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THE WINNING SEASON

About The Production
The inspiration for THE WINNING SEASON came directly from writer-director Jim Strouse's experiences growing up in rural Indiana.

"When I was a kid, basketball was still pretty special to Indiana. It was not just a game but a source of state-wide pride and identity. And that was especially the case in my home. Both my dad and brother were obsessed with the sport,” says Strouse. "And they took it very, very seriously. I, on the other hand, was a fat kid interested in cake and doodling. I think that's why I ended up writing this movie -- because it finally gave me a chance to filter years and years of watching basketball through my own sideways perspective.”

In creating his lead character Bill Greaves, Strouse looked to the entrapped environs that small-town local heroes may find themselves in. "I liked the idea of exploring the story of a man who was afraid his "big moment” had passed, and even more importantly, how a man like that overcomes such a situation.

"I saw a lot of people with that sort of problem growing up in Indiana,” says Strouse. "people like my brother, who had a hard time letting go of the idea of himself as some sort of sports hero. And in his case, the older he got, the more heartbreaking the disconnect between that ambition and his actual life became.”

"But I didn't want to make a tragedy,” Strouse adds. "After making a straight and simple drama with GRACE IS GONE, I really wanted to try something more comedic. So I constantly tried to look for ways to put a man with that sort of defeated temperament in a context that allowed for funny things to happen. That's why making him coach of a neglected girls' team was so appealing. There were just endless possibilities for funny misunderstandings. You have teenage girls who are full of emotion and anxiety pitted up against an angry and disappointed man with contempt for everyone, who feels like he's at the end of hope. It's a funny relationship. And it also allowed for me to explore the father-daughter dynamic I've been interested in ever since becoming a dad. If there is any link between GRACE IS GONE and THE WINNING SEASON, it's in the redemptive power of being a parent. That's something I've experienced first-hand,” says Strouse. "Becoming a father has made me a more caring and thoughtful person. My children inspire the best in me and I try to do the same for them. But there's also a lot tedium and sacrifice involved in being a parent and I try to address that honestly.”

Strouse also liked the idea of making a sports film in the "character-first” tradition of his favorites like, BREAKING AWAY, HOOSIERS and THE BAD NEWS BEARS. "Sports films are great because the natural arc of a sports season automatically gives you the dramatic framework to build a compelling story around. But the best ones only work because they have full-blooded characters that make you care about them as much as the games they play,” says Strouse. "I really wanted to make a film like that with indelible characters.”

"I tried hard to write the character of Bill Greaves as a three dimensional person with a lot of flaws and contradictions, and I was extremely lucky to have an actor like Sam Rockwell bring even more to it than was on the page. As soon as I met Sam and heard his ideas for the character and the story, I knew we had the potential to capture something really great,” says Strouse. "Sam is just one of the best actors working now. He is amazingly versatile, effortlessly funny and just naturally compelling. He brought a life to the character that turned out to be so real and heartbreaking, but made you laugh too. There are very few actors that can navigate those turns from comedy to drama as gracefully as Sam Rockwell. ”

"Once Sam came on board we were able to attract a lot of great talent,” says Strouse. The cast includes Emma Roberts, Rob Corddry, Margo Martindale, Shareeka Epps, Emily Rios and Rooney Mara. "We had an amazing group of actors,” says Strouse. Among them was ‘Daily Show' veteran Corddry, who plays a high school principal and old friend of Rockwell's character, Bill Greaves. "I had a feeling Sam and Rob would make a good match,” said Jim. "They are both funny actors but in very different ways. Rob's comedy is very sharp and sarcastic which contrasts nicely with the oblivious crank Sam plays. You instantly get a sense that these guys like each other,” said Strouse. "But you also get the sense they kind of irritate each other, too. There's a mixture of rivalry and respect between them that we all agreed should be at the heart of all their scenes together. And Rob could play every line for a laugh if you asked him to. He can literally make any line you write funny. I love his performance. It's funny and real. He might act like a fool sometimes but you know he's a good person who loves his daughter and wants to help his old friend.”

Emma Roberts plays the team captain of the Plainview Chargers and surrogate daughter to Sam Rockwell's Greaves. "Emma was the same age as the girl she was playing at the time we filmed the movie and I think she filled the role so naturally. She's smart and sarcastic and incisive in all the ways savvy teenage girls are. But she's a really good actress with this incredible screen presence. So she could draw from her own experience as a teenager and embody this character in a way that makes the performance rather seamless.”

Strouse was also really excited to work with Margo Martindale. "I wrote the role of Donna specifically for Margo,” says Strouse. "I've wanted to do a movie with her ever since I watched the amazing short film she did with Alexander Payne in PARIS JE T'AIME. It's the only role I wrote for a particular actor. It was her or no one for me, and I love her in this movie. She's can do dead-pan comedy but she can also break your heart with a single expression. She's really one of my favorite actors out there.”

"The whole cast blended so nicely. Sometimes you get a lot of drama and ego clashes on a film set and I didn't know what was going to happen with a bunch of teenage girls working together for five weeks but we all liked each other and had such a great time making this movie, and I think that really shows on the screen,” says Strouse.

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