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DRAFT DAY

Origin of the Project
If you don't think you're a winner, you don't belong here. -Vince Lombardi

If the motion picture industry were a parallel version of the National Football League, Ivan Reitman would fill the roles of both Coach and General Manager, and he would be termed one of the 'winningest' directors in the industry. With his keen eye for cinematic potential, Reitman knew what he had when the script for Draft Day crossed his desk at The Montecito Picture Company, the film and television production entity he heads with partner Tom Pollock.

Director Ivan Reitman comments, "It was never my intention to make a great football movie. It was not a dream of mine, even though I'm a big football fan. I just happened to get this script, and I actually remember reading it in the middle of the night. I fell in love with it and couldn't stop reading it. I read it in less than an hour. It's a page-turner. You get totally caught up, the way I did there in the middle of the night. Kevin Costner's character gets himself into a real bind, where he's put his own career and his own team's future in real jeopardy. Watching him unwind that is almost a mystery story, and we discover it as he figures things out."

Producer Joe Medjuck concurs and continues, "We just found it was such a great script and it was not really all about football. It's about someone in a crisis situation dealing with his personal life and his professional life, and it all takes place on possibly the most important day in his life. We said, 'We all like football and we really like this script-let's get it and make this movie.'"

"It really is the best of everything," picks up Montecito's President of Production/Development and film producer Ali Bell, "because it has a little bit of comedy at the center of it. But what really resonated was this great idea of the American dream in this movie: you fight your way through life; you stand by your convictions; you try your best to do what's right. What's really nice about Draft Day is that you have a bunch of people who are doing the right things."

The script was the first screenplay and the first partnering project for playwright Rajiv Joseph and screenwriter Scott Rothman. Joseph recounts, "I'm from Cleveland. I grew up a Browns fan. I have always been obsessed with them and with the sport of football, and I've always been looking for the stories that can be told there. Scott and I watch football all the time. This friend of mine-a girl who's not even a football fan-commented to me one night that she really enjoys watching the televised NFL draft. I asked, 'Why would you like the draft if you don't like football?' She said, 'There's a ticking clock, and there are high stakes and there are all of these interesting people.' So I thought, 'That sounds like a good movie,' so Scott and I set out to write that."

Rothman clicked on the idea as strongly as Joseph and says, "Rajiv called me and asked me, 'What do you think about writing a script about the NFL draft?' It was a no-brainer, even though we had never written together before. We figured we were both huge football fans and that we could punch it out-that it was going to happen very quickly."

At the time, Joseph's latest play-which would go on to become a finalist for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize-was heading to Broadway with Robin Williams. Both writers were eager to jump into the screenplay that would later coalesce into Draft Day, but career opportunities delayed the start...for approximately eight months. What seemed unfortunate at the time, in fact, became fortuitous, as during the delay, both upped their televised football quotient, and they found at least some opportunities to bounce story ideas around over the odd adult beverage.

Once both their schedules cleared enough to collaborate on the screenplay, Rothman ventured from his Westchester home and deposited himself in the living room of Joseph's Brooklyn apartment, "on an extended sleepover party," Rothman quips.

There, within the early part of January 2011, "With me in the kitchen and Scott in the living room, we would bang out about 15 pages at a time, then we'd trade," laughs Joseph. "We did that for about two weeks, until we had our screenplay."

A couple of months and re-writes later, Draft Day was circulating around Hollywood. With Rajiv already in Los Angeles and Scott on an incoming flight from New York, news arrived that would seriously impact their career trajectories.

Rothman attests, "I got off the flight from New York and heard that Ivan Reitman had read the script and really liked it and wanted to talk to us. Could we go talk to Ivan Reitman? Answer being, of course, we can and will go talk to Ivan Reitman, one of our childhood heroes, about the script." After the scribes left the meeting, both realized that, "This was not how it normally worked in the entertainment industry. We both truly appreciate what a rare and unique opportunity has been afforded us," confesses Joseph.

Rothman recalls, "I was on cloud nine when we left. Rajiv was driving the car and, of course, there was hellacious Los Angeles traffic, which was making him crazy. I kept wanting to grab and shake him and scream, 'Do you realize what just happened!?!' But he was totally immersed in the traffic-his freak-out came once we finished the drive."

Producer Joe Medjuck summarizes, "Draft Day is about the general manager of an NFL team on the day of the NFL Draft-as well as having to deal with his professional responsibilities, he has to deal with his mother, his girlfriend, his ex-wife and his life...it's a very full day."

In addition to the compelling scenario, what struck producer Ali Bell was the ring of the dialogue: "There's no fear-all of the characters in this movie are completely fearless. A lot of times when you read screenplays, they can feel a little watered down, whitewashed, but real life is messy and chaotic and you often end up hurting the people you love the most. That's one of the things that's so beautiful and makes Scott and Rajiv's dialogue so rich."

Producer Medjuck, who's been working with Reitman since emigrating from Canada more than three decades ago, observes, "Ivan has been making films for more than 30 years. I met him when he was a college student, and he was making films then. He's also developed a great passion for football, and has quite an extensive knowledge on the subject. While we weren't necessarily looking for a film about football, when this came along and it was such a good script, it was perfect for him."

