|Ron Baselice/Staff Photographer|
Click on Read More for some articles I've found talking about filming of My All American, Robin's latest project.
From USA Today:
Movie will depict tragic tale of Texas football player
AUSTIN — The tale has all the trappings of a made-for-Hollywood tear-jerker: courage, football, an undersized player, against-all-odds pluck.
But the story of Freddie Steinmark, a former University of Texas defensive back who won a national championship in 1969 then succumbed to bone cancer two years later, struggled for decades to reach the big screen.
Today, film crews are spread across UT practice fields and other Austin sites to finally recreate the story known well by Texas football enthusiasts. The movie, My All American, portrays the story of Steinmark, who had his leg amputated the year his team won the title and later died. It stars Aaron Eckhart (as legendary Coach Darrell K. Royal) and newcomer Finn Wittrock (as Steinmark). It's scheduled to be completed and ready for theaters by the end of the year.
The film is written and directed by Angelo Pizzo, the screenwriter who penned such sports classics as Rudy and Hoosiers, guaranteeing some potent heart-strumming. Unlike his previous films, Pizzo says friends and colleagues became misty-eyed just by reading the Steinmark script.
"This is a movie that will have an amazing emotional connection to an audience, if we do it right," Pizzo says. "I just couldn't figure out why this hadn't been done before."
What finally propelled the Steinmark story to production was not a Hollywood deal-maker but an oil-and-gas executive from Houston. Bud Brigham, an energy entrepreneur and UT grad, was approached with the project three years ago and immediately latched on. He gathered a few other Texas alums and raised the financing independently, sidestepping the Hollywood studio route.
Under this setup, Brigham and his colleagues have final say on production and have awarded Pizzo and the crew unprecedented creative freedom, cast and crew members say. His one caveat: the story has to remain unflinchingly true.
"There's so much texture and richness in this," Brigham says. "This will not be 'based on a true story' – this will be a true story. That's important to us."
Steinmark was an undersized defensive back from Colorado who was overlooked by most football programs until Royal recruited him in 1967. He quickly rose to the starting squad and became a leader on the 1969 team. That team won a dramatic come-from-behind matchup against the Arkansas Razorbacks, later dubbed the "Game of the Century," and went on to win the school's second national championship.
Six days after the game against Arkansas, Steinmark was diagnosed with bone cancer and his left leg was amputated. He died two years later, at age 22, and became enshrined in Texas lore. Before each home game, UT players still tap a bronze plaque depicting Steinmark's story before running out to the field.
Portraying such a weighty chapter in UT history has been a daunting task for cast and crew. Eckhart, who starred in films such as Thank You for Smoking and Rabbit Hole, arrived in Austin a month before filming to work on capturing Royal's accent and cadence. He quickly realized the enormity of his task when, on his first night in town, he sat down to dinner at a downtown restaurant. A large oil painting of Royal loomed from a nearby wall.
"The town is absolutely crazy for Texas football," Eckhart says.
A challenge soon surfaced for the actor: Nearly no one in Austin possessed Royal's Oklahoma/Texas drawl. So Eckhart downloaded the former coach's speeches on his iPhone and played endlessly while walking around the city. The film's themes – camaraderie, courage, tragedy – will stretch beyond football fans, he says.
"It's not about UT football," Eckhart says. "It's about life."
Sports movies aren't always successful and rarely transcend to become household names like Rudy and Hoosiers, says Charles Ramirez Berg, a film professor and historian at the University of Texas.
The Rocky franchise pulled in more than $500 million in gross ticket receipts and The Blind Side, the 2009 film starring Sandra Bullock, grossed $256 million, according to the website Box Office Mojo. But a long list of other sports movies barely break even or head straight to video.
What makes a sports movie successful is less about the action on the field and more about universal themes, Berg says.
"The best sports movies aren't about sports," he says. "They're about other things: sacrifice, determination, the will to win."
On a recent overcast day, the crew of My All American set up dollies and cameras at the UT intramural fields in central Austin, while actors pulled on football uniforms and noticeably thinner helmets than those used today. They were filming a pivotal scene: where Royal introduces the players to the "wishbone" offense, a hallmark of that team.
On the sidelines, a group of graying men chatted and occasionally chuckled at the action on the field. They were members of the original 1969 team, on set to provide accuracy tips to the filmmakers. On a shoot the previous day, they pointed out an inconsistency when a "hurt player" was carted off the field on a stretcher: Unless carrying off an unconscious player, Coach Royal didn't allow stretchers on the field, says Tom Campbell, 65, a defensive back on the '69 team.
Overall, the depiction – from Eckhart's portrayal of Royal to the equipment and dialogue – has been spot-on accurate, he says. It's a story long overdue.
"This is one of the best football stories you could imagine," Campbell says. "It should have been told 45 years ago."
