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September 18, 2013 at 1:46 PM

Documentary film on Sounders FC titled ‘American Football’ to premiere Oct. 23

UPDATE 12:01 p.m. — The Oct. 23 premiere sold out quickly. See the note above.

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A documentary by LEVYfilms titled “American Football” is set to premiere Oct. 23 at Cinerama downtown. The film follows the Sounders from the end of the 2011 playoffs through the 2012 season

Tickets for the 7 p.m. showing are $20 and are on sale via or at the Cinerama box office (2100 4th Avenue, Seattle, WA, 98121).

Here is how LEVYfilms describes the work:

It is the ultimate fly-on-the-wall documentary, with footage of every aspect of team life. We meet a team that, despite unprecedented success as a professional soccer franchise, has yet to win a single playoff series. The film begins in the locker room immediately following a bitter defeat, and we join them on a quest for redemption.

The film is two years in the making, and Sounders FC figures like Sigi Schmid, Adrian Hanauer and Chris Henderson will be at the premiere. There is a lot of soccer in the documentary, but director Scott Levy said the film is more about the people — players, coaches, executives and others who have come together from all over the world — than the sport.

The film is not yet rated, but does include some profanity (including in the trailer).

I’ll update this post with more from an interview Wednesday with Levy.

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How did this whole idea come together in your mind?

“I started shooting stills, and I shot stills of the very first Sounders game, from Day 1. And I did not grow up a soccer fan. I was interested in it really kind of from an artistic perspective, honestly, and I’m always looking to capture things. I’m like a translator, and to try and bring visually what is compelling, otherwise I’m not doing my job. I think a lot of people don’t do that. They think, ‘I just need to get this goal, get a shot of it, crop it and send it into the editor. Done. Can I go home now?’ And I just don’t work that way.

“So when I started shooting stills, I started looking for angles and things I thought would be different. Everybody shoots soccer from the corner, all over the world. That’s what people do because frankly it’s easy. People move laterally to you, they’re not coming at you, and it’s a sure-fire way to get the action. But it’s done. I have no desire to do that. It’s fine and all as an option, but you know what I’m saying.

“To answer your question, I started looking for new ways to shoot it. I started shooting behind the goal in different locations and just started to kind of fall in love with the game — the nuances of the game, the flow of the game — and then I started to realize this is a really good group of people that come together from all over the world. That coupled with this really cultural phenomenon with soccer, which is potentially the biggest story on earth that people don’t realize.

“Sports is the biggest cultural force on earth and soccer is the biggest sport on earth. So if the leading culture of the world, which is still the United States, really truly embraces soccer for the long haul, it is cultural significant. It’s hard to overstate how big that is, economically, culturally. This is what the world does for a respite from reality. So for America to embrace that, I really started to feel like I was on the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria. And it’s never going to happen again. I can’t think of how it world ever happen to that scale, because you’d have to have another country like the United States that was different from the rest of the world in a way that is so gigantic.

“It would be like if the world started using chopsticks. I don’t know. There isn’t an analogous situation, so although it’s written about and talked about inside the soccer world and people know this, it’s still an immense backdrop that’s as big as the planet. Then, as a part of it, there’s this locker room where you have Mauro Rosales and Michael Gspurning and whatnot sitting and just kicking a ball. And they’re really good guys. That was where I started to think, ‘This is really interesting. Let me see what I can do.’ So I started to take the SLR (camera) out and see what I could do. I did a little test, a piece that people saw initially, and I started to realize that there is room to do something different, and do it in a more cinematic way.

“I watched the greatest soccer film that’s ever been made, in my opinion, the Zidane film with 16 to 17 cameras on one guy. And I hadn’t seen the use of Mogwai for the music and the minimalism of that film, which didn’t reach a big audience at all. Most people have not seen it. Even big soccer fans haven’t seen it. You can find it on Blu-ray but it’s really an obscure piece of art. It was beloved at Cannes and made people cry who were European soccer fans, and this is well before soccer in America started to take off. It’s a brilliant film, both because of the way it’s shot, the commitment of it and the minimalism of it, but it also has a big overreaching theme in it that is married with this great, intimate portrayal of one guy on a soccer pitch. I was inspired by that film. And I wanted to do my own take with some similar principles, of big and small, of intimate stories under a big backdrop. So I wanted it to be more personal and that’s the end of a long answer to your short question.

What was your arrangement with the Sounders? How did you approach and how did things work in terms of access and final cut?

“I put together a trailer from the initial footage I shot, and I … met with (VP of business operations) Bart Wiley, because he had seen the Zidane film and he shared my sensibility on it. So Bart Wiley was really the first champion within the Sounders of doing it, and he’s known Adrian and worked with him since the USL days. I’ve known both of them since then, way back before the Sounders were in MLS. I had approached them about trying to capture what was cool about soccer. They had no money whatsoever and it was on a much smaller scale.

“Then I took it to Adrian (Hanauer). He’s a really great guy with a lot of taste for art. He was receptive, and then I showed it to Sigi (Schmid) in the coach’s locker-room prior to the game. And Sigi liked it. Sigi is also a brilliant guy. He recognized that it was capturing something in a different way, and so that opened the door.

