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Outside the Lines:
Sports Movies

 


Here's the transcript from Show 104 of weekly Outside The Lines - Sports Movies

SUN., MARCH 24, 2002
Host: Bob Ley, ESPN.
Reporter: Armando Salguero, ESPN.
Guests: Gordon Clapp, actor; Mark Ellis, sports coordinator on TV and film productions

BOB LEY - March 24th, 2002. Twenty-five years after a sports movie, Rocky, won the Oscar for best picture, the film endures as a classic. Tonight, the Oscars are handed out. Twenty-seven years ago, tonight, the real life inspiration for Rocky Balboa put Ali on his back.

CHUCK WEPNER - I was a 20-1 underdog.

SYLVESTER STALLONE - For one brief moment, this supposed stumblebum turned out to be magnificent in the fact that he lasted and knocked the champion down.

LEY - Rocky is steeped in realism. But transforming the drama, star power and action from this stage to the big screen is often the most challenging part of making a sports film.

DENNIS QUAID - It was important to me to at least look like I could throw.

WILL SMITH - It looked so real. I really got a hit.

LEY - Today, on "Outside The Lines," keeping sports films real on the 25th anniversary of the triumph of Rocky.

ANNOUNCER VOICEOVER - "Outside The Lines" is presented by State Farm Insurance.

LEY - This is the time of year in sports when a single moment, a single basket -- one night can change a player's life forever and so it is in motion pictures. Tonight at the Academy Awards there is a sports movie in the buzz of the velvet rope line. Will Smith is nominated as best actor for his portrayal of Muhammad Ali but it was a boxer whom Ali fought who inspired one of the few sports films ever vote best picture.

It is 25 years since Rocky won that Oscar. The movie was as much a long shot as the real-life boxer whom Sylvester Stallone drew upon for that story. The film was shot for a pithy $1 million. Stallone wrote his fictional screenplay over three days with a ballpoint pen and a spiral notebook after having watched Chuck Wepner turn his real-life puncher's chance into, as Curry Kirkpatrick tells us, a lifetime of memories.

BOXING ANNOUNCER - Here we go -- the heavyweight championship of the world at stake. Round one.

STALLONE - One night I went to see Muhammad Ali fight Chuck Wepner ...

BOXING ANNOUNCER - I see it but I don't believe it. The man is still on his feet.

BOXING ANNOUNCER #2 - But Ali cannot drop this man. Don't underestimate the courage of Chuck Wepner.

STALLONE - ... and what I saw was pretty extraordinary. I saw a man they called the "Bayonne Bleeder" who didn't have a chance at all against, you know, the greatest fighting machine that ever lived. For one brief moment, this supposed stumblebum turned out to be magnificent in the fact that he lasted and knocked the champion down.

I said, boy, if this isn't a metaphor for life. His entire life crystallized at that moment. He will be remembered for all eternity.

CURRY KIRKPATRICK - And surely he has been, only in a different form, the beloved Philadelphia pug from the neighborhood known as Rocky. Chuck Wepner, meanwhile, has lived in comparative obscurity. A quarter century later, the "Bayonne Bleeder" is a successful liquor salesman, still reveling in his roughhouse task.

CHUCK WEPNER - Well, I can honestly say that I'm undefeated in bars, telephone booths and men's rooms. Yes, I think had about 130 in a row and I was saying -- yes, I was a bar room brawler.

KIRKPATRICK - The 6-foot-6 Jersey journeyman plied his trade among the top 10 heavyweights in the world until 1975 when Don King set him up for the most important night of his life.

WEPNER - I was watching Kojak. A little after 11:00 the phone rings. It's my mother and I'm pissed off. I -- damn it, don't interrupt me when I'm watching Kojak. I don't like that. She said -- "get the news, get the news."

I said, Mom, why -- why would I get the news? She said the back page of the news says Ali's defending against Wepner March 24th in Richfield, Ohio. I said -- you're kidding. I got dressed. The first time I can ever remember walking out on Telly Savalas' show.

KIRKPATRICK - In the weeks before their fight, the parallels between the movie and reality were accurate and stark.

REPORTER - It is a coincidence that you're fighting a white man on the most celebrated day in the country's history.

