Writer-director Ron Shelton stopped by Cultured Vultures to discuss his new film, Just Getting Started, and what a sports film needs to to take it to the level of greatness.
Thank you for joining Cultured Vultures today. How are things treating you?
Good. It’s nice to talk to you.
Congratulations on your new film, Just Getting Started. It’s far from your usual offerings of sports films so how did you get the idea for the film?
Well, I do non-sports films and if one could say this was a sports movie, it’s the worst golf of all time which isn’t the point. I’m just interested in movies about people and human behavior. I always thought growing up in Southern California that Christmas meant you go to the beach even as you’re singing Johnny Mathis songs. My friends from cold weather climates were just always appalled by that. I thought, well, to half the world, this is Christmas, and I thought that was a fun backdrop to tell a story against. I don’t know quite how this story emerged but I came up with it while sitting in bad traffic. I wrote three drafts of it and Morgan jumped aboard.
Just Getting Started stars Morgan Freeman, Tommy Lee Jones, and Rene Russo. How did this cast come together and what was it like to reunite with Jones and Russo?
The cast came together. We got a financing partner who made an offer to Morgan, who wasn’t in my head when I wrote it. Once his name came up, I thought I’d love to work with him. When he said he liked the script a lot and wanted to do it, Tommy immediately came to mind as a perfect kind of other. I also think Tommy has a really dry sense of humor that he doesn’t get credit for because he never gets to do it. I thought he was very funny in Hope Springs with Meryl Streep. I just thought when you put two people on screen together, you want them to be occupying completely different emotional territory. That’s where chemistry comes from. Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes, that kind of thing. I thought Tommy and Morgan are about as different as you can get. He liked the script to. That’s how that happened and then I called Rene. We had the financing in place first and that’s what allowed us to get them.
Morgan and Tommy are playing such different people in the film and I love how they are able to play off of each other. You were discussing Tommy Lee Jones’ dry comedy. Is that just how his personality comes off?
Tommy is a very, very bright and talented man. I have a good relationship with him. He can talk everything from American painting colorists in the 20th century to how you use wild pigs to hunt. Or Shakespeare. He’s one of the most interesting guys anywhere to me and anybody that smart can’t be without a sense of humor. It’s just not a jokey sense of humor. It’s kind of a gallows sense of humor about the march of a vale of tears, working hard, shutting up and not complaining. He’s kind of an American archetype cowboy. He’s an actual cowboy. He’s a surprising man. He was an athletic star in college and, as you know, Al Gore’s roommate at Harvard. He’s not quite like anybody I’ve ever known so anytime you’ve got that many nuisances and shades to your character, I want to get him on screen and see what’s there. I just think he brings something to the party and to put him opposite Morgan, who’s kind of out there, exposed, open, and showing off—his character at least—to me, it’s the perfect chemistry.
When you set out to write and direct your directorial debut, Bull Durham, did you have any idea that it would become one of the best sports films of all time?
No, you just tried to stay on schedule and not get fired (laughs). We didn’t know what we had, we just tried to—what do we shoot today, what do we shoot tomorrow so we’re getting it right. The studio didn’t like the movie. Nobody liked the movie when I was making it. They only liked the movie once it came out.
I still believe there should be a Constitutional Amendment outlawing the DH.
(Laughs) Thank you—and the AstroTurf and the designated hitter. The AstroTurf has generally gone away so we’re just down to the designated hitter.
On the subject of sports films, what does a sports film need to take to that level of greatness? You’ve done quite a few of them.
Well, it needs foreign financing to get made at all. That’s the problem getting them made these days. I think, to answer your question, they need to be more than just a fan’s point of view. I think because I was a professional athlete in one sport, a college athlete in another and dabbled in others, I don’t ever write from a fan’s point of view. I write from a pro’s point of view. I think you have to take the camera places that the TV camera can’t go. That’s the secret. TV has 20 cameras on sports. We see every angle over and over, slow-mo, high-speed, virtual reality, everything. What none of those cameras can do is go to the locker room, go home with the athlete, go with the girlfriend, and get into his head. That’s what you’ve got to do. You got to not try to compete with TV.
Now that Just Getting Started is wrapped and set to come out, what do you have in the works?
There was a script I wrote called The Escape Artist. We’re about to make offers to an actor. A true story about a guy who broke out of prison 14 times. It was a big announcement —a couple of them–Deadline, Variety— have the background on them. You can probably look it up. Hopefully in the spring is when I’m shooting.
Sounds like fun!
It’s great fun and true—shockingly true.
Thank you again for your time.
Thank you, Danielle.
Broad Green Pictures opens Just Getting Started in theaters on December 8, 2017.
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