From A Flint To A Fire
Screenwriter Scot Armstrong first pitched the idea for Semi-Pro when he was in Los Angeles working on Todd Phillips's Old School, which Armstrong co-wrote and which co-starred Will Ferrell. Initially, he couldn't find a home for the story. "Whenever I pitched the idea I would hear, 'It's too crazy to recreate the '70s,' or 'It'll be too expensive' or 'Can you do a modern version?' I wanted to do a real version of the ABA, which is what makes it special." Armstrong ultimately found supporters at New Line Cinema and the project was set in motion.
For Armstrong, Semi-Pro is the culmination of a lifelong affection for basketball. "As a kid I loved the ABA stuff. I even had a Dr. J ball. I liked the NBA, but the ABA invented the three point line and the slam dunk. They were the funkier, cooler league and I liked them better."
He took the independent, free-spirited sensibility of the ABA and the relaxed lifestyle that characterized the swinging '70s and found opportunities for comedy to flourish. "It seemed like a big idea and a big world," says Armstrong. "We recreated a league in the '70s with all the exact same logos, the same league, the same teams."
Although Armstrong made a concerted effort to infuse the script with authenticity, everything about the Flint Tropics of Michigan is fictional. Nevertheless, the Tropics are similar in spirit - and game attendance - to many of the teams that made up the ABA. "The Flint Tropics don't get very many fans," Armstrong says. "In fact, in the first game there are about ninety people in the stands. Will Ferrell's character, Jackie Moon, is the owner, coach, player and the best promoter in the league - or at least he's the most flamboyant. It doesn't always work but he'll go to extremes to get people into the seats."
Those extremes gave Armstrong many opportunities to create the enthusiastic, proud and sometimes goofy character of Jackie Moon. Will Ferrell's seemingly limitless comedic abilities inspired Armstrong to come up with inspired dialogue and situations. "There's nothing more fun as a screenwriter than writing in the voice of Will Ferrell," Armstrong says. "I'd be typing and I'd start cracking up because I'd get a picture of him doing what's written. He can do things that other people just can't do. You can write a really simple scene and he takes it to the next level. He makes you look good as a writer."
"I'd always kicked around the idea of doing a basketball film and I'm a big fan of the game, so when Scot told me he was working an idea for a movie about an ABA team, I thought it could be a lot of fun," says Ferrell. "I'm so glad he followed through on it."
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