Q and A: How Ivan Reitman rightly captured the realism of the NFL in ‘Draft Day’ … which may be the league’s own version of ‘Animal House’

trailer-for-ivan-reitmans-sports-film-draft-dayIvan Reitman is on the clock.
He’s got a brief window of time to get into how pulled off producing and directing the upcoming film “Draft Day.”
Fifteen minutes, to be exact — the same amount of time that the Cleveland Brown’s general manager Sonny Weaver Jr., played by Kevin Costner, has as official wiggle room in Radio City Music Hall to make the overall No. 1 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, with his coach (Denis Leary), capologist/love interest (Jennifer Garner) and owner (Frank Langella) yelling in his ear.
At least, according to this Hollywood version. You know how long 15 minutes can go.
Reitman isn’t about to waste any precious moments here as the buzz starts to pick up for this movie that opens Friday nationwide:

Ivan Reitman, on the set of the 2013 NFL Draft, tying to make it look like 2014 (Credit: Summit Entertainment)

Ivan Reitman, on the set of the 2013 NFL Draft, tying to make it look like 2014 (Credit: Summit Entertainment)

Q: Based on your background with some of the classic comedies of all time – “Animal House,” “Ghostbusters,” “Stripes,” and the success you had with “Up In The Air” – some were surprised you decided to take on this NFL-related film. Why was it appealing to make that leap?
It’s a wonderful script. Great characters. An explosive story that surprises you and keeps surprising you. It almost feels like you’re watching a great football game without ever actually having to be on the field. It was definitely different from anything I had done and that made it fascinating. There’s lots of funny in it, but it’s much more dramatic. But the key thing is I thought it was a really good challenge for me.

 Q: What about the challenge of making a movie that takes place in a 12-hour time frame? That must really add to the tension, and realism, of the story?
Part of what makes the whole thing work is much like the Draft itself, the movie is up against the clock with all these things happening on a personal level and on the football side. Everything is coming up against a deadline. It seemed like a tight, compact thriller actually. And it plays like a thriller. That’s part of the reason people have been really responding to it. The great surprise is that people who know nothing about football really like it as much as those who know a lot. That’s very gratifying.
Q: Maybe that’s related to Kevin Costner as well – people who liked “Bull Durham” or “Field Of Dreams” might not have cared at all about baseball but enjoyed it anyway.
Exactly. He responded to it on that level, and on a sports level too. The movie is very accurate. I’ve had a lot of people who are professionals at all levels – coaches, players, general managers, owners, agents – who have all sort of, ‘That’s exactly the way it is, that’s the way people talk to each other.’ We worked really hard to get that right.

draft-day-trailerQ: When you got the NFL on board to make this all seem real, you had to film about 20-something scenes on a restricted time schedule during the real NFL Draft last April. How were you able to get that done and not disrupt the proceedings? Can you take us through all that?
I’ll tell you, we wouldn’t have made the movie without the NFL’s involvement. I didn’t think it work, and I wasn’t interested in it if we were watching fake teams in a fake league. One of the great things I was allowed was to shoot at Radio City Music Hall while the actual draft was happening. I mean, it required a lot series of meetings with big people involved from every department in the NFL to work out all the logistics because that has to literally like clockwork – we’re back to the clock again – during those four days. I had to know this wasn’t my show, it was their show and I was piggybacking on it. I worked it out so we were never in the way and they were very helpful at every stage.
arian-foster_2013nfldraftredcarpet_stepout_apbenliebenberg_498x265We had to make an arrangement with ESPN and NFL Network to use their stages and film with their key personnel who are in the movie. Although I shot them while the draft was going on, I still had to have them come in the next morning at 10 o’clock to shoot close-ups where they did all the actual dialogue for the movie. And that included them wearing the same clothes they had the night before. Even the commissioner, who had to come in and do all the introductions of our characters. I had my own crew that I directed from NFL Films, and I had my own crew outside to film a lot of exterior scenes, both day and night, surrounding the Hall as well as the draft was going, characters coming in and out of the building, all sorts of things. Including their red-carpet event which precedes the first round by about an hour. They gave us matching SUVs that our characters stepped out of and got announced by the same person who did the introductions. And the crowd just cheered our guys on like everyone else.
We got to shoot behind the stage, in the green room, with their recruits and families as they waited and then by the last day, by the sixth and seventh rounds, I was backstage filming and it’s much quieter by then and any of the people they’ve invited are no longer in the green room. In the first and second round I was filming with my cameras as well as the ESPN and NFL cameras. I walked my characters through the scenes as I needed them, people at tables, all the team reps from the 32 teams came in early so they could match closeups.
Q: They were OK all wearing their clothes again?
A: Yeah, they were cool about it. I had 100 percent compliance, I gotta say. It’s that kind of stuff I had to be very organized about, very nimble and on top of it, we’re shooting the 2013 draft when it’s really supposed to be the 2014 draft so we had all these special things with “2014” made up that they let us hang here and there. No one noticed the cars we used had the “2014” cards on them. They were just looking at the players.