Freddie Steinmark’s story finally coming to the silver screen
It was more than bizarre to see the football field at TCU’s Amon G. Carter Stadium dressed up to be the home field for Texas Tech. Equally off-kilter was to see one half of the locker room at Amon G. Carter Stadium painted with Texas Tech’s double-T logo, while the other half served as the locker room at the Cotton Bowl.
Following a shoot at the Cotton Bowl itself, filming for the movie My All American came to Amon G. Carter Stadium to serve as the sets for the inspiring story of Freddie Steinmark.
The story of the University of Texas safety, who lost his leg to cancer just before the 1970 Cotton Bowl against Notre Dame, is finally being made into a major motion picture by the very best man for this wonderfully moving, and sad, tale.
No one does sports movies better than Angelo Pizzo.
Pizzo, who wrote and produced Hoosiers and Rudy, is making his directorial debut for My All American, which he also wrote.
“Nobody who read the script for Rudy cried,” Pizzo told me this week on TCU’s football field. “Everybody who has read the script for this cried.”
I was allowed to observe and talk to some of the main principals involved, in the three days of shooting at Amon G. Carter.
A lot was made when Aaron Eckhart was cast to play Darrell Royal.
“They asked me because they couldn’t get [Matthew] McConaughey,” Eckhart told me.
It was a joke, but it was the right call. Despite McConaughey’s fierce loyalties to Texas and the Longhorns, he’s already been a football coach in one football movie ( We Are Marshall). Eckhart can be Royal whereas the viewer is going to see McConaughey playing Royal.
“The only thing I had known about Texas football was Jordan Shipley and Colt McCoy; I had seen them in the national championship game,” Eckhart said. “This has been a total education for me about Texas football and the cultural significance it has here.”
When production was announced, it was sold as more about Royal and his relationship with Steinmark, but it’s apparent this movie is about Steinmark’s ultimately tragic tale. Played by Finn Wittrock ( All My Children), he is a dead ringer for Steinmark.
“It’s a great role. It’s definitely big shoes to fill,” Wittrock said. “His spirit seems to have transcended the time. I have the benefit of talking to a lot of people who knew him. A lot of people said he was the best guy ever. Never did anything wrong. I wanted to find the humanity in that; not make him an angel or perfect, or a paragon of doing everything right. He’s a person doing the best he can.”
It is difficult to imagine this movie, despite being funded by an Austin businessman with no distributor, is going to be a dud.
Steinmark’s story is a tearjerker. Pizzo does tears quite well.
Lightly recruited from a Colorado high school, Steinmark was offered a scholarship by Royal and became a starting safety at UT.
Six days after playing in the immortal “Big Shootout” between No. 1 Texas and No. 2 Arkansas in Fayetteville in ’69 (BTW — those scenes are being shot at the Alamodome), Steinmark was hospitalized. Doctors found a bone sarcoma, and had to amputate Steinmark’s left leg a few weeks before the Cotton Bowl game.
Steinmark died in June 1971.
One of the scenes shot in the Amon G. Carter Stadium locker room was Steinmark’s unexpected arrival at the ’70 Cotton Bowl, where he met the team on crutches. Standing behind the production crew, and merely watching the many takes of this scene, was emotional because it felt real, and so sad.
“The reason why I think we have a strong shot [at being successful], the emotional experience that the audience will have is not dependent on football,” producer Paul Schiff said. “Football is the backdrop. It’s a movie about a young man who succeeds beyond everybody’s imagination.”
The quarterback of that team, James Street, is being played by his son, Juston Street.
“He looks exactly like his dad,” said Steinmark’s teammate, Bobby Mitchell.
Juston Street swears he does not sound like his dad, so he had to work on perfecting a higher-pitched East Texas accent.
Jordan Shipley, who said he has retired from football, has a role in the movie, including a few lines.
“Everybody who played at Texas knows Freddie’s story,” Shipley said.
About 60 former football players were hired to play the various players for teams UT faced that season. Shooting is scheduled to go to San Antonio before it is completed in Austin. Once they find a distributor, which they will, a release date will be set.
Don’t expect My All American in 2014.
Do expect, given the nature of the story and Pizzo’s involvement, it will be good.
FORT WORTH — Considering that scenes shot last week for My All American on TCU’s football field were passed off as Texas Tech’s, all the talk of authenticity in the Freddie Steinmark story might seem out of place, too.
Never mind that they’re filming the Big Shootout scenes next week in the Alamodome.
Computers can do extraordinary things these days, such as popping the roof on a stadium or adding 40,000 fans or introducing Tom Hanks to JFK and LBJ.
But getting Darrell Royal wrong?
Live Aaron Eckhart’s nightmare.
