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Friday, August 22, 2014

Press Junket Potluck: Jim Caviezel, Michael Chiklis & Thomas Carter on how When the Game Stands Tall stands tall

Film Flam Flummox

The game in question in When the Game Stands Tall is football, and more specifically the formidable one of the team of De La Salle High School in Concord, California, which under head coach Bob Ladouceur set a national record 151-game winning streak.  But the team, the coach, and the film inspired by their real life story is not merely about winning but something deeper, one of the main issues of discussion when director Thomas Carter and stars Jim Caviezel (who plays Ladouceur) and Michael Chiklis (who plays assistant coach Terry Eidson) sat down for roundtables at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills on Saturday, August 9.

The appeal of--and above--sports

"I'm really drawn to story, and I have no particular inclination to make sports movies. I've happened to make two of them [this and 2005's Coach Carter], and I've enjoyed making both of them about two sports that I really like. But I also like dance, and I like to be doing that--and I've done two dance movies [1993's Swing Kids and 2001's Save the Last Dance], so I've kind of been lucky. I will say what's exciting about sport first is the obvious thing: the notion of competition. There's physical competition first of all. It's exciting to shoot. It's exciting to watch. You have the audience there on the first level wondering who's going to win and how's it going to happen or how it's not going to happen. You have this sort of built-in drama when you have that competition, so that's an asset to a filmmaker. But it's not enough for a filmmaker like me to just have that. What interests me most about this particular sports movie very specifically is that Bob Ladouceur is himself interested in something far beyond winning. It's funny because he wins so much. Vince Lombardi said, 'Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing.' Ladouceur almost has the opposite credo. So while he enjoys winning and he wants to win and is competitive, he's much more interested in who are these young men when they come out of the program: what have they learned, how have they grown, do they have a sense of personal accountability, are they ready to go and be responsible young adults? For me, talking about that in a film was interesting."
--Thomas Carter

Finding the reel story from the real story

"You have to figure out what story do I tell to put that message across, how interesting can I make it. We happened to have chosen a year in their history where they suffered a number of setbacks, and they had to really climb out of a bit of a hole because they had lost a piece of that legacy and maybe a little bit of that mythology for a moment. So that was the proving ground, and then you can make a movie and tell a story because people are fighting adversity, they are trying to meet a challenge that's not just the obvious challenge of if you're going to win a game or not. And I think what you see in the film is the challenge is not are we going to win, but who are we going to be while we're playing the game? Who are we going to be to each other? How are we going to grow? How mature can we be? What's our level of commitment? That's really all the coach asks. Bob will tell you winning is a result of what they do. It's nice to win, but winning is simply a result of how they train these kids. So that was an exciting story for me to use sports to tell."
--Thomas Carter

Bob Ladouceur, a true character of true character

"I was at his 399th victory, and I got to film him during the game and got to see how he really works. He's just quite extraordinary when he'd coach, very selfless and really isn't about him. Sometimes I would notice that coaches would say, 'It's not about me,' and then it's about... them. [laughs] He's not there to discuss himself. This guy could've coached anywhere; as a coach he could be making high seven-figures. He couldn't give a crap about any of that stuff; he's not impressed with any of this. We've met briefly after [the film] was all assembled, and he said, 'I got to tell you, doing this media stuff, Jim--I hate it. I never wanted any of this.'  And he really didn't."
--Jim Caviezel

"He's definitely not a spotlight guy. Definitely humble, but to him that's extraneous, superfluous. That's not part of his core value system or he really wants to impart as a teacher. He's a teacher; coach equals teacher, mentor. So when you listen to the speeches, when you watch the DVD's, when you see the way he handles the guys and his demeanor, there's nothing false about it. It's just crystal; it just rings true. There's no doubt in my mind that they were the most incredibly successful team in the history of American sport because of philosophy, which I find fascinating."
--Michael Chiklis

Making the filmmaking game stand tall

"I saw myself not as Coach Lad but as those boys--that was the journey on how to play this guy. Right from the get-go I was transfixed on how those boys were looking at him. I know the story because I was a player and how I wanted to be treated as a young man and what was expected of me. My dad played for [basketball coach John] Wooden in UCLA. I knew Coach Wooden until he died, and Coach Wooden would come over, and he was like my grandfather. I was a [basketball] camper as a little boy and watched him and was connected to him through my entire life and his philosophy was a lot like Coach Lad's, and Coach Lad's is a lot like his. And what I always wonder is why a lot of coaches don't have that philosophy, and I think it comes down to the fact that there are guys that want to be out there and score 40 points and rather lose. The attention is on them rather than scoring two points and winning the game. That ego is a killer. It's not about personal growth or anything. They can talk all they want, but they don't live it. [Ladouceur] lives it. He's authentic."
--Jim Caviezel

"I love visual filmmaking, so the idea of bringing something new to what I had experienced in football on screen was a big challenge to me. I looked at that Long Beach Poly game, that historic game, and I thought, 'Man, I want to make the best football sequence that anyone's ever done.' I want to direct at that level where people are looking at it and going, 'Wow, I've never had quite this experience watching football on film before.' Whether or not I've achieved that I have to leave to others to decide, but that was the challenge I set for myself, and that's what I was after. I was trying to find how can I shoot it, and how can I tell the story not just with the shots but the texture of the game and the way we build the story within the game because it's a mini-movie within itself. That was exciting to me."
--Thomas Carter

Football as film, film as football

"I can tell you in my career the projects that were familial and team oriented were by far the most satisfying and most successful things I ever did. The one that immediately comes to mind is The Shield. That was as powerfully familial and collaborative an experience I've ever gone through.  Films like this film, when you got a cast and a crew that are moving in the same direction shoulder to shoulder, there's this feeling that occurs on set when you're like, 'This is special. This is a great story,' and everybody sort of gets it.  It's not really spoken; it's not like anybody really talks about it--it's more of a feeling, sort of an all hands on deck kind of feeling. Everybody starts to row in time. It really is that whole thing about the individual versus the team. There's nothing wrong with excelling as an individual. [Ladouceur] wanted the kids to set personal goals for themselves, but he also expected them to rely upon each other to meet those goals."
--Michael Chiklis

The Final Word

"What did you think you were going to see when you saw the movie? Five seconds left, he hits the last shot--champion. When I heard the script was coming, I thought, 'Oh, OK; lot of wins, win streak.' And then that was dealt with first thing in the movie, so where is this movie going to go? I get a phone call from one of my best friends, and he said, 'Gee, I guess I don't need to see your movie. I just saw the trailer; I think they gave away too much.' And I said, 'Yeah, I think you really need to see the movie.' Then he saw the movie, and he said, 'Oh wow, now I get it, why they gave all that away.'"
--Jim Caviezel

When the Game Stands Tall opens in cinemas nationwide today, Friday, August 22, from TriStar Pictures.

Buy the When the Game Stands Tall movie poster here.
Buy the When the Game Stands Tall soundtrack here.
Buy Neil Hayes's When the Game Stands Tall book here.
Buy Neil Hayes's When the Game Stands Tall audiobook here.
Buy the When the Game Stands Tall: 52 Devotions for the Heart of a Champion book here.
Save up to 60% on Movie Tickets & Concessions here.

(Special thanks to TriStar Pictures)

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