Q: Did it feel like you were shooting a documentary at some point?
Yeah, and part of the style of the film is a documentary, but it’s complicated visually. There are a lot of phone calls going on, so I had to get fancy with how I did split screens that’s unlike anything that’s ever been done before and I’m really proud of.

Q: As important as it was to have Costner as Sonny Weaver, was it just as key to have ESPN and NFL Network people playing themselves to give it realism?
Absolutely. And there are a ton of real players in terms of small and larger roles, too. I think we tried to get it right. For people who really know football, there are a lot of delights all through it, things they’ll get and it resonates. But as a movie it works by itself, too, without all those things.

first trailer tape with Kevin Costner and Jennifer Garner 3Q: Is it kind of absurd to you how much attention is paid to the NFL Draft now that it’s become this annual multi-day TV show?
I think ‘absurd’ is the wrong way to put it. It’s remarkable, and it’s one of the reasons I like this story, as well as Costner’s story, and the football team’s story. It’s about the rookies, and three stories are featured prominently as the film goes in ours. These are life-changing events that are once in a lifetime. The players come for all sorts of backgrounds, representing kids who have been playing all their lives working to this point. Going to practice seven days a week at odd hours in the hopes of becoming a professional. It’s serious stuff for them. And sometimes things go very well. And often things don’t go quite so well. They drop where they think they were going to go. There are lots of stuff to get excited about.

Q: Most NFL Drafts have been in April, but the next one has been pushed back this year – it’s not until early May. Were you hoping for the release to be closer to the actual draft?
A: People are still talking about it now, and we thought it would be the best time to promote the film. There’s a very competitive landscape as far as what else is out there in terms of movies but it seemed coming out around the period where it’s in the national sports conversation still seemed like a good idea.

Q: There are comparisons made to “Moneyball,” that this is the football’s answer to that. Is that a fair comparison?
SI-Moneyball-cover-20110926.previewA: People say that because it’s an inside look at a major sport in a very honest way, and from that point of view, I think so. But that takes place over a couple of years, while this takes place over half a day and it’s much more emotionally packaged and charged. It’s like watching a single game. But not a game on the field, but in those war rooms across the country. I’ve been told by countless people that we got that part really right.

Q: Is it true that the story was supposed to take place in Buffalo but the studio changed location to Cleveland because it was cheaper to film there because of production costs?
One of the writers, Rajiv Joseph, grew up in Cleveland and was a long-time Browns fan, and he was a little uncomfortable writing about his own team that he loved dearly, as do most of the people in Cleveland. So he set it in Buffalo, which has a kind of a similar story past, a rust-belt city where the local fans are rabid about it and there’s been a considerable lack of success in winning in a big way. We looked at both cities early on and it turned out Cleveland was not only less expensive but it was more picturesque. So we shot there. The fact the Browns were there so long, then left the city for nine years, that’s part of the bonus sad event for the city that also resonates strongly and reflects on this movie as well.
Q: So really, this wouldn’t have worked the same way if you were featuring New England or Dallas or with a successful team.
I don’t think so. All the personal stories that happen to Sonny Weaver and the rookie stories and the draft story would have played well in any market but there’s this sort of extra ‘thing’ about the Cleveland base and what’s happened in that city to its teams. It just adds a whole other layer that’s kind of cool.

laQ: You’ve lived and worked in Southern California long enough to know there’s been an NFL drought. Was there anything you could say to Roger Goodell in dealing with him that might have pushed getting a team back in L.A. along a little bit farther?
Well, I asked him about it, actually. And he was very enigmatic. I think they want a team here from what everyone says. It’s these things are really complicated. It has to be the perfect balance of a powerful owner and a good place to play that fits the NFL scale. I don’t think they’ve found that yet. And where could that team come from but I don’t think they want to have 33 teams. Those are all things they tell me are in play but that’s really not my expertise. I’m just a film-maker. And I wanted to tell a really good story.
Q: I believe Goodell reads from a script when people ask him that question. Maybe he’s just prepping to be in another movie. Are you a fan of any certain team then?
It’s funny, I’ve really been following Seattle the last few years. I’ve got sort of this betting group that gets together on Sunday mornings during the season, have breakfast together and argue about stuff. And then bet on the games that day and have this trophy to give out at the end of the season. I’ve been doing that about 20 years and it’s a lot of a fun and a great way to stay close to my friends.
Q: That sounds like a movie script someone should be putting together.
Yeah, that’s a whole different kind of script.

== The Associated Press covered the “Draft Day” version of the draft last year.

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