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More Than a Game
Kristopher Belman & Brian Joe
Director & Co-Producer
September 29, 2009

Interview by Michael Dequina



Kristopher Belman & LeBron James
Kristopher Belman directs LeBron James in More Than a Game
(photo courtesy Lionsgate)

WARNING!
...spoilers ahead...

MD = Michael Dequina; KB = Kristopher Belman; BJ = Brian Joe



MD: The genesis of the project was a student project, correct? What year did you begin, and how did this whole idea come about?

KB: It was 2002, and I had just recently transferred to Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. I was actually going to Walsh University, which is in North Canton, Ohio, about a half hour from where I grew up in Akron. I'd recently just transferred out to Loyola Marymount, and honestly I was getting such a hard time from all my classmates and newfound friends; a lot of them had never been east of Las Vegas, and they just assumed that Ohio was right out of the movie Witness--that I was raising barns and I was milking cows. [laughs]

MD: What had you been studying at Walsh? Did you already have a major?

KB: At Walsh University I didn't have a major declared; I was taking mostly theater classes and studying mostly theater. That's kind of the direction.

MD: Acting?

KB: Yeah--theater acting and theater directing as well. That's kind of what I was interested in.

MD: And when you transferred to Loyola, was that as a theater major?

KB: No, I transferred into television production. Loyola has two production majors--at that point; they don't have them anymore. They had film production, and they had television production. And film production was a little more expensive; you actually had to shoot on film, and that's not a situation I wanted to get into at that point. I was in television production, and one of the classes I signed up for--kind of on a whim; because I transferred, I really didn't have a lot of choices--was introduction to documentary filmmaking, and the requirement for the semester was to make a ten-minute project. So I decided to go back to my hometown and do something. For a ten-minute project, I figured I'd go back for a weekend and film something, not really sure what. That's what got my research going--I knew I wanted to do something for my hometown, and the class requirement was ten minutes.

MD: And so you found a barn to raise, to document that. [laughs]

KB: You know what? The Amish weren't letting me come by with the cameras. [laughs] I had read about a group of players who at this point were making a noise in high school. I had read maybe one or two sentences that had mentioned that they had played together in fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth grade and decided they were going to go to high school together. To me that was really interesting. That's a unique decision to make when as a 13-year-old, to go to high school with your friends--especially because I knew these were inner city kids, and going to a private, all-white school wasn't the most obvious decision. So I thought there was something in there that was unique about that decision, and I decided that I can at least get ten minutes out of that. And that's really why I set out to try and get access to this team.

MD: Was there any difficulty in getting the access?

KB: It was really hard, honestly. I had checked out some school cameras, and I went back and crashed at my parents' house for about three weeks, making phone calls, trying to show up at the school, and I couldn't get in front of the coach or the school. At that point, I think they were trying to really shield away any of the distractions as things were becoming bigger. They didn't want to have cameras in the schools, things like that--things I understand. But it was really hard to get a call back, and finally I was able to get in front of Coach Dru [Joyce II], and I let him know, "Hey, I'm not focusing on LeBron [James]; this isn't the LeBron story. I'm really interested in this friendship because it seems unique to me." And I think that angle on it and the fact that I was from Akron and the fact that I was trying to get an A--this is just a school project--I think those kind of added up and he said, "All right, you can come to one practice. Come to practice tomorrow, and get what you need."

MD: How did you get in front of Coach Dru?

KB: I was able to get in touch with Patty Burdon, who was doing public relations for the school [St. Vincent-St. Mary] at that point. Once I was able to get in front of her and explain to her, "This isn't about LeBron; this is my homework; I'm from Akron"--those were the three big things. She was like, "OK, I'll introduce you to Coach Dru." That's kind of how it went down. And then Coach Dru, I was able to explain to him the same thing, and he kind of sized me up and decided that they'd let me come to one practice to see how it goes. He really didn't want me to come to any practices after that, but I kind of just kept showing up. He never said to leave, so I never left. [laughs]

MD: How many practices did you end up going to for the ten-minute project?

