"When the Game Stands Tall" has potential to be the next great high school football movie.
Filming, done at four high schools in the New Orleans area, wrapped up in mid-June and the release is planned for September of 2014. The movie is based on the best-selling book of the same name, written by veteran sports writer Neil Hayes, who followed national powerhouse De La Salle (Concord, Calif.)
extensively during its 13-0 national-championship 2002 campaign. Much of the movie, however, stems from the 30-page paperback epilogue later added that chronicled the emotional 2003-04 years, Hayes told MaxPreps.
The Spartans' head coach, Bob Ladouceur, resigned in the spring
but still is serving as an assistant. During his legendary career he won 399 games (a mere 25 losses), seven national championships and 28 North Coast Section titles. Most mind-boggling, however, was the national record of 151 consecutive victories from 1992-2003.
Though the actors probably won't be talking until the movie is ready to be released, MaxPreps was able to interview four figures who were on set for all or part of filming from April through June. They have given us a great inside look at what it takes to make a movie and also what goes on during the rare breaks.AUTHOR NEIL HAYES
Hayes, who wrote the book while working for the Contra Costa Times in Walnut Creek, Calif., had optioned the movie rights to an independent company, but the rights were just about to expire when he received a call from producer David Zelon. He had been helping to coach his son at Santa Monica (Calif.) when he found and read an unopened copy of Hayes' book which had been sent to the previous head coach, who had been fired.
"He told me, 'It would be great if you could be here, be on set, be a consultant,'" Hayes recalled. "It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing. I've been told that it's real rare for an author to be on set."
When he could not get time off as a sports writer for the Chicago Sun-Times, he was forced to quit his job. His contract with the movie studio (Mandalay produces for Sony Pictures) was restructured so he could receive some extra money. Zelon produced and Thomas Carter directed.
Still, Hayes admitted, "I'll believe it when I see it — when the check clears. Things fall apart all the time in Hollywood."
Apparently the check did clear, because while still on set Hayes explained, "I've been writing a lot of sideline stuff. I know them (the coaches) so intimately from experiences hanging out on the sidelines. I helped with lines for the announcers. I pretty much answer questions every day."
The 45-year-old Hayes received a vivid, up-close look at the grueling aspect of making movies, especially the 12-hour shoots which often ate up the entire night. For this particular movie, the hot, humid weather was an added obstacle. Union rules dictate that the actors get 12 hours off following every shoot.
"You sleep when you can," he said. "It's been an absolute blur. There were a lot of laughs and a sense of camaraderie. It was a crazy experience, but a very rich and wild one."
Hayes was thrilled to have his 16-year-old son, Nick, along with him. He was invited when officials learned of his love for film making.
"Our whole basement is a studio," he said. "Since he was old enough to hold up a camera, that's all he ever wanted to do. He played football as a freshman at Metea Valley (Aurora, Ill.)
and was terrific, but all he wants to do is make movies."
Hayes promises that the action shots in this movie are off the charts. The filming was done by stuntman coordinator Allan Graf, who has done pretty much every major football film except "Rudy" during his 40-year career.
"He thinks this is some of the best football films he's ever shot," Hayes said. "He used an electric motorcycle with a mounted camera which allows a point of view never seen before."
Here are some of his other observations:
On actor Jim Caviezel, who plays legendary coach Bob Ladouceur -
"He did very well. It was a tough job. He just came off the set of Person of Interest (big CBS television hit). He really studied documentaries. Every speech he virtually lifted word for word from the book." On actor Michael Chiklis, who plays assistant coach Terry Eidson
- "He understood Terry's energy. It was like they were married for 32 years. He gave the movie a real comedic element. He (Terry, who visited the set) was here laughing hysterically." On rising star Alexander Ludwig, who played fictitious standout running back Chris Ryan
- "He was in "The Hunger Games" and is kind of a teen heartthrob. We had a terrific group of young actors."
Before filming began, Hayes said to Zelon, "I'm going to tell you what I like or don't like, but it's your movie. This isn't my area of expertise. They would explain things. There was no downside at all."
And don't feel sorry that Hayes gave up his job at the Sun-Times for two months of movie glory. He is already planning a second book, "The De La Salle Way," and is going to re-release his original book again, this time doing a section about the movie and probably replacing the cover with a picture of a few key actors.HIGH SCHOOL JUNIOR NICK HAYES
Nick explained how his dad's writing career steered him into a love for filmmaking.
"Since sixth grade, I've always been interested in writing," he said. "It's like telling a story. I had a friend show me the technical aspects. Me and my dad talk about this a lot. It all boils down to telling a story. I definitely enjoy filmmaking more than writing, but you still have to do scripts. It makes writing come to life on the screen."
Nick has already done a car wash commercial for a local TV station in Naperville, Ill., and has done several website videos.
"That was nice to see it on TV," he said. "It was cool, because I was working with a local station. Nobody had a clue about our age, because it was so professional. I took a lot of pride in that. Usually I don't tell clients how old I am until it's done — or when they ask. They were really happy when they saw that they rocked. And I'm cheaper, too."
