show and HBO’s Real Sports. And while the book debuted in 2010, the upcoming film has been 13 years in the making—due to delays caused by unforeseen circumstances and the pandemic.

“Making a film like this, especially a water-based tragedy, is about as difficult as you can imagine,” explains French. “The water was cold. It was a very immersive experience, and that’s what people in the theater are going to experience—they are going to be thrust into that environment with the guys who are trying to survive. … We will be pulling that theatergoer into the water.”

French’s film production company, Prix Productions, is behind creation efforts for the film, which recently wrapped shooting on-location in Malta and is targeted for an early fall 2024 debut (also coinciding with the start of the NFL season). An array of acclaimed Hollywood actors are involved in the project, including Zachary Levi (you might know him from Shazam!) starring as Nick, plus Quentin Plair (a former UNC football player from the Butch Davis era), Marshall Cook, Josh Duhamel (of Safe Haven fame), Terrence Terrell and JoBeth Williams—with critically acclaimed director Joe Carnahan at the helm.

“They gave us everything they had,” says French of the principal actors. “It was a grueling experience—to be in that tank in the middle of the night in cold water with no bodysuits. They were facing the elements for weeks on end recreating these sequences. I cannot imagine the physical toll it took on all of them.”

An edge-of-your-seat thriller, Not Without Hope is a film for everyone—from sports fans to those who enjoy buddy movies, says French. “And in a story like this, Mother Nature is always going to win… but these guys fought heroically to try and stay alive against the worst storm to hit the Gulf of Mexico in 25 years,” he adds. 

In addition to the feature film, keep your eyes on the horizon for a documentary based on the same story, Four Down, set for release in 2024. The filmmakers are shooting to premiere the docu—directed by Oscar-nominated Steven Cantor and produced by French and Dwayne Johnson and his production company, Seven Bucks Productions—at Sundance Film Festival.

“Our intent is to honor the memory of Nick’s friends,” says French of the in-the-works major motion picture. “We want the last thing for people to know about them not to be how they died—but how they lived and worked together to try and keep each other alive.” Indeed, hope is not lost. 

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Angela Brown
Angela Brown is the author of our Business & Economy section.