APOLLO CREED - I don't know about that. Is it a coincidence that he's fighting a black man on the most celebrated day in the country's history?

TRAINER - Right on.

TRAINER - Tell the truth, brother.

KIRKPATRICK - Sylvester Stallone created Rocky as a hangdog realist who didn't believe he could really win. In this case, however, art hardly imitated life. Not only did Chuck Wepner have a plan, he was thoroughly convinced he had a real shot.

WEPNER - Now, I was a 20-to-1 underdog, you would think it would be an easy fight. You know, he predicted three rounds -- three or four rounds, you know. I just figured I'd put the pressure on him and maybe by the tenth or eleventh round he'd get tired and I'd have a shot to knock him out.

KIRKPATRICK - Before Stallone wrote it, Wepner lived it in the stunning ninth round.

WEPNER - I hit him right under the heart in the ribs. He was off balance, pulling away from the jab . It wasn't a great punch. But he went down and I turned around as he went down. Back in the corner, I said to my manager, start the car now, we're going to the bank, we're millionaires. And he said, you better turn around and -- look at him, he's getting up and he's pissed off -- I said, oh -- and he was pissed off. So ...

BOXING ANNOUNCER - Ali's aggravated. It looks like Wepner is in trouble now. He's standing.

WEPNER - Matter of fact, he caught me with 21 or 22 punches in the corner at the end of that round. I came back to Ali, I said - gees, I guess I shouldn't have pissed him off.

KIRKPATRICK - Rocky went the distance, again, a case of Stallone trumping Wepner, who also survived, but only until the final seconds of the dramatic fifteenth round. It is the first time the "Bayonne Bleeder" had ever been knocked down. Even Ali was impressed.

WEPNER - No other human being could have went 15 rounds like that except Chuck Wepner. You know, he said he's tougher than Foreman, he's tougher than Frazier, he's tougher than (INAUDIBLE).

STALLONE - He did something extraordinary. I said -- now, that is probably what I need as a catalyst for an idea -- a man who's going to stand up to life and take one shot and maybe go the distance. So I started to write and it was one of those writing frenzies and three days later, I came up with the script of Rocky.

IRWIN WINKLER - Stallone kind of had that same rugged, you know, club-fighting feeling and that was what Wepner was. The idea that Muhammad Ali was willing to fight this real, you know, bum, was so intriguing and Stallone himself was so intriguing because he was almost like the real-life Wepner.

WEPNER - The day he called I said that Sylvester Stallone had written a script and was thinking of making a movie and after a couple of months later, we got together. I was on the set a couple of times. It was a little overdone -- a little overdone. You know, who the -- hits meat in a meat locker and, you know, and stuff like that? You know, that was a little -- a little crazy.

KIRKPATRICK - Initially, Wepner thought the movie would flop. At one time, he claimed to have turned down an offer from Stallone. "I took a one-time payment of $70,000," Wepner said, instead of one percent of the gross.

WEPNER - I made that up. I was embarrassed about the fact that I never got any money or I was offered anything. You know, sometime when you're embarrassed you'd rather make up a story than just have people think you're a complete dummy.

LINDA WEPNER - It just aggravates me. A lot of times, if we go to Las Vegas and we see the Planet Hollywood and you see these kids that want to take a picture, they got a statue of Sylvester Stallone as Rocky, well, I'll stop these people and tell them -- "Hey, this is the real deal right here. You want to take a picture with him?"

WEPNER - I think it's just sour grapes, you know, to say anything about it now. The guy helped me a lot. He did a lot for me; he made me famous, I'm the real-life Rocky, and things have gone good for me.

That's what I wanted -- I wanted America to relate to the blue-collar guy, a tremendous underdog, the long shot getting a shot at the title. Even if I don't win the fight, I want to prove I belong there and I want people to say -- you know what, Chuck Wepner belonged in there that night. He was good enough to be in there.

LEY - Some of the footage in our story is exclusive to the MGM home entertainment DVD of the movie, "Rocky." When we continue, the big question of just how Hollywood works to make a sports movie as authentic as possible. John Sayles, the director, knows it's not easy.

JOHN SAYLES, DIRECTOR - Sports movies are tough, I mean, you have to have that -- you know, why I think recently, as people, you know, see more sports and they're more available, it's harder to fake.

