When writer-director Ken Scott and his writing partner Martin Petit began working on the script for "Starbuck," a 2011 hit in Canada that opens in the U.S. on Friday, they were worried no one would buy the premise of a habitual sperm donor who discovers years later he is the father of 150 children.
"Each day we would come in to write thinking it is too much," said Scott, 42, who was a member of a comedy sketch troupe before turning to screenwriting (2003's "Seducing Dr. Lewis") and directing (2009's "Sticky Fingers"). "People will not believe it."
Then six weeks in, a story broke in the news that a Montreal man had learned he had fathered 250 kids via sperm donations.
"We were blown away," said the French-Canadian Scott. "We thought we were inventing this from scratch. We were worried that 150 was too much. Then we started to look around and we realized there are many situations out there. There are many cases of sperm donors with hundreds of kids. There is a case in the U.K. of a man who had 500."
Now they were faced with a new dilemma — 150 children was suddenly too tame. So they upped the comedic ante. The donor, known only as Starbuck in the clinic's records, would learn he had fathered 533 kids — 142 of whom are attempting to get the fertility clinic to reveal the identity of their biological father.
The Starbuck reference will be lost on most U.S. audiences; it's not a nod to "Battlestar Galactica." Starbuck was an award-winning Canadian bull who has sired some 200,000 offspring around the world.
"Starbuck" the film has a growing empire of its own. It was one of Quebec's top grossers of 2011, and locked in multiple international distribution deals when it screened that year at the Toronto International Film Festival. It won the Audience Award at the 2012 Palm Springs International Film Festival and the remake rights have been snapped up in France and India.
Scott is currently ensconced at DreamWorks in post-production on an American version of "Starbuck" that he wrote and directed called "The Delivery Man," starring Vince Vaughn. The Disney release is slated for Oct. 4.
Though it's clearly a broad comedy, "Starbuck" explores such serious topics as the meaning and importance of fatherhood.
"I have three girls — 11, 8 and 4," said the soft-spoken Scott during a recent interview at DreamWorks. "My co-writer is the father of two kids. We are in our early 40s and we are surrounded by dads. We are under the impression that in the last 10 years, fatherhood has changed a lot. I think we want to be there for kids a bit more than in the past. Nowadays, we are hearing about fathers staying at home with the kids — but 15 years ago?"
The film chronicles the journey of David Wosniak (Patrick Huard), a 42-year-old who works as a delivery man in his family's butcher shop and owes some $80,000 to thugs. In addition to discovering he has 500-plus children, he also learns his girlfriend is pregnant. Ultimately, the character grows from man-child into an adult embracing fatherhood.
"Fatherhood is very much like a dramatic comedy," said Scott. "Fatherhood is all about these great moments — there are laugh-out-loud moments, but also difficult moments."
Lead actor Huard believes audiences are touched by the movie's important themes and "laugh watching this guy struggling."
Scott and Petit, said Huard, "wanted to say to people there are some good men out there who love their kids and want to get better at it. I am just back from Paris and it's amazing how people talked to me about the movie."
Huard is also a devoted father to a teen daughter and a 15-month-old son who was conceived during the film's production. "When we walked the red carpet at the premiere my wife was pregnant," said Huard. "I said to everybody, it is No. 534."
Though Scott's not involved in the French and Indian remakes of "Starbuck," when it came to the American version, "I wanted to make sure the story was told in the right fashion. We had many people here in Los Angeles interested in 'Starbuck' so we took our time to find the right people who would help us tell the story as a remake."
Scott doesn't go into any detail about the differences between the original and his remake. "I try not to think too much in those terms," he noted. "I am just trying to tell the best story possible."