Branded Content Spawns World Premiere Feature At Toronto Festival
Producer Andrew Muscato (l) and writer Pete Jones on the set of "The Greatest Beer Run Ever" (photo courtesy of Apple)
Producer Andrew Muscato starts small, hits big screen with "The Greatest Beer Run Ever"; Peter Farrelly directs a cast headed by Zac Efron and Russell Crowe; movie set for streaming debut on Apple TV+

Director Peter Farrelly made an indelible impression at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2018 when his Green Book earned the TIFF People’s Choice Award before going on to win three Oscars, including for Best Picture. Now Farrelly returns to Toronto with The Greatest Beer Run Ever (Skydance Media), which will make its world premiere as a Gala Presentation next week. 

The Greatest Beer Run Ever tells the remarkable, true story of John “Chickie” Donohue (portrayed by Zac Efron), a merchant seaman and Marine Corps veteran who in 1967 accepted a barroom bet and came up with a fly-by-the-seat-of-your pants plan to personally deliver a case of beer from New York to his buddies in Vietnam. Chickie went to Vietnam to reunite with and bring messages of love and support to several of his pals serving in the military. Finding himself in the throes of an escalating Vietnam War, Chickie experienced an outrageously crazy sojourn which carried life lessons. Schooling him on war, truth and honor is a Look magazine photographer (played by Russell Crowe) who's assigned to chronicle the combat, its toll and tell the stories of the men put in harm's way, many of whom pay the ultimate price. The Greatest Beer Run Ever has been described as a heartfelt coming-of-age story about friendship, loyalty, sacrifice--and beer. 

Just as Chickie’s sojourn to the frontlines seemed outlandish and against all odds, to some extent so too was the path taken to realize a feature film worthy of being showcased at the Toronto Film Fest. Helping, though, to bring the highly improbable to fruition was Andrew Muscato, a producer and director in the documentary space. The Greatest Beer Run Ever marks his debut as a producer in narrative fiction filmmaking.

The Greatest Beer Run Ever is based on the book “The Greatest Beer Run Ever: A Memoir of Friendship, Loyalty, and War” by Joanna Molloy and Chickie--republished by HarperCollins in 2020, a few years after it was originally self-published. However, Muscato’s involvement predates the book as he spearheaded the creation of a branded short documentary, also titled The Greatest Beer Run Ever, sponsored by Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.

The branded short was directed and produced by Muscato who first heard Chickie’s story from Molloy. Muscato was a long-time friend of Molloy who had left her gig as a columnist for the New York Daily News in 2014. Around that time, he had coffee with Molloy, asking her “what was the best story she never reported on.” She told Muscato about Chickie but initially didn't know if it was a true story. It had grown to urban legend, though, particularly in the New York neighborhood of Inwood, where Chickie and his war buddies resided.

Having tracked down Chickie and Vietnam War serviceman who corroborated the story, Molloy contemplated a book, according to Muscato who at the time thought, “This sounds like a movie.” So he began what turned out to be an eight-year quest to develop a viable feature. His instinct was not to write a screenplay that he’d have to beg people to read. Instead Muscato opted to make a short documentary and use it as a proof of concept to advance prospects for the story as a feature-length film.

Good fortune emerged when a friend had a godson who worked at Pabst Blue Ribbon. This connection in turn put Muscato in touch with execs at the brewer who ultimately gave him a greenlight on the branded short. “It was a grass-roots production, no agency involved, all direct to brand,” recalled Muscato who brought in editor Christopher Huth, at the time with Wax Editorial (and now a partner at Union Editorial).

The nearly 13-minute docushort--which reunited Chickie and his friends for the first time since the Vietnam War--gained traction, benefiting from exposure on Pabst Blue Ribbon’s YouTube channel in 2015, and registering high up on the Reddit rankings the following year. Molloy and Chickie later debuted their book, Muscato had optioned the rights and Skydance came calling after having seen the short on YouTube.

Farrelly also saw the short documentary and wound up connecting with Skydance. “We were looking for a writer-director in the fall of 2018,” recollected Muscato. “Peter wasn’t on our list. He was known for comedies. But luckily, Green Book had just come out, and its tone matched the tone I had for this--lighthearted moments but at the end of the day a drama." A drama indeed, dealing with war and an Inwood neighborhood that suffered a lot of loss with young men from there dying a world away in Vietnam.

Muscato added that Farrelly’s filmmaking and writing touch--whether in Green Book or his assorted comedies--”always has a sense of heart,” introducing us to “redeemable, lovable people,” deftly shedding light on the human condition. Farrelly adapted the script for The Greatest Beer Run Ever with Brian Currie and Pete Jones. (Farrelly and Currie won a Best Original Screenplay Oscar for Green Book.) Muscato produced The Greatest Beer Run Ever alongside Jake Myers and Skydance’s David Ellison, Dana Goldberg and Don Granger.

Muscato added that Pabst got involved, landing a licensing deal in the movie along the way.

As for what’s next, Muscato is looking for more storytelling opportunities whether that leads him to producing and/or directing. The Greatest Beer Run Ever may open up some avenues in narrative films for Muscato whose alluded to documentary lineage includes his directing and producing New Worlds: The Cradle of Civilization, which premiered at last year’s Cannes Film Festival. Muscato broke into documentary filmmaking when as a film student at NYU he got the chance to serve as a producer on The Zen of Bobby V, which centered on former Major League Baseball player and manager Bobby Valentine who went to Japan to manage and became a folk hero of sorts there. That ESPN documentary premiered at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival. Muscato went on to produce other sports documentary fare including Schooled: The Price of College Sports and Ballplayer: Pelotero. He also produced and directed Muhammad Ali: A Life. Outside the sports arena, Muscato produced and directed Mooch, a documentary about Anthony Scaramucci, perhaps best known for his short tenure as White House communications director in the Trump administration.

Asked if he would consider revisiting branded entertainment given the success of his work with Pabst, Muscato said he’d be open to producing and/or directing select commercials and branded content projects.

Meanwhile after its unveiling at the Toronto Film Festival, The Greatest Beer Run Ever has another debut in the offing. The feature is slated to make its streaming premiere September 30th on Apple TV+.


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