Nick can thank Zelon, who asked Neil to bring his son for the entire shoot.
"I used to see dad on TV, but never expected our paths to cross," Nick admitted.
His first few days, however, were quite unspectacular.
"I started out sitting on the tailgate and getting yelled at," he said. "I had three days of that. They were very patient with me. My biggest job was carrying 20-pound batteries to different camera operators. I would lay cables that plug into the monitors. In a month or so The Village became my responsibility."
"The Village" was an area where the director, first and second assistant directors, two producers and one script supervisor hung out. They would be viewing several cameras, which were shooting from different angles, to get the best picture.
This was no small job for a teenager, especially one with no experience, but he pulled it off in a big way.
Nick soon found out that making a movie is quite similar to living in the Twilight Zone.
"You just worked all day. You eat horrible food, because you don't have time to cook," he said. "I lost 10 or 15 pounds. It was like Jenny Craig, but for filmmakers."
When there was spare time, he had to do homework, which he sent in every week.
"My grades weren't affected too poorly by it," he said happily. "The administration was really cool about it."
Nick pointed out that Louisiana is a hotbed for movies right now, due to big tax breaks being offered. In fact, there are so many being shot that sometimes crews go to the wrong location only to learn that their group is just three houses down the street.
"A lot of people in L.A. have moved out there, because there's not a lot of work in L.A. right now," he said.
Among the movies filmed in Louisiana were recent releases such as "Now You See Me" and "Oblivion."
An untitled cop show, starring Woody Harrelson, was shooting at the same time as the football movie and the two crews — including Harrelson — would play soccer against each other on Sundays.
Here are Nick's take on the two lead actors: On Jim Caviezel
- "He really tries to make sure he talks to everybody on the set. He makes a connection with a lot of people. The actors got along with him very well. He talked to me a couple of times."On Michael Chiklis
- "He would sit around and play his guitar for everybody. He was good. The younger actors would sing along. He had an iPhone with a lot of songs he had recorded and gave people headphones. He is in a band and a lot of the songs were from his concerts."
Though unpaid, Nick reaped untold riches in experience and future contacts.
"At the end, me and my dad felt we made the most out of our connections," he said. "When I look back on it and reflect, I'll be able to see how it's changed my life. It's a significant milestone in my life."
He's already busy at work, planning to make a 15-20-minute romantic comedy.
"I'll use a lot of things I've learned," he noted. "I'll probably go to Midwestern film festivals to get our name out."HEAD COACH BOB LADOUCEUR
The 59-year-old coach, who has stepped down to serve as an assistant at De La Salle, spent several days on the set and approved of what he saw.
"I thought those guys all tried to do their best to keep the philosophy of our program throughout the movie," he said. "It was nice to see. They had to change some things from the book to squeeze three or four years into one. I loved the guys working on it — Jim (Caviezel), Mike (Chiklis), Laura Dern, Thomas Carter and David Zeon. They are really good guys, trying to make it right. There were no super egos on that set."
On Jim Caviezel
- "I met and talked to him. We kind of became friends with him. He stopped by our school the other day. He wanted to say hi and wanted to see the place. It was kind of neat to have him around. He has real-life 'spiritualness.' He totally understands what we do. He's a pretty unique guy."Michael Chiklis
- "The first day we were there, they were taking a break on the set and he was eating a burrito. He bites down and dribbles all over his shirt. That's Terry (Eidson). He's like a carbon copy of Terry. How well they got along was kind of amazing. It was perfect casting. Chiklis is a huge sports fan. Terry is a rock and roll history buff. Those guys (must have been) separated at birth."
Ladouceur was captivated by the revolutionary filming technique where the viewer will be able to get extreme closeups of what each player sees as the play develops. The viewer will see through the eyes of the quarterback as he prepares to pass, the tackle as he prepares to bring the ball carrier down, etc.
A coach who cared more about effort than victories, Ladouceur resisted the idea of a book, but as he looks back on the book and the movie he feels that it all has been positive because the public can see a unique program which won in a very different way.
ASSISTANT COACH TERRY EIDSON
The 55-year-old Eidson, still an assistant football coach, is the first to admit that Chiklis had him down pat.
'He's just like me," Eidson said. "We started arguing sports the first hour we were on the set. It was beautiful. He loves rock and roll and sports like I do. He has a great personality and a passion for music. I watched a couple of scenes and it was pretty accurate."
Eidson had a couple of personal highlights which will resonate for a long time in the future.
"I got my wife (Aggie) a cameo in one of the (bleacher) scenes," he said in a delighted voice. "She sat by Laura Dern (who played the head coach's wife). They shot from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. with just a 45-minute break for lunch. You can't move. She loved it. Her and Laura were always chatting."
Could there ever be an even bigger highlight?
Apparently. He explained:
"My daughter Hanna (a sophomore at Carondelet (Concord, Calif.)
) is a huge Hunger Games and Alexander Ludwig fan. I got him on the phone and she was in shock. Afterwards she said, 'I have the best dad ever.' I'm pretty much in good standing with my family."