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BEHIND THE SCREEN: ‘The Game of their Lives’

Category: The Game of Their Lives News
Article Date: April 22, 2005 | Publication: Soccer America Magazine | Author: Ridge Mahoney

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A serious film about soccer, born and bred and produced in the United States, offered filmmakers David Anspaugh and Angelo Pizzo a rare if not unique opportunity.

The creative team behind ''Rudy'' and ''Hoosiers'' admit ''The Game of Their Lives'' isn't quite the film they'd hoped to make, yet both are proud of their attempt to recreate the astonishing upset of England by the 1950 U.S. World Cup team.

Originally projected to be produced at a cost of $40 million by Crusader Entertainment, one of Phil Anschutz's companies, a lack of funding reduced the budget to $13 million. Further changes were wrought during production, when Crusader was dissolved and producer Howard Baldwin eventually formed his own company.

''There was so much material, of characters and themes, that made %91Rudy' and %91Hoosiers' more than sports films,'' says Anspaugh. ''That all pretty much was lost and sacrificed. ''This is a sports film, it is a soccer movie, and I had to come to terms with that and make peace with that and be proud of a movie that the soccer community in America would accept and embrace. To that end I believe we've been pretty successful. But of course we're going to be compared to the other two and that's not really fair, but we knew that was going to happen.''

Anspaugh also compares the film to a pair of other soccer movies of much repute in the soccer community. ''We had an opportunity as filmmakers that you rarely have a chance to do, and that would be a serious movie about soccer,'' he says. ''With all due respect to 'Ladybugs' and 'Victory,' it was very cool to be in new territory.''

That new territory also included the sport itself, which Anspaugh and Pizzo didn't experience growing up. They relied on former U.S. internationals Eric Wynalda and John Harkes to supervise the staging and shooting of re-created soccer games, three of which appear in the film: a ''tryout'' scrimmage between players from St. Louis, where much of the film is set, and the East Coast; a warmup game in New York between English League players on tour and the U.S. team; and the actual World Cup match between the United States and Brazil in Belo Horizonte.

Harkes was also cast as U.S. midfielder Eddie McIlvenny, a native of Scotland who came to America to live and work. Much of the film centers around Walter Bahr, played by Wes Bentley, and Frank Borghi (Gerald Butler), and their efforts to bring together the disparate St. Louis and East Coast players. Many of the cast members had grown up playing soccer, unlike Anspaugh and Pizzo, which made grooming them as America's best a bit easier.

''It was a group of actors that came together as a team through a film and through a story,'' says Harkes. ''A lot of them had played soccer growing up, at different levels. Eric did a good job of putting guys together and training them and organizing the soccer side of things so it would look authentic. He was disciplined about how it was going to look.''

According to Anspaugh, Wynalda was a bit more than disciplined in his role as consultant. ''I'd say to Eric, %91That looked great,''' says Anspaugh, ''and he'd say, %91No, no, we can do that 10 times better.' I wouldn't have known that. It was as vulnerable as I've ever felt as a director.

''We would choreograph a certain amount. About 85 percent of it was cut from letting them play live with no choreography, and then cutting the choreographed stuff in amongst that footage. A lot of times we had to go back to the monitors. We had five cameras shooting and we had to break it down.

''With 'Rudy' and 'Hoosiers' I could bring some of my own athletic experience to it. I played football and basketball. This is a sport I knew almost nothing about and I never played the game.''

After shooting was finished, extra scenes were shot with actor Patrick Stewart, who plays the role of Dent McSkimming, the only U.S. reporter to accompany the team to Brazil for the 1950 World Cup. Stewart's narration runs through the film and another actor plays McSkimming as a young reporter.

The five surviving members of the 1950 team appear in the final scene of the film. Pizzo had originally written a different scene to incorporate their appearance, which he believes reinforces the authenticity of the events depicted.

''I really, really wanted to have those guys in at the end, because I wanted the impact, the truth of this story to be felt by witnessing who these people were,'' said Pizzo. ''I thought it was one of the things that was effective in %91A League of Their Own.' When the audience sees at the beginning of the film, 'based on a true story,' they tend to forget it by the end.

''Believe it or not there were people asking us if this really happened. I thought it was a very powerful underscoring of that.''

Bahr attended screenings in Los Angeles and at the Soccer Hall of Fame in Oneonta, N.Y., prior to the national release. He accepts that certain elements of the team and its accomplishments were tweaked to suit the demands of Hollywood and his greatest wish is that the film is a boost for the sport.

''They do a good job of showing how things were in the 50s,'' says Bahr, ''and they do a pretty good job of showing how the team was put together. It wasn't 100 percent accurate but they had to have a storyline. It somewhat shows the lack of preparation before we went down there.

''In general I thought they did a good job with it and whether all the characters are portrayed how they actually were, I'm not certain. I would rather have seen Walter Beery play me. He was my first choice. I don't know if [Bentley] is as good-looking as I was back then, though.''


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