With more than 30 published books under his belt, Don Keith gets ready for one to hit the big screen.

Written and photographed by Jeff Rease

Among our wonderful community resides a gentle man I call a good friend who is a communicator of history, feats of courage, emotion, and achievement and has entertained both radio listeners and book readers for decades. An award-winning and best-selling author, Don Keith describes himself simply as a “sucker for a good story.”

Soon, Keith will add to that list being the co-author of a book emblazoned with the words almost every writer dreams of seeing but few get the chance: “Now a Major Motion Picture.” That book is Firing Point, a military thriller and national best-seller he co-wrote with retired submarine skipper Commander George Wallace.

I asked Keith about how Firing Point—to be released this year under a new name, Hunter Killer—became a major motion picture, and how it feels to make the leap from a career in print and radio to his more recent foray into film and television.

“George and I had co-written Final Bearing, a techno-thriller that was a national best-seller,” Keith says. “George attended the Naval Submarine League meeting in San Diego and was signing books there when a fellow approached and told George that he was a movie producer doing research for a WWII submarine movie he was contemplating. Turns out he actually was a highly credited producer named Arne Schmidt, who had worked on such movies as We Were Soldiers (with Mel Gibson), Big Fish (based on a book by another Birminghamian, Daniel Wallace), and Robocop. He asked George about Final Bearing and said he would read it.”

Schmidt liked the book, but he didn’t think it was a movie. He asked Wallace what else he had.

“George told him about the sequel manuscript he and I had just completed, which was Firing Point,” Keith says. “Arne loved the story and characters and promptly optioned it. He did a spec script and sold the option to Relativity Media and the production company headed by Neal Moritz, who has done such films as Sweet Home Alabama21 Jump Street and all the Fast and Furious movies. Gerard Butler was soon attached, not only as a star but also as co-producer. Also aboard were Gary Oldman (Dark Knight, the Harry Potter movies) and the rapper Common, who won the Academy Award for the theme song for the movie Selma.

“Even so, Hollywood being Hollywood, it has taken the movie more than eight years to actually get made. That included being a part of the largest bankruptcy of a Hollywood studio in history when Relativity ran into financial problems.”

To his credit, Keith had been careful to keep his enthusiasm in check from the start, not wanting to pin his hopes on a project he couldn’t control. “When we did the initial option with Arne, I told my wife, Charlene, not to count on anything until we see the movie flickering on the screen down at the multiplex.” But after the initial bumps in the road, the film found new life with a new studio. “The studio that did all the Rambo movies, Millennium Films, picked it up. Principal photography was completed early in 2017 and they have done the visual effects, completed editing, and done the music scoring. It should finally be released early this year.” Keith adds that he hopes to work with the distributor on hosting a premiere here in Birmingham, possibly to benefit veterans’ causes.

“It is getting more and more difficult to temper our excitement as we get closer to the release,” he says. “Though we have had nothing at all to do with the production, it will still be exciting to see the characters and situations George and I made up in our heads actually moving around up there on the big screen.”

When that happens, Firing Point and Hunter Killer, its big-screen adaptation, will likely give Keith a more prominent name in the wider public. But for his readers and those who know him from radio, Keith has enjoyed a prominent reputation for decades.

A graduate of the University of Alabama who lives in Shelby County, Keith has won awards from the Associated Press and UPI as a broadcast journalist for news writing and reporting, and he was the first winner of Troy State University’s Hector Award for innovation in broadcast journalism. Keith was twice named Billboard magazine’s Radio Personality of the Year.

As an author, his first novel, The Forever Season, received the Alabama Library Association’s Fiction of the Year award. He has since published more than 30 books, fiction and nonfiction, including the nonfiction work The Ice Diaries, which was submitted for consideration for the Pulitzer Prize.

Keith has written about and met some truly remarkable people along the way. He wrote a book about Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant which was featured in the Showtime documentary Against the Tide. He worked with Shelley Stewart, legendary disk jockey and founder and president of O2 Ideas ad agency in Birmingham, to write his moving life story, Mattie C.’s Boy. He wrote the bio of Steve Skipper, Dream On: A Journey to Deliverance, revealing the gripping backstory of a man well known as the only artist officially licensed by the University of Alabama athletic department but who, in an earlier life, was a member of the Crips street gang before he turned his life around to become one of the most honored artists to emerge from our area. Keith also worked closely with Captain William Anderson, the man who took the first nuclear submarine, USS Nautilus, to the North Pole in 1958 under direct orders from President Dwight Eisenhower, a quest they wrote about together in The Ice Diaries.

Still, for all his success, Keith says his first piece of advice to aspiring writers is to do it for love, not money. “If you want to be rich and famous,” he says, “forget writing. Rob a bank. You’ll be rich for a few hours. Then, when you get caught and show up on the six o’clock news, you will be famous.”

But that philosophy has not slowed him down, and of course the making of Firing Point into the movie Hunter Killer, has opened even more doors.

“I am currently working on a number of projects,” he says. “Among the ones I can talk about, in addition to the sequel book and script to Firing Point/Hunter Killer, I am working on a potential limited TV series based on The Rolling Thunder Stockcar Racing Series books that I wrote. I am also working on a script based on my biography of a key player in World War II, Commander Dudley ‘Mush’ Morton. Undersea Warrior tells the story of how Morton almost single-handedly changed the way we conducted submarine warfare and played such a key role in the Allied victory in the Pacific. I am also working on screenplays for a couple of my other books that I am excited about, but it is too early to talk about them just yet.

“While I’m resting, I am also completing a novel based on the true story of an Alabama native who met and fell in love with a German national during the 1920s,” he continues. “Unbeknownst to her, he would become a German spy just before the war, and she and their two children would be trapped in Germany during World War II, in the midst of the most vicious Allied bombing of the war in Europe.

“I am a sucker for a good story. And to me, the best story happens when we take average people, put them into unusual situations, and watch them do remarkable things. That theme runs through everything I write, fiction and nonfiction. Bear Bryant, Captain Anderson, Shelley Stewart, Steve Skipper, the men in my true World War II historical books, and the submariners and SEALs in our military thrillers certainly qualify. And if I can affect readers in an emotional way—make them laugh, cry, shiver in horror, be inspired, or get mad—then I’ve accomplished what I set out to do.”

Asked about his versatility as a writer, broadcaster, and now script writer, Keith says for him it’s not been much of a stretch from one to the next.

“I was a radio broadcaster in Birmingham and Nashville for a lot of years,” he says. “People say they can’t see how I could effectively create in two such radically different forms of communication, verbal and written. I like to point out that they are actually very similar. You are locked away all by yourself in a little room with no contact with or immediate feedback from your intended audience. You have limited tools—a microphone in radio, a computer in writing—with which to create content. But with both, your desire is to affect your listeners or readers emotionally. And once you put it out there, you can’t take it back again.

“By the way, those similarities apply to visual media, too, in which I am now neck deep. Film and TV content always starts with a script, with characters that have to be brought to life and dialogue that must ring true, and it all starts as words on a page, all created in that same small, enclosed room on a computer keyboard and monitor, with no immediate feedback from the folks you are trying to move.” 

More information on Don Keith’s books, appearances, and media coverage is available at

Leave a Reply