“My first night in Texas,” the 46-year-old actor said, “I’m eating steak in Austin. I look up in the restaurant, and there’s an oil painting of Coach Royal.
“And I’m thinking, ‘Oh, boy. If I screw this up, I’ll never be able to come back to Texas.’ ”
Just how serious are the people making a film about one of the most bittersweet chapters in Texas’ football history?
You might have wondered after hearing Austin oilman Bud Brigham tell the Austin Business Journal that one of the goals was to use the film as a “recruiting tool” for Texas football.
Fortunately for cinematic purposes, the cast and crew have higher aspirations than signing day.
“I want these Texas people to walk out after seeing it,” director Angelo Pizzo said, “and say, ‘You got it right.’ ”
To that end, Brigham and his investors poured in enough money to attract some heavyweights: Producer Paul Schiff, who made My Cousin Vinny, as well as Pizzo, who wrote Hoosiers and Rudy.
They’ve seen the Big Shootout documentary by Dallas’ Mike Looney. Read the books by Jim Dent and Blackie Sherrod chronicling Steinmark’s final, fatal battle with cancer. Talked to dozens and dozens of former players.
And in some cases, they’ve gone straight to the source.
Now playing the late James Street, Texas’ quarterback in ’69:
Juston’s agent called him one day in Los Angeles, where he’s been working as an actor since giving up baseball, and offered some succinct advice.
“Get your butt back to Austin and shave your beard,” he said. “You just got a call to read for your dad.”
Juston didn’t get the part just because he looks like his dad and talks like his dad and acts like his dad, but it didn’t hurt, either. He’s also athletic enough to pull off most of the quarterback scenes, which was important to the story. This isn’t John Goodman aping Babe Ruth. Waco’s Michael Fisher, football coordinator for My All American, also worked in Moneyball, Remember the Titans and The Blind Side. If he’d been around when Charlton Heston faked a New Orleans Saints quarterback in Number One, he might have suggested that Chuck try throwing with the other arm.
Everyone in a Texas, Texas Tech, Arkansas or Notre Dame uniform except former soap opera star Finn Wittrock, who plays Steinmark, has football experience. Colt McCoy helped in recruiting. Among the hundreds who tried out in Austin for the 60 football parts were Colt’s brother, Case, who’ll play Arkansas quarterback Bill Montgomery, and his old target, Jordan Shipley, who’s taking time out from the Outdoor Channel to play Texas receiver Cotton Speyrer. Former SMU quarterback Kyle Padron also makes his debut.
Fisher’s 21/2-week boot camp proved to be a revelation to some. Shipley, who played three NFL seasons before injuries cut short his career, found himself pushing a sled.
“It was as tough,” he said, “as any training camp I’ve ever been in.”
Long, tedious days of shooting aren’t exactly a picnic, either. Besides working at Amon Carter Field last week, the cast and crew filmed in the Cotton Bowl.
Filling the dead time, Eckhart reaches out for football advice from Shipley or Billy Schott. Technically, Schott is the film’s equipment manager. Unofficialy, he’s the film’s touchstone.
Schott was Texas’ ballboy in ’69 before lettering as a kicker for the Longhorns in the early ’70s. Any Royal mannerisms exhibited by Eckhart — licking the tips of his fingers, pacing nervously, popping his hands in dismay — are a direct result of Schott’s coaching.
At one point Thursday, after a Texas touchdown, Eckhart called Schott over to ask if Royal would have hugged Street.
Not in the ’60s, pal.
Check. No hugging.
No one on the set is closer to the subject than Schott. To give you an idea of his loyalties, when he picked out his helmet at Texas in 1971, he got Street’s. He still has it. Put it on Juston’s head recently and teared up. Choked up just talking about Street and Royal and Steinmark. Watching the final product may mean a few stops and starts.
As it is, he’s already a believer.
“James is talking to us through Juston,” he said.
Asked what it’s been like to play his larger-than-life father, who died last fall at 65, Juston said, “It’s been beautiful. He was a guy with so much vigor and verve. He believed in everybody, and he wanted everybody to succeed. It’s hard at times, and it’s also been the most beautiful experience in my life.”
Wittrock has seen a lot of this type of thing, talking to Juston and Schott and the players who lived it. As an outsider, his perspective is as good as anyone’s.
“It’s still very raw to them,” he said. “It was the ultimate high and ultimate low at the same time.
“And they were only 21.”
If they get this right, they still are.
From Houston Chronicle:
Filming under way in Austin for movie on UT player
Golden Globe nominee Aaron Eckhart is in Austin this week taking on the role of legendary football coach Darrell K. Royal as filming begins for the movie "My All American."
The film tells the heartwarming and heartbreaking tale of Longhorns player Freddie Steinmark and his relationship with the iconic coach during the team's 1969 run to the national championship.