KB: That whole year. I was flying back and forth. I stayed with the team for about three weeks straight, and a week in I was like, "Man, this is incredible, this journey these boys are going through." There's such a unique friendship here, and I thought that the material was interesting not just because of what they were doing on the court, but I thought their relationships were unlike a lot of friendships you see these days. And I thought that the story wasn't really about even friendships, but it was about dreams. I thought as a film I could maybe analyze some stereotypes and hopefully break some stereotypes about male bonding and what it means to be an athlete these days and youth sports. I thought that was interesting. I realized pretty early on that it was going to be much bigger than a ten-minute project, so I just felt compelled to fly back. I'd stay with them for three weeks at a time, go back to L.A., turn in a paper, take an exam--I was still a full-time student--fly back to Akron. Just keep it going.

MD: Did you end up making that ten-minute short?

KB: Yeah, I did. I have a ten-minute project.

MD: What exactly is in that version of the film?

BJ: It'll be on the DVD. [laughs]

KB: It's really bad. [laughs] Maybe. We'll look into it. [laughs] It's got a similar opening. I bookend opened with the national championship game, and then I go back and start explaining how the team comes together. Granted, at that point, all those interviews were mostly DV interviews and things that I shot that first year with the team. In the final product, 95% of the interviews are HD, looking back. It's definitely a different production value. Similar themes, just executed in a much different way.

MD: And much shorter. [laughs]

KB: I had ten minutes. [laughs] I think it goes up until the eighth grade game. I think it includes the eighth grade loss, and that's kind of where it ends. It ends with the knowledge that there will be more to this. I never really put a lot into that ten-minute film, to be honest. I was always thinking there's a bigger picture, and I'm going to get this class requirement done. I'm going to fulfill the requirement; I want to get my degree. But I knew that this is something bigger than that, so I didn't put a lot of stock into it.

MD: What grade did you get?

KB: I got a B-plus.

MD: So I guess it did show that you didn't put too much stock into it. [laughs]

KB: [laughs] Hey, you know some people think a B-plus is OK, Michael. I'm alright with the B-plus. [laughs] Most of my projects got A's. My professors knew I was slacking a little bit. Also, I missed a lot of school; I was always flying. I missed a lot of class, so I got docked points for that too. It's a compromise. I'm OK with it. [laughs].

MD: At what point did those ten minutes evolve into the feature?

KB: During that senior year, I knew that this had to be feature length. The boys were being faced with so many different levels of adversity. Things that most people will never go through in their life they were going through at 17 years old on a national scale, and they were overcoming them as friends, which I thought showed an incredible amount of maturity. Again, it just really reinforced that unique friendship that I thought could hopefully inspire a lot of people to do things with their lives or to help them appreciate their friendships. I just felt like there was a lot of good messages in the film that weren't necessarily being beaten over people's heads. So I knew that senior year I had to keep chasing it. In 2003 when [the team] graduated; I spent the next year developing it, and I turned it in for another class requirement, and I think I got an A-minus, so I think I improved on it. [laughs]

MD: You're getting better. [laughs] Exactly what class was that for?

