The Washington Post

Everyone thought ‘Hoosiers’ would be a flop, and other great moments in sports-movie oral histories

(Jill Sagers for The Washington Post) has just published an oral history of the 1999 film “Varsity Blues,” which on the surface doesn’t seem like a movie that should warrant the oral-history treatment, but it’s early August and NFL season hasn’t started and all we have is baseball and here we are. Anyway, here are a number of other sports-movie oral histories worth reading:

“Hoop Dreams”

Author: Jason Guerrasio

Source: The Dissolve

Key trivia: The groundbreaking documentary was originally intended to be a 30-minute documentary on PBS and ended up as a three-hour masterpiece that played in theaters. … The producers hoped the film would get nominated for Best Picture. It wasn’t even nominated for Best Documentary, a snub that led the Academy to change the way nominations in that category were handed out. … Arthur Agee and William Gates, the film’s two subjects, earned a share of the profits from the film, but they couldn’t be paid until they ran out of college eligibility. … Turner television signed a deal to make a fictional version of the film, but it never got past the script stage. Spike Lee signed to be the never-made-film’s executive producer.

“Cool Runnings”

Author: Samantha Highfill

Source: Entertainment Weekly

Key trivia: The story originally was written as a script called “Blue Magaa,” and was much more serious in tone. … Director Jon Turteltaub admits that the film is “shamefully loose” with the facts of the 1988 Olympic Jamaican bobsled team. … The film used NBC’s Olympic footage for the pivotal bobsled crash scene (you’ll notice that whenever the crash is shown, it’s someone watching it on television); the actors learned how to push the sled and jump in, but were not involved in actually steering it. … The actors were told by Disney honchos to tone down their Jamaican accents so viewers could better understand them.


Author: Gare Joyce

Source: ESPN the Magazine

Key trivia: Screenwriter Angelo Pizzo and director David Anspaugh spent two years shopping the movie around before finally finding money to make it. … Gene Hackman thought the movie would be a “career killer.” … The state final scene was filmed at Butler’s Hinkle Gymnasium. To draw a crowd, they brought in two of the state’s top high school games for an exhibition, and then filmed the movie at halftime and after the final buzzer. … Steve Hollar, who was Rade in the film, was a player for Division III DePauw at the time. He thought he had been cleared by the NCAA to make the movie but was suspended for three games after it came out.

“Bull Durham”

Author: Chris Nashawaty

Source: Sports Illustrated

Key trivia: The producers looked at Kevin Costner, Mel Gibson, Kurt Russell and Harrison Ford to play Crash Davis. “Kevin said yes first,” producer Mark Burg said. They wanted Charlie Sheen to play Nuke LaLoosh, but he already had committed to “Eight Men Out.” Oddly enough, Tim Robbins, who ended up playing Nuke, had to choose between a role in “Bull Durham” and one in “Eight Men Out.” … Costner played baseball in high school and is a switch-hitter. … The movie was filmed on location in Durham in November 1987. They had to paint the grass green twice, but it still looks yellow in many of the shots in the film.

“Major League”

Author: Chris Nashawaty

Source: Sports Illustrated

Key trivia: Dodgers catcher Steve Yeager put the players through a baseball boot camp before filming. Plus, whenever you see catcher Jake Taylor (Tom Berenger) make a throw with his mask on, that’s Yeager, who was Berenger’s double. … They always shot Willie Mays Hayes running in slow motion because Wesley Snipes wasn’t all that fast in real life. … Charlie Sheen could reach the 80s on his pitches (he played baseball in high school), but when they were shooting him from behind, they moved the plate up 10 feet to make his pitches seem faster. … The movie originally had a different ending, with owner Rachel Phelps admitting that she was a terrible person on purpose to fire up and unite the team. Test audiences hated it, and it was re-shot to portray her as awful all the way through the movie. … Jeremy Piven had a small role in the film, as a bench player who constantly insults the Indians’ opponents, but it was cut.

After spending the first 17 years of his Post career writing and editing, Matt and the printed paper had an amicable divorce in 2014. He's now blogging and editing for the Early Lead and the Post's other Web-based products.



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Thomas Johnson · August 6, 2014