Q&A with 'When the Game Stands Tall' director Thomas Carter

By Joe Friar
Aug. 20, 2014 at 1:06 p.m.

"When the Game Stands Tall" is the latest film from director Thomas Carter, an Austinite and graduate of Texas State University.

His previous films include "Coach Carter," "Save the Last Dance, " "Metro" and "Swing Kids."

The movie is based on the true story of legendary football coach Bob Ladouceur, played by Jim Caviezel, who turned the De La Salle High School Spartans into a championship team, which included a 151-game winning streak.

Eventually, the streak is broken, and tragedy strikes the team.

It's up to Ladouceur to inspire these young men and teach them that there are certain things in life that are more important than winning a football game.

The supporting cast includes Laura Dern as Bev, coach Ladouceur's wife, Michael Chiklis as assistant coach Terry Eidson and a notable cast of young actors, including Alexander Ludwig of "Lone Survivor" and "The Hunger Games," Ser'Darius Blain of "Star Trek into Darkness" and Matthew Daddario of "Delivery Man."

I spoke with Carter about his new film, working with a relatively young cast and his love for the Green Bay Packers.

There are a lot of references to God in "When The Game Stands Tall." Do you consider the movie to be more of a spiritual film than a sports film?

Well, I consider it to be an inspirational film. I didn't set out to make a spiritual film or a faith-based film. It had elements of those things in it because it is about a Catholic high school and a coach who teaches a religion class although he doesn't coach necessarily from that perspective. He coaches from a real human values perspective and creates great football teams. Also, it has the elements of questioning. I didn't want to have a simple doctrinaire point of view. I wanted the characters within the scenes to question, to feel challenged, to seek answers and to have various opinions.

Coach Bob Ladouceur and coach Ken Carter are both positive role models dealing with undefeated teams. Are you drawn to these kinds of stories and why?

I am drawn to stories that I think are inspirational, that have great characters, people who go against the grain and take risks. I think that certainly was true in "Coach Carter," and it's true in a different way with Bob Ladouceur in "When the Game Stands Tall" because he took over a team that was barely together back in 1979, and he started teaching the guys how to play football, how to play together and how to build strong character. And so, he really built this from nothing. What was interesting to me was that he wasn't focused on winning, and he still isn't focused on winning. Do they like to win? Yes. Would they rather win than lose? Of course they would. But what's most important to him is these young men developing their character. Are they developing a sense of personal accountability? Are they understanding what it means to play for your teammates more than yourself? Those are the kinds of things that he's interested in developing, and that's what makes it an extraordinary program because that's what comes first.

I noticed you're working with a relatively young cast, although you have all these veteran actors in the film like Caviezel, Chiklis and Dern. Is it different when you're working with a young cast as opposed to established actors?

It is different. Honestly, it's the most exciting part of the process for me. It's great working with talented veteran actors, but I love working with young actors who are as committed as these young actors were. There's a kind of excitement and energy that all these young actors brought to their roles. Alexander Ludwig, Jessie T. Usher, Joe Massingill, Matthew Daddario - they really approach these roles in a committed fashion, and they prove to be very talented. I think people are going to discover a lot of new faces and exciting talent in the film.

Q: The game scenes in the stadium are pretty exciting to watch. They were shot really well, and I really liked the angles you used. Was it difficult to shoot those scenes?

It is. We had a great second unit. I started by designing the shots because I wanted the games to have a different look than other football films had. That was another challenge for me, just coming up with the concept of how to shoot that, so I storyboarded all those games and gave them to my second unit director. My director of photography had this idea of using a motorcycle camera that moves with the players, or it can move against the movement of the players, but it gave us a kind of kinetic feel to the football sequences that allowed us to get close-in movement in ways that you don't usually see.

In the future, are we going to see a Thomas Carter directed film about the Green Bay Packers?

[Laughs] Well, you know, I really love the Packers, and I'm also a big Cowboys fan, so it's kind of crazy that I have these two teams that I follow given the history that they've had in the NFL. I'm not sure I'm ready to make another football movie, but those would be great stories maybe for me to produce.

So what are you working on next?

Well, I'm also interested in dance, and I have an idea for a dance movie that I want to do. I'm also developing some television, and you might see me producing some of that. Right now, I'm just excited for Aug. 22, when our movie opens. I'm hoping that everybody comes out.

Do you want audiences to feel inspired after viewing "When the Game Stands Tall"?

I think so. The film strives to teach, even to the football players, that there's something bigger than football. These are life lessons that I think are inspiring the audiences who have seen the film at test screenings. So yes, I hope people do come out of the movie and feel inspired and sort of take it with them into their lives.



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