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A League of Their Own
The filmmakers set the bar high for themselves when they decided to partner with the NBA for this film. "When you put the NBA logo on that jersey, you better get the basketball right,” says Mark Ellis (WE ARE MARSHALL, INVINCIBLE, THE LONGEST YARD), basketball stunt coordinator for JUST WRIGHT. "Shooting a sports movie is tough. Even though everybody knows who's going to make the shot, or who's going to make the dunk, to pull that off and make it look real takes a lot of work. In this case, the filmmakers put a lot of thought and consideration into integrating the basketball seamlessly, so the game became its own character.” 

Director Hamri took what she calls an "emotional approach” to the basketball sequences. "We didn't want to make this into a show-off basketball thing,” she says. "Mark Ellis would run plays for me, and I would pick and choose the ones I thought integrated the appropriate emotion. When Scott has his comeback scene, he thinks his knee is going to give out on him and we can feel that vulnerability by capturing that precise moment. So everything was around storytelling. What story am I telling during the play?”

Ellis found himself thrown in with a bevy of basketball fanatics, starting with the star and producer. "Latifah challenged me,” says Ellis. "The first thing she said was ‘Mark, we want the basketball to look great!' She understood how important it was and she's got a great eye for the game. The toughest thing about her was taking the ball away from her when it was time to shoot. She was just like one of the kids on the playground. And she can play; she can really shoot the ball.” 

To assemble the film's players, an all out talent search was staged in New York City. Over a three-day period, hundreds of hopefuls auditioned. "We put them through a pro-level tryout,” says Ellis. "Almost every single one of the guys you see in the movie played professional basketball at some level, whether it was overseas, in the NBA Development League or in the NBA itself. These guys really know what they are doing.” 

A two-week training camp was held to whip the players into shape. Common has been around basketball his entire life. His father was a player in the now defunct ABA and the actor himself was a ball boy for the Chicago Bulls when he was growing up. "I started playing when I was a kid,” he says. "I wasn't that good at first, but I had such a desire to play well and I loved what basketball brought me. I really worked at my game, and played in elementary school and high school. It was always a dream of mine to play in the NBA, so I got to live out my dream in this film.”  He says he had to relearn the game from scratch to play at this level. "It is important for people to see Scott McKnight, not Common. We worked every week, as many days as we could. I went through the same training Mark takes NBA players through. To me, professional athletes are like superheroes. Anyone running and jumping up and down the court has got to be in a certain physical condition. But to be able to do that and be graceful and great at what you are doing, I call that superhuman.” 

"If the audience doesn't believe that he's an NBA star, when he is injured, it won't have the same emotional tie,” says Ellis. "It would make it difficult to believe the rest of his journey. We want them pulling for Scott as he struggles to come back, and Common totally got it. He brings so much to the table.” 

It was also important for Common to find the right relationship with his onscreen teammates. "These guys didn't know what to expect,” says Ellis. "They've got an actor walking into a gym. This is where they excel; it's their native environment. He had to earn the respect of the players and he worked harder than anybody else to do that. He came in there early, he stayed late. He thanked them every day for their hard work.” 

NBA player Bobby Si


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