Interview with Marc Levin
You've worked on so many films - how did you come from ?America Undercover' and ?Schmatta: Rags to Riches to Rags' and end up with this story of high school basketball?
First of all, I happen to be a sports enthusiast and a jock myself. Way back in ancient times, I was the co-captain of my high school basketball team in Maplewood, NJ. So this was a trip back home. Also, I was doing a series for three years for the Sundance Channel, ?Brick City,' in Newark, so I was deeply embedded in Jersey. That's where I first came across the term "The Bermuda Triangle," that these three small Catholic schools all within 10 miles of each other were called "The Bermuda Triangle" because they sucked in all this talent and nobody ever got out with a victory.
How was your first meeting with the explosive St. Patrick's coach Kevin Boyle?
I felt like he was somebody from the park where I grew up - I mean, Jersey, tough, with an attitude, everybody's out to take advantage of him one way or another, but nobody's gonna get one over on him. But bright and passionate, and obviously he had somewhat of a chip on his shoulder that Bobby Hurley Sr. is the legendary head of the first family of basketball in New Jersey. And Kevin, who had had a winning record against Hurley in the past 10 years, felt he had never gotten his share of the recognition. So, very quickly there was a great character with a lot of story potential, but at the same time, not easy to handle. But I thought, "Hey, I'm a Jersey boy, too. Perfect. Let's go at it."
Was he concerned that you were getting inside his players heads, picking at their emotions before these critical games?
I think there was certainly concern about what you would call competitiveness, and us not getting in the way of them winning and being champions. That was a process, and as the season progressed I think it flipped to, "Hey, we haven't lost a game." And we became a good-luck talisman.
What was it like spending time with these young men, during some really emotional moments?
High school basketball is almost a genre, starting with ?Hoop Dreams.' I think one of the things we brought was an intimacy with the players and their families off the court. This team really was like a family. And you realize how high school sports are really the last frontier of amateurishness, where these kids are still kids. But even then, it's so changed since I played high school basketball - there are all these companies and agents. A kid like Michael [Gilchrist] is already a superstar. Some kids get lost in that, but he just exuded this sense of, "We're in this together." And that sharing and sense of brotherhood was real, and I have to say, it moved me - I was surprised by it. These guys really did share something unique.
You shot some really nail-biting games. What was that adrenaline rush like, seeing your story and their season coming together on the court?
The game in Florida was unbelievable. I had to come back after their second game, and I was at home on the phone with them during the game. When the last shot went in, I just went crazy. My neighbors called, like, "Is somebody hurt down there? Do we have to call the police?" And I had to say, "No, no, no ... This is just a basketball game I'm watching." But I just flipped out. That fourth quarter was as good as any game I've watched, in that it just went back and forth. And it wasn't mistakes; it was great plays being made by both teams. It was like a dream game.
In some ways your crew was giving an early bit of media training to a group of kids who hope to live their careers under the lights. How savvy did they seem?
It's an eye-opener to see where elite high school athletics is at today. We know in tennis, gymnastics and Olympic sports, kids who are 14, 15, 16 are already on the global stage. So, it's not what it was, but still, these kids play together for four years. You look at college, and if you're really good, it's "one and run." It's true about the media training, and it's funny you say that because it was very interesting for them to come into the editing room and start to learn. And in terms of social media, they're all on Twitter and have fan bases already. There are magazines that are devoted to high school sports and follow it. It's a new world.
There are all these stories with the nature of the sport, the personal struggles, the arc of the season - and it's all thrown against this backdrop of the decline of the Catholic schools in New Jersey. Can you explain how that's affecting these communities?
I'm a Jewish American, and I grew in Elizabeth on Orchard Street, where most of my friends went to Catholic schools. And those schools were mostly Italian-American, Irish-American, Polish-American. And now they're mainly African-American and Hispanic. Look, the Catholic Church is obviously going through all its problems with the sex abuse and all that stuff. But this is the best of what the church has offered, along with hospitals - its social services. These schools are all about working class people and people without means who really want to send their kids to a school that's safe, so they can get an education and go to college. I'm certainly a supporter of public education, but to lose that is a huge loss. And that was a kind of shadow was hanging over this story - and still is.