“This was at the end of 2011. I then went to Salt Lake with the team for their playoff game and didn’t know if I could even be in that locker room. It’s a tiny locker-room. I had asked the equipment guys to leave one locker open, preferably a corner, and I brought with me one tiny camera and a Gorillapod, not knowing what would happen. Nobody could guarantee that Sigi wouldn’t kick me out depending on what happened in the game.

“Well, they didn’t have a shot on goal and lost, 3-0. I ran into the locker room desperately looking for a place to be, and there was no place to hide. I set the camera up in that corner locker than Nolan Meyer, the head equipment guy, left open for me. I put it in there and pushed it into the locker before anybody came in. I only had a minute or two, and the film starts with that. You actually see me turn on the camera and high-tail it out of there. Moments later Kasey Keller walks in and the players start filtering in. And Sigi comes in, and I happened to aim the camera perfectly.

“Sigi delivers a diatribe that was just perfection. There’s not a wasted syllable. He doesn’t say um. He doesn’t pause. There’s not a single word that is not necessary in the speech that he gives. And the corner he turns in the speech to basically lift the team up I think is genius. The whole unbroken speech starts the film. It was an amazing speech. It really was. That in and of itself shows Sigi’s brilliance, how smart he really is. That was one that convinced me I had to continue this.

“This is a great story. Here’s the most successful team in American soccer history, they can’t win a … playoffs series. They have doubled the attendance of everyone else, then they go and (crap) the bed. They have this brilliant coach and his rivalry with Bruce Arena — at the heart of it is a really good group of guys. David Estrada is really just a good human being. Mauro Rosales is just a really fine person. I thought this is a story about all that is really good and noble and important in sports, at a time when Lance Armstrong and baseball and whatnot are really disappointing. This is the story of all that is really good, truly good and important in sports. I’m a family of six boys, and we all played sports in college and are big believers of the meaning of sport and physical activity. It gets perverted. This was a story of really the goodness of sports.

“And (the Sounders) almost did it. They came back and almost did it, but they didn’t. So the film goes into the next season. The arrangement I had was really that I owned the content. They’re not supporting it at all financially, but the other side of that is I have freedom and all the access that I want. I had complete unfettered access to everything. They were very good about that. I was in all the meetings, and there’s a really amazing team meeting toward the end of the film toward the playoffs in the players’ lounge.

“The only thing they had was right of review to make sure there was nothing that reflected negatively on the team or the league. Frankly I never saw anything that was bad. I saw real human beings. I mean Eddie Johnson is Eddie Johnson, but he’s got a good heart and he plays his heart out. There was nothing to really fear there, and ultimately they’ve really altered virtually nothing about what I captured. And I frankly was surprised about that, even right up until the end.

“I took me a while to get approved because you have busy guys like Joe Roth, and that delayed it much more than I wanted to. But I had to understand that because I’m not the most important thing in Joe Roth’s world — and it’s not his film. He told me that himself: ‘You’re going to have to make those calls.’ It’s not the film he would’ve made at all. I think a lot of people wanted me to focus on the phenomenon of Seattle and basically do what that Real Sports piece did — lit interviews somewhere in between Bryant Gumbel and 60 Minutes — and an excavation of things everybody knows, and there’s nothing personal about it.

“It’s a great story and I think people love that stuff, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do. It wasn’t what Joe Roth would’ve done or asked me to do at all. He frankly was a mensch enough to let me do what I wanted to do, which was, ‘What would the fan want? What would I want as a fan?’ Just be closer and really be on the inside, to be on the bus, to be in a locker room sitting next to Eddie Johnson, next to Osvaldo Alonso in those moments. That’s really what the film delivers in a very naked way.

“I did not use a single light in the entire film. Very rarely did I use a boom mic or anything that would intrude. A lot of times I’m sitting on the floor or holding a camera under my arm shooting backward, so that I’m not even looking. A lot of effort went into doing it in a way that you’re really the ultimate fly on the wall.

What were some of the biggest challenges? Are were there any things you would have done differently?

“There were definitely challenges in every aspect. I mean shooting soccer is not easy to do well and in a way that’s different, first of all. I could bore you to death with the technical aspects of shooting soccer and shooting stuff that’s coming at you. It’s not easy. The crosses. The fact that the ball moves a lot faster than a person. That’s why people shoot from the corner.

“Budget, of course, and not being able to have 12 different high-speed cameras out there, and figuring out how to orchestrate the cameras in the right positions. There is a lot of cutting and syncing between 4-5 cameras to show you the game, to show you what Fredy Montero’s feet are doing. To translate the game technically was very challenging, but I think we did some great work there. I would definitely do it more and better if I were to do it over again. But that’s nitpicking.

“I think it’s always hard to get access to players’ homes and you can always do more there and get more intimate with people. But I think it pushes the envelope, so I don’t how much more people would want. A lot of people just want the soccer, so I tried to strike a balance there.

