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DRAFT DAY

About The Production
Prep

Making a film about a fictitious NFL football team (called, say, the Dayton Azures) on one of the most important days of the team's year would be challenging simply by its very nature. But making a film about an actual NFL football team called the Cleveland Browns (slightly altered for cinematic treatment)...next to impossible, were the team not a key participant in the making of the movie.

Joe Medjuck underscores, "Draft Day is about their team, but it's not. It's a slightly parallel universe-our team shares a lot of the history of the Cleveland Browns, but the actual Browns are not owned by Anthony Molina, nor are any of the coaches in our film the real coaches of the Browns. However, we've tried to intertwine it with the Browns-some of their players are in the movie, and they have been incredibly generous in allowing us to use their facilities and stadium, not to mention the endless technical advice in regards to our art direction and terminology in the script... in establishing the overall reality of our real-but-not-real team."

Maybe even more key than sharing facilities and lexicon, Ali Bell feels that the actual spirit of the team pervades Draft Day. She says, "Both Cleveland and the Browns are fighters. They never give up-they really represent America."

Reitman adds, "Cleveland is really undergoing a renaissance now. It's really quite a beautiful city, with all kinds of different vistas. Cleveland really turned out to be a perfect place to set the story. It's a city with rabid fans, who believe in the team through thick and thin, and mostly thin. Part of the fun of really shooting it in Cleveland is we could see our movie play out on the streets every single day, just from the people you met in restaurants, and from dealing with the local media personalities who became characters in our film. It was wonderful to shoot in Cleveland. I'd shoot another movie there in a second."

Former Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar notes, "So much in the movie is about passion, heart and following your instincts, and I can't recall a time when I didn't do that when I was playing. When you are in between the white lines out there, a lot of it has to do with passion and heart, playing without having to check yourself. Off the field, you have to be proper and measured, but none of that goes into playing football."

Iconic athlete Jim Brown observes, "The Cleveland Browns fans are known as the greatest fans in the world. They're all over the world and they're vocal, and they were used to winning. Now, they're about ready to blow the roof off of the stadium if we don't get a championship! They're loyal and passionate, and they want to see a winner."

The more production interfaced with the Browns organization, the more filmmakers began to recognize similarities. Joe Medjuck elaborates, "The way a football organization and the NFL work, it does have more than a few parallels with filmmaking. There is a great degree of discipline, people show up on time, and teamwork is, of course, the centerpiece. The existence of a hierarchy, and the amount of organization it takes to pull off something like the season opener or get a film onto thousands of screens... they're very close in many ways."

The active participation and welcoming attitude of not only the Browns, but also the National Football League, was quite literally a cause for celebration. Producer Bell comments, "It has been amazing and so much fun collaborating with the team and the NFL, and the amount of information we've learned about the inner workings of football has helped us in so many ways. The backdoor access that we've had to the NFL and the Browns, both of whom literally rolled out the red carpet for us...to be on set and meeting football players that we've loved and idolized...to be there at the draft when your team selects players and starts towards the future... I'm never going to get to work on a movie that I love as much as this. It has been really personal and a joy."

"We had a whole series of meetings with the various staff groups of the NFL, and as a result they gained more and more confidence that we were really going to make our best efforts to show the NFL in the most accurate and best light," adds Reitman. "Of course, I also asked to shoot at Radio City, so they also had to get Radio City's permission."

For some of the actors, it took more than a familiarization with terminology and finding a level of comfort on the athletic settings-they needed to become believable stars of the game. To assist in this, production brought aboard Michael Fisher as football coordinator, with more than two decades of experience creating believable athletes and sporting action for the cameras.

"Josh Pence as Bo Callahan," begins Fisher, "he's the star quarterback from Wisconsin, the next John Elway. We started back in Los Angeles. Josh had played baseball and was athletic, but he'd never played football, so we hired a quarterback coach for him. They started working on the mechanics, the little things, the nuances of playing quarterback while in the huddle, command at the line of scrimmage, to get him to feel confident being on a football field."

Pence offers, "It's a little tricky. I never played football, besides in the street, as a kid growing up, but I did play a lot of other sports. It's really about working out the mechanics-the motion in baseball is different from the motion in football. In baseball, you want to throw over the top, and in football, you've got to shoot through the barrel, as my coach would say."

Movement was part of the learning curve for Pence, but so was actually changing the machine. He continues, "After my last audition, Ivan wanted me to gain about 30 pounds in three weeks. I told him that I'd do the best I could. I started seriously working out and eating a football player diet, between six- to eight-thousand calories a day, for about four weeks-it was nearly a full-time job in and of itself. I lifted four days a week, and was able to put on nearly 20 pounds in three weeks. It was really helpful, because it literally transformed the way I move."

Fisher picks back up, "Chadwick Boseman is Vontae Mack, the ferocious linebacker from Ohio State. Chadwick is also athletic-we've seen him play baseball, and now we needed to see him play football. Production set him up with a plan and a dietician, to help him get bigger in a small period of time. He gained and really started to look more like a linebacker-he played the part well."

Boseman explains, "For baseball, you're really trying to stay as relaxed and loose as possible. Not to say that there isn't an amount of weight lifting at some points in the process, but for 42, I wasn't really lifting weights. It was more about calisthenics, reps and getting the arms strong. I needed to beef up for Draft Day, so I put on about 22 pounds. The training was eating and lifting, which I usually don't do. The lifting was either an enormous amount of reps or an enormous amount of weight. Now, it kind of feels like I'm walking around in somebody else's body."

Fisher's mantra-just like Reitman and his teams'-was authenticity. He remarks, "Any time you do any kind of sports on film-and that's what I do-you want it to look real. You want people to watch the movie and think, 'Wow, how did they do that?' My goal is for someone to watch the film and think that it was all real game footage. Both of the guys did really great."

The athlete/actors were not the only ones participating in a preparatory regimen. Jennifer Garner says, "The moment I started talking to Ivan about the job, the NFL Channel went on in my house and it's been on ever since. As an actor just out of college, I had plenty of time to care a lot about Monday morning stats. I definitely knew my stuff then, but since then, life has taken over. For research, I found and watched every game referenced in the movie, read everything I could about the Browns and their history-all of the drama that this city has been through just to have the team that they love so much! Then, I mostly spent time with Megan Rogers here at the Cleveland Browns, who has the job that my character has, which is the head of the salary cap. I did it to really learn, but also because I think she's so badass. For real, badass. Not pretend."

To prepare for the role of Coach Penn, Denis Leary created his own syllabus. He started by researching with NFL coaches, checking his lines while trying to get the vernacular under his belt. Then, he dove into watching documentaries on the sport. He explains, "There was a special about the top ten NFL coaches of all time that came on while we were shooting. I had also taped multiple episodes of the NFL Network's 'Football Life.' It was a really great excuse for me to tell my wife, 'I can't watch television with you tonight. I have to go do my research for Draft Day and watch six hours of old Super Bowls.'"

Sean Combs also stayed fairly close to home as he went about familiarizing himself with the lifestyle of a top agent. He says, "Having had agents and currently having agents, I pretty much already had some insight into how they operate. I had some other conversations with a few agents at NCAA, watched a documentary on Tim Tebow, and some of ESPN's '30 for 30' documentaries on agents and on the draft."

In the end, it was all about being able to bridge the worlds of sports, cinema, and storytelling into a cohesive, and entertaining, feature film. Josh Pence sums it up when he says, "I wouldn't have been able to come out here on the field and do any of what I needed to do, if I hadn't had that bit of training."

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