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Angelo Pizzo, writer/director of My All-American

Clarius Entertainment releases My All-American nationwide on November 13th, 2015.

NYC MOVIE GURU: How challenging was it to live up to the classic sports dramas that you made like Rudy and Hoosiers?

Angelo Pizzo: The only thing about those movies that challenge me when I'm doing another movie in the sports genre is that I don't repeat myself. I never really concern myself with living up to Rudy and Hoosiers. What happened with those films over the years is something that I never could have anticipated. Most of my friends have movies some of which are very successful, but they're ephemeral. Those 2 movies have sustained over the years in ways in which we never anticipated. To me, it's a freakish thing. I don't even analyze it to understand why. Ultimately, they provided me with the opportunity to make more movies, to write more script and to come across scripts like this one. Quick frankly, I'm offered stuff all the time. There are so many of them which are variations of Rudy and Hoosiers---the little team that wins the championship. They're all underdog stories, and they all bore me right now. But, My All-American came to me in a weird little way through Facebook. A guy contacted me through Facebook, and whenever that happens I just kind of write it off, but he had optioned the book by the author Jim Dent who wrote Courage Beyond the Game. The only reason why I agreed to read it was because I was a great admirer of Jim. I had read 4 of his other books and thought he was a terrific writer. When I read the book, 2 things happened: first of all, Freddie was an amazing characters. He was a hero in the truest sense of the word. You look for a protagonist that is heroic. That's hard to find. I'm not doing any more sports movies [after My All-American]; I'm done.

NYC MOVIE GURU: How did you find the right balance between entertaining the audience and provoking them emotionally as well as intellectually?

AP: You've identified one of the many challenges I have in writing. When writing genre film, there are certain audience expectations and conventions. The decisions of how you play into them or away from them is, like my friend used to say, "Writing a sports movie is like driving through potholes of cliches. My job is to build the shock system so that you don't notice the big ones." I'm writing a movie that I want to see, and that I would appreciate. There is no other way to put. I don't write from the outside in. That is, I don't premeditate. I don't write from outline or from thinking about the audience; I write from me as an audience member and me going through the journey with this characters, and I want to be surprised. I want to discover and see characters evolve. I want to have things revealed about people I think I know about that were not seen until I started finding their voices. That's what happened in Hoosiers. I thought I'd invent an alcoholic father because it would be a good device to get the coach close to the son. I wrote this guy who comes out in the court and there's an interaction between the 2, and all of a sudden, I felt a connection between the Gene Hackman and Dennis Hopper characters. I couldn't keep the Dennis Hopper character out of the script. It just evolved. If you believe in the chakra system, I believe in writing with all of the systems in sync. They all have to be saying "yes." When I do research, it's mostly from the head-up that I'm processing the information and using myself as a hard drive. But when I start writing, I write from my neck down. It's all gut instinct and feel.

NYC MOVIE GURU: What was the process like of casting Finn Wittrock as Freddie Steinmark?

AP: It was critical. We knew that the movie's success will rise and fall based on whomever we cast to play Freddie Steinmark and Coach Royal. It was a nationwide search to find the right Freddie. I have to give credit to our casting directors who introduced me to Finn and said he was special. I remember the first thing I said was, "4 years of Julliard, and the fact that Mike Nichols cast him? I think that he has a lot going for him." But still, he had to be the right actor. He gave a reading that made me cry. He looks like Freddie and he's the right height. The one thing that he didn't have was experience playing football. Both Finn and Freddie have a good work ethic, dedication to craft, and a willingness to do whatever it took to get it right, so we assigned him a football trainer. He worked out for 6 weeks before we sent him to a football camp with professional football players. We told him that there are certain drills that you can't do because we can't lose you. We don't want our main guy in a cast. By the last week or 2, you should never be telling an actor how to play that role. They should know that role better than you do because it's a merging of who they are and the decision they made about that character that we agreed upon early. So, I completely trusted Finn. If I ever felt that he was going off or that there was an adjustment that I wanted to make, I ran in and he was selfless, like Freddie, and his ego never got in the way. He made the adjustment and did it that way every since. His technique was amazing. Finn gets it in terms of the big picture. I've worked with actors who are primarily concerned about themselves and their performance, and they lose track that it's a scene that's part of a movie. Finn "got" that, though. His attitude was, "How do we make this scene better?" not "How do we make my performance better?" He has worked with actors who had not had experience. He was, in a way, my co-director with a lot of these guys. He willed performance out of some of the actors to reach his level. The kid of played Bobby Mitchell had very little acting experience, but Finn was in every scene with him and got him to act at a level that was really astonishing. I was a little concerned at the beginning, but I wasn't concerned by the end.

NYC MOVIE GURU: How did you find the right balance between focusing on football and generating emotions through humanism?

AP: The emotional journey is the most important. The football is the least important. Sports in all of my movies are the least important part of it. I'm making this movie who could care less about football and sports. That's my target audience. Sports is a frame or canvas. It's the human element and universal truths of the human journey that are my primary considerations. I want to get everything else right because there's an authenticity and truth to it, but it's not my primary concern.

NYC MOVIE GURU: How challenging was it to get My All-American financed?

AP: It's a miracle that any kind of movie gets made in this day and age. This is the kind of movie that studios don't touch. They don't make these movies, and there's a reason for it. When Hoosiers came out 25 years ago, the average box office take for an average studio film was 75% domestic, 25% international, but now it's reversed. So, a film with football with a regional, American quality to it, if they can't sell it in Thailand or China, they don't want to know about it. It's just not their business model. The most powerful people in Hollywood are the heads of marketing, not the heads of studios. For some reason, Disney makes one sports movie a year, but you don't see it anywhere else. That's why we had to have an outsider---someone who really went up against conventional wisdom and the metrics and all that stuff. [One of our producers] Ben Brigham was even told that he's crazy and an idiot by all of his friends. I told him that this is rare, and I'm not making this movie to make money--and I believe it will, and that it's a great story. But I'm not doing it to indulge of fantasy about being in the film business. I believe that this is a story that should be opted for 2 reasons: I don't want to be a guy who complains about mass culture; I want to do something about it. The second thing is that he has teenage boys who want to go to the movies, and it took him a month to find a movie to take them to. There are no movies out there with role models and heroes that these young kids can aspire to be like.

NYC MOVIE GURU: If you were given $100 million to turn My All-American into a full-on Hollywood film filled with CGI, how do you imagine this film would be like?

AP: It's not a world that I understand. I don't have a broad range. Don't ask me to do a comedy or science fiction.

NYC MOVIE GURU: What do you think would make a great double feature with My All-American?

AP: Studios don't make any dramas anymore, and if they do, often times they're urban and edgy and hip and modern and they're looking for awards. If you can find another film that isn't like that, and I don't even know what it would be, then that would make for a great double feature.

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