KB: I guess that was my senior thesis, technically. Junior year it was my documentary class. And a lot of that senior thesis actually I used to develop a trailer that I wanted to use after that to start raising money and get myself excited. I had read that Robert Rodriguez book Rebel Without a Crew, and I remember in the book he said that as soon as you shoot your film, edit a trailer because you're going to go through a lot of long nights of editing and self-doubt, and you'll look at that trailer, and it'll get you pumped again; it'll get you excited. So that's what I did. I read that book, and I said, "Hey, my situation's kind of similar. I'm not selling blood out there, no weird blood transfusion situations, but I'm going to get myself excited." [laughs] Brad Hogan, who's the co-writer on the project, and I, we each edited a trailer. They're a little bit different. One's character based; one's A-story based. And then Brad and I sat down for months and really beat out the character beats, and also not just what the character arcs were, but where they could flow in the story. I felt like in order for people to see this movie and to reach a new audience because I felt like the audience wouldn't be a documentary audience, I wanted to make sure I had a narrative flow ot it and it was paced like a narrative film. So while it is a documentary, and that is an amazing genre, I'm hoping that the film could branch out and reach non-basketball fans and basketball fans. Non-documentary fans and documentary fans. It was really important for us to make sure the characters flowed in a way where the story was always being driven forward. It wasn't just stand-alone stories. Just from a structure standpoint and as a filmmaker that was important to me to challenge myself. So we spent a lot of time creating an 18-page outline saying this is the film, these are the characters, these are where this is introduced, this is where we go into their backstories, etc. We spent a lot of time doing that, and that was after I graduated in '04. At this point I've been working on it for two years, then I spent about the next two and a half years going back and doing re-shoot interviews to support those [original interviews]. It was kind of a three-pronged mission. I was always doing interviews to support this and maintain a relationship with the guys; that was one part of the attack. The second part of the attack was to get back in front of LeBron because at this point he's pretty hard to get in front of, and I understand that. And the third one was to raise money because I knew to finish the film in the way it deserved to be told, I knew that I had to have some funds to bring in for visual effects and to work with professional music and to get a score written. I knew I could tell the story on my own, but I knew I needed a support system. I took me two and a half years to do all those things: to get back in front of LeBron, to get the players to do all their interviews and really come up with rough edits and things like that, and then finally the last piece would be to arrange the financing to finish the film.

MD: Backing up a bit, you said it was originally just you going back to get the footage in Akron for the ten-minute project, crashing at your parents'. As this project evolved and grew, how did you start to build a crew for future shoots?

KB: For the first five years, it was just me. There wasn't really a crew; it was just me and a camera.

MD: Rebel without a crew.

KB: Yeah--Belman without a crew. [laughs] Sometimes my brother would help out; he'd do some boom for me or hold a bounce board or something. Actually, I can't say there was never a crew. A couple of years in, I flew back, and Humberto Ramirez, who shot [some of the film], he kind of wore two hats. He stayed with my family for about six weeks. I'd interned with him for a documentary that we shot for PBS. He'd done a lot animations and stuff; he was doing stuff way beyond where I was. This favor didn't really make sense, but he believed in me, and he believed in the film, so he came back to live with my parents for six weeks. We shot interviews during the days, and we digitized all night, and we'd take a couple of breaks here and there. We really worked hard for about six weeks just really getting all my footage on line, organized, and then shooting interviews. That was probably the closest I had to crew was Humberto, kind of wearing those two hats. He owned a camera and a Mac laptop, and I bought a couple of hard drives, flushed out some more credit cards, and we went home for about six weeks. That was during that first portion [of the shoot].

MD: [to BJ] When did you come in and join the project?

BJ: I think I came in about 2005. I met Brad Hogan, the co-writer. Brad was talking about the trailer that they had cut. I think he showed me both trailers, actually, and that was my first introduction to the film. I think anyone who saw that trailer was blown away.

MD: What were you doing at that point when you were brought into the fold?

BJ: I was doing everything I possibly could, to be honest. At the time I was working at an agency; I was working as an accountant. And at the same time I was always trying to keep my creative juices flowing, and I was producing anything and everything I could with other directors and other filmmakers. I came out [to Los Angeles] from film school, and I had a lot of other friends that had come out here. So we were always busy trying to create things--we did commercials, music videos, short films. We were in the grind. I did everything from being a production assistant, working on a couple of TV shows as a writer's assistant, or whatnot.

MD: Where did you go to film school?

