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Making It Real
When the filmmakers involved with "Coach Carter” got together to make a film inspired by Ken Carter's life, one thing was eminently clear — the man wasn't just an advocate for education; he also really knew basketball. To that end, it was very important that each and every basketball scene looked authentic, and to make that happen, Mark Ellis of Reel Sports was brought on to serve as the basketball coordinator for the film.

Recruiting players and the selection process were long and hard ordeals, according to Ellis. Players had to have played high school basketball and been All Conference and/or All Star Players.

"It was really grueling,” remembers Ellis. "We selected 85 players from 500 applicants over a four day period, having to eliminate up to 10 players each hour. Then, once a player was chosen, he began an intensive training program. I'm telling you these kids worked nonstop for months to ensure the believability of the game sequences and I believe all their hard work and practice really paid off. Those on-court sequences are really full-throttle.”

Shooting with three or four cameras and thousands of extras, the big dunks, block shots, and all the intensity of a real game truly come to life. "You can no longer cheat this stuff because today's audiences can't be fooled,” says Ellis. This film is all about teamwork and determination and sweat, and so it was very important to see the true physicality of the players individually and as a whole.”

Besides infusing the basketball scenes with authenticity, director Thomas Carter wanted to make sure that the environment the players went home to was also depicted with the same kind of visual reality. Responsible for making audiences feel like they were in the run-down, low funded, Lirban public school that Richmond High was in 1999, was Emmy-nominated production designer Carlos Barbosa, known for his work on such popular series as "Lost,” "24” and "CSI: Miami.”

According to Coach Ken Carter, Barbosa gave each gym its own particular look so that audiences felt that they were traveling along with the team on away games. "When I first took the job at Richmond High, conditions were less than perfect, and I felt that, basically, these kids had been written off,” recalls Carter. "I think the production designer did a great job of showing the differences between Richmond and some of the schools that had more funding behind them.”

Carter also felt that location manager Kokayi Ampah ("Mystic River,” "Blood Work”) did an excellent job finding the right area to film the Carter family home. Set in the West Adams District of Los Angeles, where some of the most beautiful craftsman styled homes exist, the house chosen for the film was so convincing that Carter himself was almost fooled.

"When Ken Carter walked into the house we'd selected, he sat on the couch and told us it looked just like his place in Richmond,” remembers Kokayi. "We really wanted to get it right, and he's the kind of guy who would let us know if we didn't. He's definitely the real deal.”

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