Drafting The Team
When the time came to enlist a director, the producers and New Line Cinema found an inspired candidate in Kent Alterman, who makes his directorial debut with Semi-Pro.
A former East Coast Head of Development for Comedy Central and writer/producer/director for Michael Moore's acclaimed television show, "TV Nation," Alterman most recently was Executive Vice President of Production at New Line Cinema. During his time at New Line, Alterman formed a close working relationship with Will Ferrell and producer Jimmy Miller during the development and production of the hit 2003 film, Elf.
When Alterman made the transition to first-time feature director, he had the trust of Ferrell as a result of the creativity and commitment he had shown during their collaboration on Elf. "The project came a long way," says Ferrell. "Kent was amazing. We were really impressed by the fact that he had really smart, creative ideas."
Coincidentally, Alterman has his own personal connection to the ABA, growing up in San Antonio, Texas in the mid-seventies when the Dallas Chapparals of the ABA moved to San Antonio and became the ABA Spurs. In an attempt to jump start fan interest and make the franchise more community-based, the majority owners offered shares of the team to the town at large. Alterman's father, uncle and a friend went in together and bought one share of the team (spending about $700 each). Alterman and his family then had mid-court seats on the third row and he became a smart-aleck fixture at the Hemisphere Arena. Alterman, using his megaphone to harass, once provoked a visiting player to come into the stands and threaten him harm, something Alterman is not proud of today.
Additionally, he and his family were invited by the majority owners to join the team on a road trip, traveling to New York to see the Spurs play the New York Nets (who were led by their star player Julius "Dr. J" Erving)
Several of Alterman's experiences at these games find their way in to Semi-Pro. For instance, he bought a game program before every home game and harassed the P.A. announcer to rig the random drawing and call his program number for a chance at the halftime three-point shot. It took nearly a full season to wear down the announcer, but when called, Alterman hit the shot and won a gift certificate to a local men's store. This inspired the sequence where the character Dukes, played by Jackie Earle Haley, hits a 3-point shot.
The first time the Spurs made it to the playoffs, the cover photo of the program was not the expected shot of Spurs star George Gervin, but a crowd shot featuring Alterman, megaphone in hand. That cover photo became the image for the Flint, Michigan Mega Bowl at the end of Semi-Pro.
The filmmakers set out to bring together an impressive cast of gifted comedians and actors to complement Ferrell.
Woody Harrelson plays Monix, a former benchwarmer for the Boston Celtics who is acquired by the Flint Tropics in a trade for a washing machine. "I have a championship ring from my days on the Celtics, but I've been dropped down to the ABA and playing for the Kentucky Colonels," says Harrelson. "I get the golden opportunity to come to Flint, Michigan and play for the Tropics. That's my character's trajectory."
André Benjamin, a musician and actor who is half of the acclaimed, multi-platinum selling music duo Outkast and has appeared in films such as Four Brothers and Idlewild, plays Clarence Withers, the flamboyant "superstar" of the Tropics. "I guess he's the most athletic of them all," says Benjamin. "He has this natural ability from the neighborhood or from the playground style of playing. He likes to go for all the shots and doesn't like to pass the ball. He doesn't even run down the court to play defense."
Will Ferrell was impressed by Benjamin's contributions to the film. "For André to be thrust into a comedy like this and have
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