BJ: I went to NYU. I was at Tisch School of the Arts and the film program there, which was awesome. It was a good film school; I think we really learned the rudiments of filmmaking. What it didn't teach us was anything about the film industry itself. There's no mention of L.A.--and that's not what all the kids go there for. A lot of my classmates were avant garde experimental filmmakers, and they're doing that now, displaying their films in museums.

MD: That's a very "New York" way to go about film education--the idealistic "film as art" notion.

BJ: That's a good number of those kids. They had no desire to go Hollywood.

MD: But you wanted to.

BJ: I did, yeah. [laughs] I'm a Cali boy, so I always thought of Hollywood. I thought these kids were really eccentric, weird kids and all, but they're really bright, and I think they had a lot of influence at the same time. They opened me up to a different side of the art in those years there. There were a lot of brilliant, weird kids.

MD: You're originally from California?

BJ: Yeah. I'm from Fresno. I think in a lot of ways I kind of relate to Kris. Even though it's California, in Fresno there are farms, we've got cows--you get made fun of when you're from Fresno, in the armpit of California. [laughs] There's no beach. It's not L.A.; it's not San Francisco. It's nothing like any other part of California.

MD: From a young age, did you want to get into film?

BJ: Definitely. I started really watching a lot of independent cinema when I was about 12, 13, 14--really the birth of that independent cinema movement in the early '90s. Everyone always points to Pulp Fiction as that pinnacle film in '94 that was the first really commercially successful independent film that was truly outside of the box from anything we'd seen at that time. I was fortunate that my dad really allowed me to watch a lot of movies when I was young. He'd take me to the video store, and I just rented a ton of movies--that's really when it started. I knew I wanted to make films around that age.

MD: And then you went to NYU.

BJ: I guess that was the next logical step. I knew my parents wanted me to go to college, and I was like, I guess I'll go to film school. That's where I ended up.

MD: [to KB] Now we're at the point where you needed the money to finish.

KB: Yeah, this is about five and a half years in.

MD: At this point you had about how many hours of footage?

KB: Probably about 600 hours of footage, a clear-cut outline of where the film needed to go, and a strong vision for what it needed to be, but there's that certain reality--how do you get it done? And honestly that's kind of where Brian first stepped in. Brian was introducing me to a couple of different producer options, and I met with some of them. And with Stephanie DeNatale, who's the other co-producer, we met with producer options for a while, two-plus years. Along the while, all those other things were going on that we talked about, still trying to make money to keep afloat and all those things. I knew the story needed to get told, and I knew that if I didn't tell it, no one was ever going to, so if it took another five years or six years, whatever--that's how it was going to go down. Fortunately, it didn't take another five or six years. In two and a half years, I was able to finally meet up with Harvey Mason Jr. Stephanie had already arranged some meetings with some financiers and things like that, but this one was different because I wasn't meeting with him to finance the film; I was actually meeting with him to talk about some people I had already met with. I had met with some people that I think he had worked with on the music side. And Stephanie said, "I've known Harvey for a while; you can trust him. You can trust his opinion; we can just ask him about these people and see what he thinks." So I sat down with Harvey for kind of an informational interview, asking for advice.

MD: So nothing specific about him necessarily getting officially involved in the project.

KB: No, I didn't think [about that]. I remember on the way up, she said, "Wouldn't it be funny if Harvey offered to finance the film?" You have that pipe dream or whatever. [laughs] I told him about the film, and he wasn't really sure what it could be, so I said, "Hey, I've got a three-minute trailer; it's the same thing I've been showing all the financiers." I said that the trailer shows a little bit more about what the goal of the film is and what I think it could be, what the style is and all those things. So Harvey looks at the trailer, and as soon as the trailer was done, he took his headphones off, and I could tell he got it. He said, "You know what? I understand what you're trying to do here, and I'd love to help you finish this thing. I'm not a film guy; I'm not going to pretend to be a film guy, but I could support your vision. I know what you're trying to do, and I can try and help surround you with the things you need to get that vision told." And that seemed to make sense to me. It was the first time that financing seemed available in a way where the vision wasn't going to change, and no one was going to try and come in and take over or change things at all. He was basically saying, "Hey, I want to support what you're doing. And I'll help out with the music because that's my world." He had done a lot of things in the music world and was certainly successful, so it just seemed to make sense at that point to work with Harvey to finish the film.

