About The Production
The idea of a contemporary retelling of Othello set in the arena of
competitive high-school basketball was that of screenwriter Brad Kaaya. The only
black male in an all white high school, Kaaya identified with the heroic figure
of Othello for many reasons. Like many teenagers, Brad Kaaya loved to play
basketball, and chose to set the conflict of O on a basketball court rather than
a battlefield. The male characters in O are warriors on the court, and Odin is
the fiercest and most heroic of them all. In a school and a town where
basketball is paramount, Odin James is king. This modern adaptation widens its focus
to examine the complex lives of a group of teenage basketball stars and their
entourage, as well as issues of interracial dating, substance abuse (in
particular steroids and cocaine) and school violence.
After developing the screenplay at the Sundance Institute Writers Lab, Kaaya
sent the script to director Tim Blake Nelson, who received it while acting on
location in Australia in Terrence Malick's THE THIN RED LINE. An Obie
Award-winning playwright and director of the film EYE OF GOD, Nelson was initially
not interested in yet another teenage adaptation of Shakespeare's work.
"I thought there were probably too many teenage Shakespeare adaptations
floating on the movie screens, so I resisted even reading the script," says
Nelson. "But once I read it, it really stuck with me." Nelson felt
Kaaya had modernized Shakespeare's play beautifully, "while infusing
it with every bit of passion and human frailty that exists in the
original." Her agreed to direct.
Nelson and Kaaya worked for a solid year revising the original screenplay.
They sent off the script to producers Eric Gitter and Dan Fried, who immediately
fell in love with the script. "We're both fans of teen genre films, but we
felt that the audience had matured a bit," says Fried. "So many teen
films are horror films and comedies, a little bit exploitative but fun. We
thought it was time to stop pandering to that audience and give them a film that
had some meat on the bond, some real substance."
After reading the script, the producers watched Nelson's earlier film EYE OF
GOD and were "blown away by it," says Gitter. "We flew to New
York to meet Tim, and had this terrific Italian dinner," he adds. "We knew
instantly that this was a project for us after reading the script and meeting
with Tim. It was like magic." The director and producers began a search for
the perfect location for the film. They cam close to filming in Toronto for
economic reasons, but the decision was made to film entirely on location in
Charleston, South Carolina, where history and race relations have a unique resonance.
This tragic story of a contemporary interracial couple is set against the
backdrop of ante-bellum architecture and old oak trees draped with Spanish moss.
"We had collected photographs from film commissions from two dozen
cities in the U.S. and Canada," says producer Eric Gitter. "Ten we
narrowed it down to two-Toronto and Charleston." Fried adds: "Toronto
economically the most reasonable place to shoot, but in the middle of the night,
after we had already made the decision and told everybody we were going there, I
woke up in a sweat and called Eric and said, 'I just don't think we can go to
Toronto.' In other to make a more beautiful film, we had to come here. It's just
an incredible place."
"Charleston gives the story a specific and pointed setting," says
Tim Blake Nelson. "Place Odin on a distinctly ante-bellum campus, in a
crisp school uniform, among the similarly dressed soions of former slave-owning
families, and the rhetorical value is immeasurable."
The production team then put together an ensemble cast that includes some of
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