LEY - And when we return I'll talk with an actor you know well from NYPD Blue who worked for John Sayles portraying the catcher on the most infamous in baseball history.

LEY -Will Smith nominated for the Best Actor Oscar portraying Muhammad Ali. Now, if you watch a film about soldiers at war or a young writer trailing a rock group, chances are small inaccuracies might be missed unless you've actually served in combat or been backstage with the band.

But we've all played ball, or at the very least, spent plenty of time watching sports so Armando Salguero reports achieving authenticity in a sports movie is tougher than ever.

ARMANDO SALGUERO, ESPN - Fifty years ago, Anthony Perkins was cast as troubled Red Sox outfielder Jimmy Piersall in "Fear Strikes Out."

JIMMY PIERSALL - I think Tony Perkins is a great actor but a terrible looking athlete. They even put shoulder pads on him and it didn't help him.

JEFFERY LYONS - He was not a great athlete. He threw -- Robert Kline has the definitive imitation of Anthony Perkins throwing the ball like that. He didn't look like a great outfielder.

SALGUERO - Not only was Perkins not athletic, a pivotal baseball scene also lacked authenticity.

LYONS - At one point in the movie, he hits an inside-the-park homerun and if you see the film, then go to a long shot and the coach is shaking hands with him going around the third -- going around third base. That cannot happen in an inside-the-park homerun.

SALGUERO - "Fear Strikes Out" was not widely criticized when it hit theaters but audiences today are much more sophisticated. Television is saturated with sporting events and the demand for realism is higher than ever.

ROYCE CLAYTON - They can tell if the actors have never played the game before and that's all I'd ask -- you want to see is that true authentic feeling about a baseball player and a baseball person.

SALGUERO - So it helps movies such as "Eight Men Out" when the actors are good athletes.

D. B. SWEENEY - Charlie Sheen was a very good ballplayer. He played in high school and he could play. Johnny Cusack is a good player. David Strathairn is one of those incredible athletes. He actually, by the end of filming, was throwing a knuckle ball, which is kind of astonishing.

BOB UECKER - I love the Babe Ruth story. I mean, I really do, but when you watch Bill Bendix swing and the guy -- some of the guys who played in there, it was kind of tough, you know.

LYONS - He was a fine actor but he was terrible in the movie and couldn't swing a bat. So when that happens, you immediately say -- oh, get past this.

MARK ELLIS - The action's got to be realistic. If the action's not realistic, you've lost your credibility right away.

SALGUERO - Mark Ellis is the co-founder of Real Sports Solutions and has been a consultant on films like "Jerry McGuire," "Any Given Sunday," and "The Replacements." He trains actors to play like athletes. Dennis Quaid, who plays a pitcher in the soon-to-be-released, "The Rookie," underwent such training.

ELLIS - We started training him in Los Angeles with a former player, Jim Gott, who pitched for the Dodgers for a while.

DENNIS QUAID - He would come over to my house every day and for three months we just threw and threw and threw. So it was important to me that to at least look like I could throw.

ELLIS - You cannot fake football. You cannot fake baseball. We don't, you know, computer generate the ball going off the bat. We actually have to hit the ball.

SALGUERO - Hollywood's hunger for authenticity is so great and the training so rigorous that fewer doubles are being used in sports films today according to one industry source. While filming Ali, actor Will Smith went from 190 pounds to 220 during training. He used that extra bulk to take and deliver real blows.

CHARLES SHUFFORD - I was surprised to know that we can actually hit. You know what I mean? I thought it was going to be like glancing the shots, whatever, but, no, it's the real deal and we're punching on each other for real.

WILL SMITH - People will be saying -- wow, how did they make that look so good? That punch looked so real. It looked so real because I really got hit. Our motto again always was, throw the shot in there and if somebody hits too -- hits too hard, that's a good thing.

SALGUERO - Twenty-five years ago, Rocky was filmed using a different technique. The weeks before shooting, Sylvester Stallone and Carl Weathers choreographed every punch of their fight scenes to ensure realism.

WINKLER - When you had a right uppercut, the opponent's head would go back at the right time so it looked like he was being hit without being hit.

LYONS - Today, the standards are much higher. Any time you do a boxing movie, it better look like the real thing with all the blood and the violence and a sense of punches landing and the bones being crushed.