MD: It probably did help, then, that he wasn't a film guy, that way he'd be a lot more hands-off and let you do your own thing creatively.

KB: Yeah, absolutely. I think when you're directing you want support behind you. He was hands-off in a supportive way. It's not like he was just hiding or anything like that. [laughs] He realized that this is something that I'd been working for five and half years. The trust that I had gotten from those players needed to stay intact. It needed to stay the same story that I always told, and he was cool with that. He saw that vision and wanted to support that in kind of a hands-off way, and that was important. And then kind of concurrently, Brian and a group of producers he brought to the table started to help out with the day-to-day stuff. Harvey's not a film guy, but we still needed some people who had done this before.

BJ: I think the biggest thing I can say that I contributed was helping assemble the elements for Kris, bringing a lot of these resources to the table. Producers have all kinds of different roles, and for me, and for us, we were really here to serve Kris's story, his vision. That was the essential thing. This was his homegrown project, with a video camera back in college, that we wanted to help him bring to the big screen. I think we talked a lot about story, his characters, colors, textures, style, music. I wanted to know everything he wanted his story to look like on the screen. One of the things we brought to the table was Chris Lytwyn, the cinematographer who shot most of the HD interviews. We had a lot of reels to look at, but I thought he was someone that had a very particular style in the way he lit the interviews and the tones that would match what Kris wanted. Also, their personalities I thought meshed well; I thought it was really important to have someone that I thought Kris would respect and someone that would take direction well from Kris. I thought that was a great collaboration. We also brought in the VFX guy, Stefan Nadelman, who did an awesome job, and I think they got along well in achieving a lot of the visuals.

KB: I think those two relate, obviously, because they're both about the visual aesthetic, and Brian really got what I was going for early on. He helped to basically bring in the DP, and then that translated directly to the visual effects guy. Once we started to set a tone with the interviews, and then we started to talk about how we wanted the visual effects to be. Brian brought in a lot of different people and really pushed for Stefan--and he didn't have to push that hard. [laughs] I fell in love with his work pretty early on because he was just so capable. Working with the DP, I think one of the important things for me was to work with people who could help me grow as well because I was a first-time filmmaker. So we had to make sure we worked with people that could help bring out the best in me, and we could collaborate. I like to direct in a very collaborative way. That's important for me because I think when you bring on crew members, that's their specialty. I'm not a cinematographer. I'm not a visual effects artist. The collaborative aspect is what I love the most. I think Brian did an amazing job of bringing in talent that not only backed up the visual style we were going for but also the personality collaboration, making sure that we would bring out the best in each other, so that was a huge contribution.

MD: So one of the major products of the collaborative process was in crafting the whole visual aesthetic of the final film, or did you always have something specific in mind?

KB: No, I think it evolved. I think I always knew that the effects had to have a nice, frenetic pace to them. It's basketball, so it's got to have a fluidity to it, and it has to have an edge to it that we haven't seen before. I think early on we talked about using [a style like] The Kid Stays in the Picture--the things they did to really revolutionize 2-D images and take them into 2-and-a-half-D. I thought that was groundbreaking, and to me it was really important in a way to take those [techniques] and give those animations cocaine. [laughs] Give them some Red Bull because it's basketball. That's a biopic; this is about one of the fastest moving games in the world, and the athlete up that's there is one of the greatest right now. So it was important to be able to take that effect and translate it into the world of basketball. That's what we used to start meeting with visual effects guys, and ultimately it's what Stefan understood.