Decades in the planning, the movie finally went into production after UT alumni, including oil and gas executive Bud Brigham, came up with the financing.
"It's incredibly gratifying to finally be in production in Austin," said Paul Schiff, the movie's producer, "It's been a labor of love, of work and sweat, and we're thrilled to be finally doing it."
The crew spent two days filming in and around the UT campus, bringing in vintage cars and a full 1960s wardrobe to take current students back in time to a year of great drama in Longhorn history.
Freddie Steinmark was an undersized player from Colorado that no one wanted to take a chance on until he joined Royal's Longhorns in 1967. (If that sounds like another underdog football story you might know, "My All American" is written and directed by "Rudy" screenwriter Angelo Pizzo.)
Steinmark quickly rose through the ranks and by 1969 was one of UT's stars.
After what was an historic win alongside the Longhorns' most successful coach, tragedy struck. Steinmark developed bone cancer and the same year he won the championship, he had his leg amputated. He would only live two years more.
"At the end of the day, it's not strictly a sports movie," Schiff said, "It's a story about love and the human spirit. Freddie Steinmark is an incredible example of someone who had to reach deep into his heart and soul. The way he approached his life is such an example. It's so powerful."
Steinmark is played by up-and-coming actor Finn Wittrock, who recently starred alongside Oscar-winner Russell Crowe in Darren Aronofsky's "Noah." He also co-stars in "Unbroken," directed by Angelina Jolie and due for release this Christmas.
It's an impressive crew all topped off with a screenplay and direction from Angelo Pizzo, who also wrote sports classics "Hoosiers."
Famed quarterback James Street, who died in September 2013, will be played by his son, Justin Street.
Street's casting adds to the realism of the movie, something producers promised they would honor.
"There's so much texture and richness in this," executive producer Bud Bingham told USA Today. "This will not be 'based on a true story' – this will be a true story. That's important to us."
Independently financed, the film has no distributor yet and has no release date listed. However, Schiff says they are confident Hollywood will back them once they see the completed work.
"We would rather bet on ourselves, bet on our story and make a great movie and hopefully be in the enviable position of having distributors vying for our movie," Schiff said.
Filming continued Thursday in Manor, Texas, which is doubling as Steinmark's Colorado hometown. Next week the crew will be at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas before heading to the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio and finally back to Austin to complete by mid-July.
SAN ANTONIO - My All American has the makings of a classic: an all-star cast, a moving, true story, an authentic feel and a screenplay written by the mind behind Rudy and Hoosiers.
The feature film, which is being shot in the Alamo City during the next week, is based on the true story of Freddie Steinmark, who was diagnosed with cancer six days after winning the 1969 national championship as a defensive back with the University of Texas football team.
"This story is above and beyond football," said Angelo Pizzo, the movie's writer and director. "Football is the framework, the backdrop, of this moving story."
Golden Globe nominated actor Aaron Eckhart plays Darrell K. Royal, the Longhorns' football coach for whom their current stadium is now named, and up-and-comer Finn Wittrock plays Steinmark.
Pizzo said the film's tone and story telling style will be similar to his previous works Rudy and Hoosiers, but that new technology will allow him to include even more "authentic, organic emotion."
"We want the guys who played with Freddie (Steinmark) at UT to come out of the theater saying 'that's the way I remember it'," said Pizzo.
Steinmark, an undersized safety and eventual leader of the team, was diagnosed with bone cancer and had his left leg amputated just six days after winning the national championship. Steinmark, who died at the age of 22, has been enshrined in Longhorn history: Longhorn players tap a bronze depiction of Steinmark's story before each home game.
The movie will be exclusively shot in Texas and crews will visit Dallas/Fort Worth for five days, San Antonio for eight and Austin for 27 days.
The portion of the film being shot at the Alamodome is a recreation of the Southwest Conference championship, played in Fayetville, Arkansas, between the unbeaten powerhouses: #1 ranked Longhorns and #2 ranked Arkansas Razorbacks. The game was later dubbed the "Game of the Century."
The dome provides guaranteed clear "weather" on set, as well as a shield from the blazing Texas sun, said Pizzo.
More than 500 extras from the region are participating in the production at the Alamodome, including two high school football coaches from San Antonio who are playing Arkansas coaches in the film.
Andy Skelton, an assistant football and baseball coach for East Central High School, was hired as an extra but earned a few lines in the film. Bobby Allen, a football and track coach for Clark High School, also will appear in the film.
Financing for the film was raised independently from many UT alums, spearheaded by Houston energy executive Bud Brigham.
When asked whether he expects this movie, which could be released as early as this December, to be a legacy film similar to Hoosiers and Rudy, Pizzo said: "I can only do the best I can to create a movie to entertain and move people and hope for success... Sometimes magic happens."