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Two Boot Camps: Football And Ballet
Riveting, nail-biting sports action has always been a trademark of Gordon Gray and Mark Ciardi's sports dramas, from "Miracle” to "Invincible,” and although THE GAME PLAN breaks out into comedy, they wanted this film to be no exception. So, to train and choreograph their team of already skilled football players, the filmmakers brought in football coordinator Mark Ellis. A former college-football player, Ellis previously worked with Ciardi and Gray to forge the stunningly true-to-the-sport baseball sequences for "The Rookie” and hockey sequences in "Miracle,” and had also honed his football choreography on such films as "The Longest Yard,” "The Replacements,” "Any Given Sunday,” "Varsity Blues,” "We Are Marshall” and, for Ciardi and Gray, the critically acclaimed hit "Invincible” with Mark Wahlberg.

For Ellis, veracity is the key to any movie involving sports, whether drama or comedy. "The audience will never believe the characters emotionally if they don't believe what's happening on the field,” he summarizes. "With this movie, you have to believe that Joe Kingman is the most aggressive player in football, one of the toughest guys in the toughest environments, because when this 8-year-old girl melts him, then it means that much more.”

Adds director Andy Fickman: "This is a family film, but we also were determined that the football should look just like it would on TV on Sunday. I wanted there to be strong hits and the game to be at an A level, so that people would say, ‘Wow, that looked so real.'” Ellis began by helping to figure out Joe Kingman's quarterback style. "We really liked the idea of him being on the edge a lot, of getting him out of the pocket a little bit,” he explains.

"So we took that and created our playbook.” Ellis and Johnson also watched plenty of classic football action film clips together for further inspiration. "We took a little bit of Brett Favre, Joe Namath and Joe Montana and put them all in one package to create Joe Kingman,” says Ellis. "And Dwayne loved that because he's such a good actor, he could apply all the stuff we saw immediately.”

Ellis also put the rest of the actors through their paces during a football training camp prior to filming where they learned to play as a team and got themselves into football shape. Adding to the authenticity, the filmmakers wrangled permission to have their fledgling team train and play in Gillette Stadium, home of the three-time Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots, and even filled the press rooms with well-known sports personalities and journalists, including Los Angeles Times columnist T. J. Simers, USA Today writer Jon Saraceno and broadcasters such as Boomer Esiason, Marv Albert, Jim Gray, ESPN's Steve Levy and Stuart Scott, among others.

With the football world in expert hands, Dwayne Johnson, Madison Pettis and Roselyn Sanchez headed for a different kind of boot camp, one neither Johnson nor his fans likely ever imagined he would enter: ballet school! THE GAME PLAN's choreographer, Mary Ann Kellogg, worked with Andy Fickman, production designer David J. Bomba, costume designer Genevieve Tyrrell and composer Nathan Wang to create an original mini-ballet that was integrated into the film, while several dozen local Boston dancers were recruited to dance alongside the stars.

"We attacked the ballet the same way we attacked football,” says Mark Ciardi. "We had one of the best companies in the United States, the Boston Ballet, and the beautiful Majestic Theatre in Boston at our disposal. It was a massive undertaking, and in some ways, even bigger than the football!” Adds Fickman: "I hope dads and football fans get a treat out of the football just as much as dance fans will enjoy the ballet scenes. I even think that the impressive ballet scenes pushed football coordinator Mark Ell

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