The interest of Reitman surprised Rothman almost as much as it did the director himself. Rothman observes, "Ivan has really been a shaping force in American comedy. With Dave, there were more dramatic elements mixed in. But really, there was nothing to forecast that Draft Day, which I consider to be a drama with some comedic elements, would appeal to him or be something that he was looking to do. At the meeting, once we heard his thoughts about the script, we realized that he got it. He was looking to do more character-based material, which can be more challenging in a laugh-out-loud comedic setting. He read our script at exactly the right time."

For producer Bell, there was no such surprise, and she responds, "Ivan understands family, he understands community and responsibility. Even though he's known for doing comedy, he really gets the heart and the emotionality. When you're a director, you're Sonny Weaver Jr. every day. You're going out there, you're laying your heart on the line, and you've got a team of people behind you just waiting for you to succeed or fail. One of Ivan's greatest gifts is knowing that even when life is hard, it's also really funny, and he is able to find humor in those moments that feel really authentic and personal."

For producer Medjuck, it was not only the characters and surrounding drama that was compelling, it was the entire process of the NFL draft: "It's like a multi-dimensional chess game, because everything changes the minute someone is picked. Suddenly, the player's not available, other people are in consideration, there's a clock and there are people watching you. To be quite honest, I didn't understand quite how popular watching the draft was before this."

For the uninitiated, the NFL draft is the three-day event (the film takes place in the first of the three days), where eligible college players are selected by the 32 teams in the League to join their organization. The order of draft is determined by the previous season, and draft positions are in reverse order of how the team finished, for example the last place team chooses first, and on down the line.

Once assigned this position, the team can either draft a player in that position, or trade their position (or future positions) to another team for another draft position, a player or players-or any combination of those elements. In the case of General Manager Sonny Weaver Jr., his team begins with the seventh draft pick...until Sonny begins his day of maneuvering and counter-moves, and he attains the Number One position going into the draft that evening.

"I love the idea that the whole movie takes place in about twelve hours, starting very early in the morning in Seattle and then working its way across the country," adds Reitman. "As the clock ticks down to the beginning of the draft, then through the three hours of the first round, and then finally in the hour after that first round is over. It's all there."

Ali Bell points out that the draft is the culmination, for most players, of a lifetime of playing football-hundreds of NFL hopefuls waiting to hear their names announced during one of the seven rounds of the draft. She is also quick to note that the draft is not the be-all and end-all for determining the future of a player in the League.

She remarks, "It's a huge thing for the fans, because their fingers are crossed that the coming season will be better than the last. But, like anything in life, just because you were drafted first or seventh, in the first round or last round, it doesn't determine your future."

Bell points to Arian Foster who, going into the 2009 NFL Draft, was predicted to be a pick in the fifth or six round, but went undrafted. He then signed as a free agent with the Houston Texans. He went on to be ranked number eight in the NFL's 2013 Top 100 players, and he is regarded as one of the best running backs in the League.

In what can only be called Hollywood magic, Foster was cast as player Ray Jennings, who ends up drafted by the Cleveland Browns. Foster expresses, "I was happy for my character Ray Jennings. It was a fun experience."

Bell says, "Arian worked really hard and earned his way onto the Texans. In a way, it's romantically fortuitous; he finally got drafted in our movie at Radio City, as a Cleveland Brown!"

To everyone connected to the film, the participation of the NFL was regarded as key, and once the organization signed on to cooperate on Draft Day, channels of information were thrown open, allowing Reitman and his team access to the kind of nuts-and-bolts knowledge that would go a long way to assure authenticity in a movie about one of the most important annual events on the NFL's calendar.

"There was a very long negotiating process with the NFL to get their permission," shares Reitman. "The good news is they loved the script right from the beginning. They had certain issues with certain things that weren't accurate, and we changed those things. But they really asked for very little in terms of making changes. Their real concern was that we use everything accurately. We were very careful with who the NFL partners were, and keeping that all straight. Through this process, they seemed to trust that I was going to do the best version of this movie."

Joe Medjuck offers, "Once we started working with the NFL, we kept finding parallels to things already in the script-episodes that occur during the actual draft that we have portrayed in our movie. Teams do an incredible amount of research and then suddenly, it all comes down to these three days, and there is a ten-minute window in which to make a decision."

As the script continued to evolve, Joseph and Rothman were also privy to a lot of insider information, courtesy of the likes of Mike Tannenbaum, former General Manager of the New York Jets, and New York Post sportswriter Steve Serby, among others. In the course of their schooling, the pair acquired additional input on what a GM may or may not do during the course of the draft. But authenticity aside, for filmmakers, Draft Day is about its characters, the real people involved in the kaleidoscopic events packed into the titular day.

Rothman asserts, "One of my favorite movies of all time is The Hustler with Paul Newman, and I don't care at all about pool. I know nothing about pool. While the movie is ostensibly about pool, it's actually about people...about what makes a winner, what makes a loser, and how you define each of those terms."

"Draft Day is a story about football of course, but it's really a story about relationships," agrees Reitman. "In particular, familial relationships with his mother, and with his father, who had just passed away the week before. There's also the story of the three potential rookies that could be drafted. Draft Day is a life changing event for five thousand college players who have devoted their whole young lives to the hope and dream that one day they were going to be part of a professional football team, and very few of them finally make it. By shooting during the real draft, we had this opportunity of looking and meeting some of the real people who are in the midst of all that, and witness the extraordinary weight that's on their shoulders and what a life changing event that one day, that one night becomes."

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