Michael Chiklis, left, and Jim Caviezel portray De La Salle High School football coaches in "When the Game Stands Tall."
This is how a movie gets made.
"I found the book in the Santa Monica High School football team locker room when I was cleaning it," said David Zelon, who in addition to being the father of a football player, is executive vice president at Mandalay Entertainment Group.
In spring 2009, in a place that "smells of testosterone and sweat," he found what would become his latest film project.
"I'm 30 pages into it," he recalled, "and I felt like I found a needle in a haystack. It's an amazing story."
The book, "When the Game Stands Tall," recounts the amazing winning streak of De La Salle High School in Concord, coached by Bob Ladouceur.
Upon meeting with its author Neil Hayes, Zelon learned there was an even more amazing story, one that the original book didn't recount. Get a copy of the paperback, Hayes told him.
'When The Game
Inspired by a true story of
De La Salle High School football
Director: Thomas Carter
Stars: Jim Caviezel,
Michael Chiklis, Alexander Ludwig, Laura Dern
Film is not yet rated
In theaters Aug. 22
Save the date
"When the Game Stands Tall"
When: Aug. 15
Benefits the Terrance Kelly Memorial Endowment
for Financial Aid
Where: Concord Pavilion
It was in that story that Zelon, who produced the inspirational movie, "Soul Surfer," found the heart of the narrative of the Ladouceur film, which opens in theaters Aug. 22.
A benefit screening of the film, which was made in New Orleans, is planned in Concord Aug. 15.
In what Zelon described as a "perfect storm," Zelon, the father of a high school star — who would play four years at Harvard, on teams that won two Ivy League championships — found a story that spoke to him. And, he hopes, to many more.
De La Salle High School would run that winning streak to 151 games, over a dozen years, before losing. But the story told in "When the Game Stands Tall" is much bigger than wins and losses. Ladouceur not only coached football at De La Salle, but teaches religion.
For Zelon, finding the right director was essential. "Thomas Carter really fit the bill perfectly," Zelon said. "He captured the raw emotion of sports in 'Coach Carter.' He's a huge sports fan."
"Coach Carter" recounted the story of the Richmond High School coach who took his team off the court until the student-athletes' grades improved.
In casting the lead role of Coach Ladouceur, Zelon said he was "looking for somebody who worked on multiple levels."
"He needed to be somebody who understood sports," he said. "He needed to understand iconic coaching. He needed to be athletic himself. He needed to have a basis of faith in his life so he would fit both sides and give us balance."
Jim Caviezel was the name that "floated to the top," Zelon said. "He checked all the boxes."
Zelon and Carter flew to New York to meet with Caviezel, who took them to a concert with him.
"We went out and saw Johnny Mathis," Zelon recalled. "Johnny Mathis gave this amazing concert. His voice was like an angel. We shared this creative experience together. We bonded together."
Zelon found Ladouceur to be an interesting character. "He doesn't have to preach," he said. "He just does it. He lives it. He walks the talk."
The De La Salle athletes also earned his respect. About a year after he had acquired the rights, Zelon and screenwriter Scott Marshall Smith went to a De La Salle football game.
"One of the things that impressed me about this team immensely was something that happened in the locker room after the game. They were playing a team, and were beating them. They were up 35-0 at the half. Lad said, 'Seniors you're done for the night.'"
The juniors went into the game. De La Salle ultimately won 49-7.
"After the game, we heard something around the lockers, we just stepped out to see what it was," Zelon recalled. "There were about eight juniors standing in a circle and this was the conversation: That was horrible. We only scored 14 points in the whole second half. We had the ball seven times. We only scored two times. That effort is nowhere near a De La Salle effort. If we think we're going to start next year just because we're seniors we're kidding ourselves. We have to recommit ourselves to this team again."
Each student-athlete made a commitment to additional practice and preparation.
"There was not an adult in sight," Zelon said. "They were having a conversation you would pray that kids would have on their own. They had learned their lessons so well, they had embraced the De La Salle concept so well. We stood there with our mouths opened. I was so impressed by that."