So today, filmmakers have the challenge of not only getting sports fans, but of getting other people to their movies using the technology they have and creating something that's real but make sure it's not the only thing going on in the movie.

SALGUERO - Despite the difficulties of making an authentic-looking sports movie, the industry is filled with people willing to take on the challenge. Twenty-seven sports related movies are scheduled for release this year, more than twice as many as just two years ago. For "Outside The Lines," I'm Armando Salguero.

LEY - And joining us to examine how sports films keep it real, Gordon Clapp. You know him from his Emmy-award-winning role as Detective Greg Medavoy on the series NYPD Blue and among his three-dozen film roles. He portrayed catcher Ray Schalk, the 1990 Chicago White Sox in the John Sayles' movie, "Eight Men Out." Gordon joins us this morning from Los Angeles.

Mark Ellis, a sports coordinator on TV and film productions. And among his credits, Jerry McGuire, Any Given Sunday, and The Replacements and he is also joining us from LA. Gordon, the phone rings, John Sayles, whom you're worked with before, says I need you to play a major league catcher. What goes -- what goes through your mind?

GORDON CLAPP - Well, actually, you know, he wrote the -- he wrote the screenplay in the early '80s and there were a couple of us. Davis Strathairn and I were in the original cast of "Eight Men Out" in 1980 but so was Martin Sheen, Stacey Keach. So as 10 -- you know, 10 years went by, I think, so we were the only two original members of the cast.

LEY - And you had to go out there and portray a major league catcher.

CLAPP - Yes, but my dream of playing in a World Series came true at age 39. You know, what can I say.

LEY - Mark, you work getting these actors in shape. Actors will say and do anything for a role. So you get an actor whose cast, now you've got to turn him into an athlete at least for the camera.

MARK ELLIS - Yes. You know, Bob, all the actors want to be athletes, all the athletes want to be actors, and everybody wants to be a rock star. So that's part of what we do is to make sure that these guys look as real as they possibly can because they have to have that credibility.

LEY - Well, Gordon, did anybody come to the set say -- oh, sure, I can do that. Now, it's time for a take and say -- whoa, wait a minute.

CLAPP - We -- well, we had Ken Berry, the bandit -- his nickname was the bandit -- play for the White Sox in '60s and he came down and he spent a couple of weeks with us training and, you know, a lot of the guys had played ball before.

I caught a little bit in high school, you know, so I had a general idea but the hard thing for us was the equipment. I had to catch with a glove that -- you know, I had to catch with two hands so I was afraid of getting my fingers broke and that kind of thing. But I managed to make it through without any broken fingers.

LEY - Well, you mentioned your debut at age 39 in the World Series. Let's take a look at it as a close play at the plate from "Eight Men Out." And, Chuck, from that game, how many takes did that take?

CLAPP - That wouldn't take that long. The guy was so out. But, you know, just by a little but he was out. You know, I've been living with that call for years.

LEY - DB Sweeney mentioned in our story that David Strathairn was there and had mastered a knuckle ball. Were you catching it

CLAPP - Yes, I was catching it, but, you know, Charlie had a great knuckle ball. Charlie Sheen had -- I think had the best knuckle ball on the team.

LEY - Mark, to what extremes are directors going to go to try and get things right?

ELLIS - Oh, absolutely. I think that creditability and authenticity are everything. As you mentioned in the piece before, the American audience has so much access to live-action sports that it puts pressure on guys like me and Gordon, the actor, to make sure that we get it right.

I saw a quote about Denzel Washington who played Rubin "Hurricane" Carter who only had about two minutes of boxing in the opening of that movie and trained for three months because he said -- and he quoted, he said, "if I did not box correctly that first two minutes, my character would lose creditability immediately and for the rest of the movie it wouldn't be right."

LEY - Well, different directors had different looks. You work both with Cameron Crowe , Jerry McGuire and Oliver Stone on "Any Given Sunday." What were their different approaches to shooting a film?

ELLIS - Well, Cameron immediately told us that he wanted it to look like Monday Night Football. And, of course, we had Al Michaels and Dan Dierdorf, and so we used all those angles in order to, you know, kind of look just like Monday Night Football did at that time. Oliver, however, wanted to get inside the action and give the American audience the first look at getting cameras down inside the action and showing the speed and the violence of the NFL.

