Sony Affirm has figured out the faith film market by doing great drama like “Soul Surfer,” with the faith woven into the fabric of the story.
The producer of “Soul Surfer,” David Zelon, asked me two years ago to look at the script for Sony Affirm’s latest movie, “When the Game Stands Tall.” This is the true story of the remarkable, humble, faith-filled coach of the De LaSalle Spartans football team, Bob Ladouceur. Bob led the struggling team to 12 undefeated seasons, the longest winning streak in sports history.
In the midst of this great story, the Sony Affirm team found a terrific movie, starting with the crisis, when the winning streak was finally broken. At that point, Coach Bob had a heart attack, and the students themselves had to get the team back on the road to victory.
Sony flew a small group of faith leaders, reporters and critics to the set in New Orleans to speak with Coach Bob, the head of Sony Affirm, Rich Peluso; the head of the division at Sony, Rich Bersch; as well as stars Jim Caviezel; Laura Dern; and Alexander Ludwig. Alexander, you may recall, is the young heartthrob in “Hunger Games.”
Zelon said he came across the book “When the Game Stands Tall” while cleaning out the lockers in his son’s high school football team. The book captivated him, because he saw it was bigger than a football story. Coach Bob wasn’t concerned with winning, though he did. He was concerned with building faith and values into young men, some of whom came from very troubled circumstances.
They started trying to do the whole story, but after consulting with Movieguide and others, the Sony Affirm team found the movie in the book.
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Caviezel, who plays Coach Bob, said he came on board because he wants his children’s coaches to see the movie and learn how to coach. Most football coaches think they have to be tough as nails. Coach Bob was never tough as nails. He inspired the students. Jim wants the movie to inspire coaches and students all over the country.
Jim admitted he was very nervous playing Coach Bob, mostly because Coach Bob has such an incredible influence on his students.
At De LaSalle, said Coach Bob and his assistant, Terry Eidson, the coaches had to teach religious studies. Terry had his masters in theology, and Bob studied theology after he left the field he trained for, criminal justice. Criminal justice taught him he needs to reach boys when they start, not when they fall off the rails into criminal behavior. The movie shows the team praying before games in the student-led chapel, which was part of the fabric of the life of the team.
Coach Bob told us, “Faith is an integral part of me. I can’t turn it on and off.”
Coach Bob said he came into coaching because he wanted to make a difference in the lives of young men. Since it is a Catholic school, which the evangelical Sony team said was very evangelical, faith was a vital part of everything they did.
Alexander Ludwig came from Canada and had never played football before in his life. Zelon said one of the hallmarks of the team is that they always strived to go beyond. In exercise, this meant they dragged tires – not little tires, but huge tractor tires. When he got to the set, David tried dragging a tractor tire. He said it was almost impossible. Alexander, however, set the pace by doing just that. He added that it was the most grueling shoot he’s ever done.
The day we were there, they had just shot the prayer scene. Alexander said prayer was a big part of the movie, especially prayers to Jesus.
What comes out of this family and faith visit is that “When the Game Stands Tall” is not a little Christian movie. It’s a significant Hollywood movie that exudes faith and values. Every person we interviewed was on fire about the movie. The producers were committed to showing the faith of the movie’s real-life characters.
Movieguide looks forward to seeing the finished movie and commends Sony Affirm for its commitment to faith and excellence.