BJ: He really had it right. He got the tone; he got the story. We looked at a lot of reels and samples that were all doing the same type of effects, but they all looked different. They all had different styles to them; some looked more hip-hop, and some were too glossy because they're all thinking, "LeBron! LeBron!"

KB: "SportsCenter! SportsCenter!"

BJ: Yeah, really flashy.

KB: But [Stefan] was cinematic.

BJ: He was. He fit the story. He had great senses for it, and I think that's ultimately why we went with him.

MD: When you had the money secured through Harvey to finish the film, how much more shooting was after that?

KB: First, we really sat down with the editor. We were able to work with an amazingly talented editor, Scott Balcerek. Before visual effects, we started assembling the basics of a post team, so from the get-go we assembled an editor and an assistant editor and an archivist to really start gathering the missing pieces and start to put them together. Scott and I sat down for about eight months and really started grinding away at the rough assemblies I had, the outline, the new footage that had come up since the rough assembly--you know, really start to make sense of everything. We spent a long time piecing stuff together, and then we'd all sit down and take a look at it and see what's missing. Brad and I would then implement that in the outline; we were basically coming up with a giant list of what was incomplete. And during this time, I was able to get in front of LeBron and get him reinvested personally and emotionally, to say that we had to tell this story and that we got to get it right. Once I had that greenlight from LeBron, and I knew I was going to shoot him again in HD, I said, I want this thing on the big screen; I want this to translate cinematically--let's reshoot all the main characters in HD. If it doesn't work out, we still have the [older] stuff, but I think we can do even better things. That's one of those pleasant surprises--at this point, this is six years into my relationship with them, so your interviews are going to yield you so many more emotional tickets where you're not just getting facts to connect A and B, but you're connecting the characters with the audience. That's what's amazing about those reshoots. We were able to go back; we did two trips, about two to three weeks each, and sat down with each of the main guys and spent about two days with each of them: one day of sit-down interview, where we'd just sit down and converse; and then a day of them either taking us through their old apartments or playgrounds, different things to get character support. We weren't sure where it would work because it's documentary and a lot of it is written in the edit room, but we spent a day with each of them doing that. Clay that we could shape later.

MD: Harvey being a music guy, when he came aboard as producer, did he agree to score it right from the get-go?

KB: He was excited about scoring it right from the get-go. It was the assumption that he would do the music. At that point, it's not like I had ever met with a lot of composers. It was an interesting opportunity. I didn't know enough about other composers; I knew that he's really successful in what he's doing and he had great instincts for the film, but certainly I had never listened to original music that he composed in a cinematic sense. So in a way we kind of took chances on each other. He was definitely taking a chance on me as a first-time filmmaker. He wasn't a first-time composer because he's composed music before, obviously. But in this sense, especially for documentary, I think it can be different, but he seemed to get it. We just had such a sensibility that I never felt like it was a chance. I felt that Harvey's going to do whatever it takes to make sure that it's right, and he didn't hit a home run with the music; he hit a grand slam. He knocks it out of the park.

MD: Did he also assist, not just on the score, but in the song choices in the film?

KB: No, that was actually mostly Scott Balcerek, the editor. Scott's got a great musical sense. Scott laid down all of the temp scoring. We used a lot of stuff from Friday Night Lights and a lot of stuff from We Are Marshall, a lot of stuff that implemented drums and bands. We would collaborate with Harvey and talk about it back and forth, but Scott was really an integral part of laying some of those foundations. Some editors don't necessarily like to temp out music, but Scott really takes it seriously, and it paid off. It helps that Scott's directed his own documentaries before, so he's worn the hat of an editor and a director, so I think he tends to think like that. Scott grew up with an unbelievable understanding of music. Obviously, music is Harvey, and Harvey is music. Out of the three, I had the biggest challenges in terms of maybe describing the technical terms of musicality. Trying to articulate music language for me was a little bit more challenging, so it was great to have someone like Scott to be able to help me translate that. I'll be much better prepared for the next film; in this film, it was definitely one of the areas I lagged in.