LEY - Gordon, Ron Shelton, who has directed Bull Durham, Tin Cup, a number of sports movies, says the success and the popularity of sports movies now could be attributed to -- he makes the analogy -- it's the new western. You've got ...

CLAPP - Right.

LEY - ... this little morality play; you know what the characters are supposed to be. You buy that?

CLAPP - Yes, I would say -- well, you know, "Eight Men Out" was a -- you know, was a true story but it was -- it was a great kind of black and white story; you know, good against evil but -- you know, the corporate world and, you know, the working stiff. But, yes, I would say that's a great analogy.

LEY - Mark, you buy the analogy -- the new western?

ELLIS - Absolutely. The American audience loves to know who the heroes, who the villains are. The athletic field is a perfect venue for that. It shows you immediately what the characters are going through -- do they have a big heart, are they going to quit, how are they going to react to adversity, and I think it plays out so well on the athletic field today. It just -- the underdog, the whole thing, it's a good analogy.

LEY - Mark, one of the scenes in Jerry McGuire, it took quite a while to film. Tell us about that.

ELLIS - Yes. Immediately when we were hired, Cameron told us that the final scene where Rod Tidwell, the character that Cuba Gooding, Jr., played, got hurt, he wanted an all-in-one. Gordon will tell you that sometimes you do have to make the action look real but you can use the camera to get inside the action to help you kind of cheat an all-of-one shot.

Cameron didn't want to do that. We had to throw that ball from the 35 yard line, Cuba had to run a 35-yard -- you know, a square end at the top, have two guys meet. A big collision happened. He had to catch it, the flip ...

LEY - How (INAUDIBLE) did you do this?

ELLIS - Oh, Bob, we started about 9:00 at night, we had 25,000 people in Sun Devil Stadium and we did it probably 25 times.

LEY - And each time he you took the hit.

ELLIS - Oh, I lost five pounds every time we shot that thing. It was just grueling.

LEY - A quick final thought from each one of you guys. Gordon, what's your favorite all-time sports movies aside from one you might have worked on?

CLAPP - I think "Slap Shot."

LEY - Putting on the foil - Mark?

ELLIS - The Natural was fantastic. Again, I love period piece sports movies so that was great.

LEY - Guys, thanks so much. Gordon, truly appreciate you're being with us. We enjoy your work. And, Mark, also, thank you for getting ...

ELLIS - Thank you.

LEY - ... (INAUDIBLE) from Los Angeles this morning. Next up, the reaction and it was considerable -- the last Sunday's look at the college basketball play. He left school after four years and is still illiterate.

Each Sunday night, ESPN Classic with "Reel Classics," a movie and interviews with those who made the film with athletes about their favorite movies. Tonight, an encore of Season the Brink followed by "Outside The Lines - Beyond The Brink" all on ESPN Classic.

Last Sunday, we examined the story of Kevin Ross who played basketball for the early 80s at Creighton University and left school after four years unable to read and write. And among the many e-mails on that topic; from Williamstown, New Jersey, "Kevin Ross should have included all of his elementary and high school teachers in a statement that Creighton did not hold up their end by not educating him and let's also save a big piece of blame for Mr. Ross himself."

From Pontiac, Michigan - "I just retired after teaching in the Detroit system for 31 years. I usually greatly enjoy OTL but today you really blew it. Did I hear you mention Kevin Ross' parents once? Didn't they know he couldn't read?" And from Tallahassee - "How can a man who admits he was illiterate while in college use the falsely accumulated college credits to become a substitute teacher? Why is he not pointing the finger at himself?"

We raised the question of personal accountability with Kevin Ross and this is his response.

Looking back, he said - I do wish I would have spoken up when I was in elementary school and junior high. I didn't want to be made fun of. I was probably scared. However, he also says -- there's million of illiterate people in America. Are they all the blame because they didn't speak up and take responsibility for their own education when they were kids?

If you missed our program on illiteracy, watch it online and check the transcript at ESPN.com. The keyword, OTL Weekly, our e-mail address for your comments, and we'd like to hear from you, OTL Weekly@espn.com. and thanks for being in touch.

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