Making a movie about living people is challenging. "I, as a producer, feel an enormous responsibility to get it right because movies are unique. They last forever," he said. "We have to get this right because this guy has to live through it the rest of his life."
Zelon is hoping that movie-goers will be inspired by Ladouceur. "This story was honed and built over 30 years; three decades of work went into formulating a program that turned our great young men," Zelon said. Perhaps others might want to understand the roots of success, not just on the field, but in helping boys become men."
"The game will get forgotten," Zelon said, "but the life lessons will not be."
Q-and-A with Jim Caviezel
Jim Caviezel portrays Coach Bob Ladouceur in "When the Game Stands Tall." Cavieziel, 46, may be best known for his portrayal of Jesus in Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" in 2004. The new film, inspired by De La Salle High School's 151-game winning streak, was screened for Catholic journalists at the Catholic Media Conference on June 19 in Charlotte, North Carolina. Caviezel was interviewed by Michele Jurich of The Catholic Voice.
What attracted you to the role?
I played basketball in high school. In my senior year we had gone very far in the playoffs. We were set to play the No. 1 team in the state of Washington, and knew we didn't have a chance to beat them. The next day we saw a movie called "Hoosiers," about a Cinderella team beating this big powerhouse. While I'm in the theater, I'm sweating, I'm feeling like I'm in the game. That had such a visceral effect on me that when I got into our game their story became my story. We went on and beat Mercer Island, the No. 1 team. I felt a level of fearlessness in the fourth quarter; I felt that I wouldn't let my teammates down, that they could depend on me, and that I loved them. Those are the things that Ladouceur teaches his kids. When I read the script this was something that I felt would be a good thing. I knew from my own firsthand experience how films can affect the culture, especially young men.
Did you have influences like Coach Ladouceur in your life?
John Wooden. John Wooden I knew very well. He was a friend. He coached my dad at UCLA. He had massive success, more than any other basketball coach in history. Very similar to Lad, focusing not on winning, but focusing on turning boys into men, to work on the qualities of the inner self, the characteristics of that inner self — sacrifice, brotherhood, commitment — all those things that are so essential in having a strong team. Adversity is going to come, and how champions look at adversity, that they will face adversity, but on that given day they will not quit, they will not give up, they will triumph. Ladouceur talks about it's not how hard you hit somebody, but how hard you're going to get hit. It's what's going to happen when you get hit? Are you going to get up or are you going to quit?
Winning is just a byproduct of working on that inner self. It's the heart. Have you ever heard anyone say 'Gee, I played out of my mind today?' No, you play out of your heart. Your heart's burning. You become fearless. You're unafraid. Many times when I'm acting, there's a lot of people watching right now, but I'm on another plane. I don't care what they think. I'm committed to the character and the scene, I'm not worried about what other people are doing. I'm concerned more about what we're doing as a whole. These are things I learned from sport.
Did you spend time at De La Salle High School?
I was at Coach Lad's last football game, the state title last year. His 399th win. I was with his brother Tom. A person said, "He'll be the only coach in history to win 400 or more games." He said, "Oh no, he's probably going to retire." It was never about the victories.
Did you spend time in his classroom?
I've been inside the locker room. Here's a guy in a room and he's not saying much. He's looking at his coaches. He knows they're capable of doing what they do. He lets them coach. But his presence is felt. In much the same way Clint Eastwood doesn't say too much. He doesn't need to; his presence is felt. In some of his films, the bad guys do all the talking, but when he does, it's like E.F. Hutton.
What I read in the script, it had great redemption in it. The idea of redeemable character is interesting. You have a character who is living in a negative, and turns around to the positive. One can work their way into a very dark space and then say 'no more.' I read that through Ladouceur, changing these boys into men. There are so many now, guys who have gone through their lives, boys who didn't become men. They became guys, 50- or 60-year-old guys. What is a guy? Somebody who doesn't want to accept responsibility, doesn't want to be depended on, and is afraid of commitment. Lad is the polar opposite of that.
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