MD: About how long was the post process leading up to the premiere at the Toronto Film Festival last year?

KB: Almost two years. We set up office in October of '06. We re-digitized our footage, so we probably didn't have it digitized and ready to go until Thanksgiving time. And we edited pretty much straight up until a couple of days before Toronto. We were still doing sound mixing.

MD: How did the Toronto festival berth come up?

KB: Some of the early conversations were steering toward something like Tribeca because it's New York, and it's basketball. But at the end of the day we thought Toronto would be a great place to test the waters with the critics. I think these days Toronto is one of the biggest festivals, arguably one of the biggest in North America, it's where so many premier films are; it's where a lot of Academy Award nomination buzz starts. I think we all thought that this thing has legs--let's test them. Let's see how this does in a giant festival like that. No one knew about us; we kept a really low profile going into it--as you know, because we talked like a day before, and you wondering why you hadn't heard about it yet. [laughs] So we went in there real quiet, and I think that was great because we really stood up there with some really major films. That was a great year for Toronto: Slumdog Millionaire, The Wrestler. There were a lot of major films there, and we were able to stand our ground in a lot of senses, so I think it was a great pick, and personally I loved it. I thought it was a great time.

MD: And second in the Audience Award balloting, right?

KB: Yeah, second to Slumdog, which is kind of crazy. Danny Boyle's one of my favorite directors, so just to even have my name on any piece of paper with his--what an honor. He's so phenomenal.

MD: Then the Lionsgate pickup happened a couple of months after that.

KB: We came back to L.A., and there were a pretty good amount of distributors interested. We sat down and met with all of them, really trying to figure out who could be a partner. At this point, this is where someone like LeBron's executive producer credit is really kicking in; it was never financial on the film side, but now he's bringing to the table these partnerships he has. Let's get State Farm, let's get Nike to help us get the message out there. We wanted to make sure that we had a partner that would be able to help navigate those waters, and we thought Lionsgate was a good choice for that. They often take a chance on indie films, and they do some really great things, so we felt really good about it.

MD: Speaking of promotional partners, Nike ended up doing this world tour in support of the film, which I imagine was quite overwhelming for something that started out as a ten-minute class project.

KB: The Nike tour was amazing. To screen the film throughout the U.S. was incredible, to take it to places where they're all Bulls fans, they're all Knicks fans, and then to see them really get past the LeBron factor and see the human elements and the heart of the film, that was remarkable. But the world portion of it was just so amazing. Even before the tour started, I had a chance to go to Singapore and screen it for a Nike event. On the world tour, we went to London; we went to Paris. In places like Singapore and London, basketball is not played very much; it's not a real prevalent sport. I'd go as far as to say there's a lot of people in London over there that didn't know who LeBron was. So it was pretty incredible to still see them stand up and cheer during Little Dru [Joyce III]'s 3-point show in the freshman game. There were literally people standing up in the audience that probably had never seen a basketball game before, but they were going crazy because at that point it's not about the sport. It's a character piece; it's about overcoming adversity--those people really related to that. That's what I loved about the world portion of it was seeing people who weren't really familiar with the sport still draw a line between themselves and a character or a theme and be able to stand up and cheer for that character or theme. I thought that was just remarkable, and it's something I'll never forget the rest of my life.

MD: Was there a particular stop on the tour that was the most special for you?

KB: Oh man, that's so hard! [laughs] I could probably list three. I'll just say four. Paris and London were incredible. London was really remarkable because, like I said, basketball's not really played there, and there were so many people that related to the film. New York was remarkable. Brian came to New York. That was really remarkable because in New York they love LeBron; there's a lot of motives to bring him out there. [laughs] The soundtrack came out that same week we were there, so it as very synergetic; there was a lot of energy in the city and the event they put on at the South Street Seaport.

