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KICKING AND SCREAMING

About the Production
The idea for Kicking & Screaming began with a conversation between producer/manager Jimmy Miller and his client and friend Will Ferrell, about Ferrell acting in a film with kids. "Will had done a sketch on Saturday Night Live where he ended up berating this little boy—and it was very funny,” says Miller, "especially because of the visual of Will being so much physically bigger. We thought anything he'd do with kids had great comic potential.”

Miller continues, "Will and I wanted to find something where he'd be both loveable and kind and ultimately winning with the kids, but then somewhere in there, be able to lose his stuff and get sort of, well...crazy.”

Ferrell and Miller started thinking about the world of youth soccer, both immediately sparking to the popular sport as fairly untapped movie material. Recalls Ferrell, "We were marveling at the fact that on any given Saturday, in every park, there's a kids' soccer game going on. It amazed us that there hadn't been much cinematic attention paid to this national phenomenon.”

The actor, who's played soccer all his life, also liked the idea of how the parents of these kids get so fanatically involved. "It just seemed like fertile ground for a good comedy,” says Ferrell.

Miller heartily agreed. "I know this world because it's my life on the weekends. My son Sam plays AYSO [American Youth Soccer Organization] soccer and I've seen firsthand how seemingly civil and upstanding dads turn into animals—storming the field, getting in the ref's face, following their sons or daughters down the sidelines. To say the least, it can get pretty out of hand.”

Director Jesse Dylan has also witnessed this kind of behavior. He adds, "I've watched my brother's kids play T-ball and the parents there are at heightened states of emotion at every game. It's like they're the ones playing, not their children.”

Convinced this was the way to go, Miller brought in the screenwriting team of Steve Rudnick and Leo Benvenuti (The Santa Clause, Space Jam) to pen the soccer comedy. The writers worked out the basic story with Miller and Ferrell: nice guy (Ferrell) at odds with his overly competitive father (say, a Robert Duvall type) with both coaching opposing soccer teams, and then nice guy recruits his dad's arch rival, a winning Super Bowl coach (say, someone like Mike Ditka), to be his assistant coach.

"Not that we had Robert Duvall or Mike Ditka,” admits Miller, "but we used them as prototypes. And it was such a simple, high concept to understand, you're already laughing.”

Rudnick and Benvenuti borrowed from their own lives to flesh out the story, starting by setting it in their native Chicago. "We were also both coaches on our respective son's athletic teams,” explains Rudnick. "And, although we never saw a coach become quite as maniacal as Phil Weston does in the script, we weren't too far off.”

The two young Italian soccer champs Ferrell's character Phil recruits to help his ailing team were concocted from Benvenuti's past. "When I was growing up in Oak Park, Illinois, there were two Greek boys who came to America to apprentice at their uncle's butcher shop and learn English. They excelled in hockey like you wouldn't believe and took their high school team from obscurity to almost state championship,” relates Benvenuti. "We took that idea, made the kids Italian—because it's my heritage— and switched hockey to soccer, because that's the film we were writing.”

The writers then wove three separate themes into the story: the sport of kids' soccer, the lunacy of aggressive soccer dads and the complexity of father/son relationships.

Now for the first hurdle—convincing Duvall and Ditka to sign on. "Though we always had them in mind,” reveals Miller, "we never actually thought we'd get them.”

But, to the surprise and thrill of everyone, Duvall, one of the industry's most respected actors, signed on imm

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