“The hardest thing was just really doing justice to the game, and then scheduling everybody. The biggest challenge was getting everybody, because it’s a team, so you don’t want to leave people out. Most documentaries, like the documentary that won, ‘Undefeated,’ on the football team that won the Academy Award. It really focused on one or two players and the coach, and I could’ve done that — just focus on Sigi — but I wanted to tell a story of a whole constellation of guys. That was the biggest challenge of all.

“I realized I was going to have one interview with each person, and that interview would be a half hour. In the space of a half hour, you have to know who Fredy Montero is, or Michael Gspurning, or whoever. So we just took the conversation to another level, to where you wouldn’t even go with your best friend. We did that in a half hour.

“I think the reality is that in sports, people get asked all these silly questions that they don’t want to answer, that they’ve answered a million times: ‘What does it say about the character of the team? What does it say that you guys were able to come back in that second half? What are you thinking going forward? What do you guys need to do to win this game? What does it mean to have so-and-so back on the pitch?’ These are things that are just exhausting in their boredom. We didn’t do any of that. And it was shocking for players, but I think ultimately people, including athletes, want to be known and loved as people. Not just as people who kick a ball.”

How do you feel about the final product? How much did it capture your initial vision and how much did it take a life of its own?

“Oh my god, I was incredibly lucky the way the season ended up, because if they had lost to Salt Lake again… I was very nervous. When Mario Martinez crushes that freakin’ thing, and I’m behind the net, I can’t even tell you. I came out of my skin. That’s a case where I wanted to turn around and scream at the top of my lungs at the Salt Lake fans behind me. Not because I was happy that they scored, which I was, it was mostly, ‘Oh my (expletive) god. He just annihilated that thing past Rimando.’ Diving, looking backward in the air, watching the ball going into the back of the net. There’s no way I could control that. So that took on a life of its own.

“It’s both. It definitely revealed character, and in that way my vision was realized beautifully. I think the way these guys were given — how good they are, emotion — and the beauty of the game were among many things that I really wanted to convey. The multiple cameras. The interviews of a half hour each. The order that we did them. Even trying to pick out who would probably be a big factor in a given game.

“We synced the interview dates with those weeks and trying to anticipate who Sigi was going to put in the lineup by looking at the practice that we had access to. Even Sigi didn’t know how we were looking at what they did during practice and how we imagined, ‘OK, they’re setting up in the cones here… I think Estrada is getting in this week. So let’s do Estrada.’ ‘Hmm, Parke is a little nicked up, let’s save him for next week.’ That worked out amazingly well, because the interviews are married with games.

“You take the journey through the season in a pretty linear fashion. The interviews, like Christian Tiffert say, his interview occurs during a given game, and we used the highlights of his performance from that game to tell the story of Christian Tiffert and the game at the same time. So we had to get good highlights. That worked out amazingly well overall because we could not control anything.

“And it comes full circle. They lose to Salt Lake, horribly. Almost exactly a year to the day later, they’re back in that red-carpeted locker room. That’s insane. That was amazing.

“And Sigi, I can’t say I’m like friends with the guy, but I really love him. I really love Sigi and a lot of the guys. They’re good people. Sigi is just a good, loving, sensitive person who happens to be a soccer genius. I’ll give you one thing that I could never accurately convey to people. When he maps something out on a whiteboard in their pregame analysis or in a locker room at halftime, it’s freaking beyond stupefying how he can see the future. He will say what’s going to happen, and it happens so often. It’s just ridiculous.

“When he cites in the locker room at halftime in Salt Lake, ‘Look the wind is going in the other direction. Your passes are going to hold up in the wind. Keep that in mind.’ He’s not even playing. Then Montero holds up, lofts that ball into the air, and it sits up in the wind — and I even photographed the banners and stuff flying in the wind — it’s boggling. He just sees the future. It’s amazing. Amazing. And I will never be able to really convey that. There’s a little bit of it in the film, but that’s something where you have to truly be a player. Even some of them probably don’t realize.

“I really love the guys, and I’m so honored, because this time will never be again. Even this season with all the changes, it’s a totally different world. The level of fame, all of the TV programs, the movies and attention you see and you’re getting have already changed the landscape dramatically. Last year, the year that I filmed this movie, is the last year of soccer innocence in the history of the world. It will never ever be again anywhere on the planet, unless Iceland becomes a soccer power. That is it.

“We have Clint Dempsey now. Eddie Johnson is a completely different scale of person. Last year he was a guy scraping himself out of the bottom of his career. Montero, a guy who was still an innocent kid from Colombia, he’s having a child and he’s a star in Portugal. Seriously, this was the last year of soccer innocence in the history of the world, and to get that access to people and have them give it, and really be people that you would sit across in their kitchen, as I did in Gspurning’s house as his wife baked Austrian pastries, and I learned that they were pregnant with their second child, to sit there and have that experience, and trying to film while I’m having a conversation, that will never happen again. It will never happen again. I don’t care if Martin Scorsese or Steven Spielberg combine to do a soccer film. It’s impossible. Impossible. I’m honored to have done that. If I did it well, I’m really happy, and I hope people like it. I hope when you see the film that it touches something in you and you examine your own life, because ultimately these times just pass us by and they’re gone and you can’t get them back. That’s really the message of the film.”


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