BJ: Pier 36. They had this huge warehouse. Nike brought in an artist to graffiti up the whole place with art. There were thousands of kids out there.

KB: And then just Los Angeles. It's almost like each one got bigger and bigger because Los Angeles was just massive. They shut down Hollywood and Highland--when do they do that, for the Academy Awards once a year? It was crazy to see these giant five-story posters of the film of LeBron.

BJ: For a documentary! [laughs]

KB: For a B-plus class project! [laughs] I just love seeing communities be able to come out and get that kind of awareness. I'm hoping people can look past the LeBron factor. The Kobe [Bryant] fans can see this movie and hopefully take something away from it--and they do. They take away a common theme that hopefully all great players have.

MD: Back to community--what was it like for the homecoming event in Akron?

KB: Akron was incredible. That was probably the best one just because it's where it all started. All my family was there. Some of the crew that worked on it hadn't seen it yet and got to bring their families. Akron was very special to me. The mayor of Akron introduced me; that was pretty remarkable. I got to introduce the film. I made a very personal speech. It really was a dream come true. I left Akron in August of 2001, and that was one of the things I wanted, to be able to bring back a film to give to my city. I didn't know it would be shot in that city, but I looked forward to taking something and giving back to my community because I'm very proud of where I come from. And to be able to tell everyone that that night before the film started--I really felt like I was able to give my city this gift; it was just so exciting. All of the players were there and their families; not everyone's family had seen it yet. I think it was special for me because I'm from Akron; it was special for LeBron and them guys because they're from Akron; and it was shot in Akron. That was absolutely by far the best night. It's where it all started--a film premiere in Akron. I think it's something good for people in Northeast Ohio to feel about. Northeast Ohio is being hit really hard right now in these economic times, and something like that, a little momentary break that people will get excited about and be proud to tell their friends in other parts of the country about-- it was remarkable.

MD: So, in a sense... you built your own barn.

KB: I guess I raised it. [laughs] Maybe Harrison Ford will be proud; I don't know. [laughs]

MD: What are your plans for future projects?

KB: I've done some commercial work over the past couple of months with Gatorade, and we're still doing some more things like that. My next film will most likely be a scripted narrative. I've been reading a lot of scripts. A lot more opportunities are obviously opening up for me. I haven't read anything I've really loved yet. I do see myself doing more documentaries in the future. Right now I think I'll have the opportunity to do a narrative, and I'd like to do that. I was on this thing for seven and a half years, so I want to do something very different, but I also feel like I've earned the right to be picky. I don't anticipate my next project to take seven and a half years, but I want it to be something that if it does, I'll be OK with that because I would've been on this thing for another five. I would've been on it for another ten. I felt like it was an amazing journey, and I grew as a person and a storyteller working on it. I feel like I'm going to be the kind of director that makes a film every couple of years and is absolutely in love with that story the whole time he's making it. I never want to do something for a paycheck, and I never want to do something just to do it or to play around with new technology. I want to only get involved with stories I'm dying to tell. As of yet, I haven't read that story yet. But I'm busy reading, so hopefully one of these is going to grab me.

BJ: I continue to produce. In a lot of ways, this project has opened a lot of doors for me. I continue to produce a lot of commercials. I still do music videos. I did another feature called Don't Fade Away, which should be out soon as well. It's a semi-autobiographical film from director Luke Kasdan, who based a lot of it on his own experiences with his father. It's a story about a boy who moves out to L.A. to pursue this entertainment career and kind of loses sight of his values at home. It's another independent film, and it stars Mischa Barton, Ryan Kwanten from True Blood, Beau Bridges, and Ja Rule. That's been shot, and it's pretty much cut now. That's the thing--I love independent cinema. It's really liberating. It's what we all love to do--tell stories.


More Interviews:
Coach Dru Joyce II
Willie McGee
Sian Cotton
Dru Joyce III
Romeo Travis
Harvey Mason Jr.

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