One of the more talked-about documentaries from this year’s Sundance Film Festival was The Battered Bastards of Baseball. Directed by Chapman Way and Maclain Way, the film chronicles Bonanza actor Bing Russell’s formation of the independent baseball team the Portland Mavericks and the ensuing confrontation with organized baseball. Quite a few people—including our own Matt Goldberg—were fans of the documentary, and it’s incredible story led Justin Lin to purchase narrative remake rights with the intention to produce via his Perfect Storm banner. Early word has Todd Field (Little Children) in talks to write and direct, which is perfect since Field was one of the bat boys for the Mavericks and is featured in the documentary. Who better to write and direct the adaptation than someone that saw the events unfold first hand?
While at Sundance, I landed an exclusive interview with the Ways and Bing Russell’s son Kurt Russell, who is also featured in the film, and served as the team’s vice president and designated hitter. They talked about premiering at Sundance, making the film, how they put together the financing, the crazy true story of the Mavericks, how they acquired the footage, if Russell would consider playing his dad in a feature remake, and a lot more. Hit the jump for what they had to say.
If you’d like to listen to the audio of this interview click here. Otherwise the full transcript is below.
ALL: We’re doing very good. Busy, but good.
You should say your names.
CHAPMAN WAY: Absolutely. Chapman Way.
MACLAIN WAY: Maclain Way.
It’s a good thing you guys don’t sound alike (laughs).
C WAY: Let me tell you something. Our sales agents at the Brauns are two brothers, and they sound exactly alike on the phone, and we sound exactly alike, so we have these conference calls with them, and nobody ever knows who the fuck is speaking (laughs). It’s become like this bizarre form of Jeopardy where you’ve buzzed yourself in, and you start talking, so we’re used to it.
When did you find out you got into the festival?
M WAY: We submitted the film a little late, and we found out-
When you say a little late-
C WAY: We submitted in like late October.
M WAY: We had gotten in contact with the festival, so they were aware of the film, and were waiting on it. We got them a late rough cut, and got the call about 10 days later that we were in. I think athletes dream of sinking the last basket at the end of the game, and as filmmakers, you dream of getting your film into Sundance, because the audiences here are the most supportive in the world for independent film.
C WAY: So, we got the call that we were in, and we were absolutely ecstatic.
M WAY: Yeah, absolutely. I think, when we started this project, this was our first film that we’d ever made, so you never know where it’s gonna go. We certainly believed it was a good story. We felt confident in our abilities to make a good film, but it was a sports film. You never know how people are gonna react to sports documentaries, especially in independent film. Part of the reason why I’m so proud about this documentary is because, I grew up loving sports, but in high school, I got really into filmmaking. And, there never seems to be too much overlap in that community-between independent film and sports. This documentary seems to be a great way to bring those two communities together. We got the phone call that we got in. The way that I can describe it is that there was a lot of exuberant profanity (laughs). I was freaking out. And, I got the phone call from Dave Courier, and he also told us that we were going to be in the doc premiere section, which was also just fantastic news. Like Chap said, it was almost a dream come true.
C WAY: Yeah, so, we completely financed the film. My wife produced it and threw in some money. Mac threw in some college money, we had some wedding money (laughs). We sold our cars, so this was a completely self-financed project, and we kind of wanted to keep it that way. It was such a personal story that we felt like, we know this story, and we wanna tell it a certain way. I think when you have to take more money, it becomes more difficult. There’s more cooks in the kitchen. We felt like, our grandfather took a risk taking this team. Let’s take a risk making this film-
M WAY: Fortunately, we caught a good break early on. We got really in touch with a lot of granting, community granting and documentary institutions, and a lot of those are socially driven, but ours is character driven. Ours is a sports story. It’s entertaining. It’s a little rollicking, and so there weren’t too many grants out there for us. Most grants are looking for social issue films. But we found the one, and that was the ESPN and Tribeca film institute documentary prize grant that was given to a documentary that strives to change the way that people look at sports. When we read that, we thought, this could basically be our one chance to really go after this and try to submit a really good application. We were chosen as the inaugural winners of the grant, and that was very helpful, as far as that goes.
C WAY: It allowed it to be the film that it was. If it wasn’t, it still would’ve been a good film, but, a lot less money spent on score, and post-production, and color correction, and things that really help polish the films.
M WAY: And so, the support from the Tribeca Film Institute has just been phenomenal. They were one of the first believers in the project.
One more question for you guys, and then I’m gonna ask you a question. I’m curious about how long your assembly cut was. Was it longer than what you’re actually releasing.
C WAY: Absolutely. Our first cut ever was 2 hours, and I knew that that wasn’t a realistic-
M WAY: But it was good! (laughs)
C WAY: I loved it, and then I got it down to about 90 minutes, and even at the 90 minute stage, I knew that there were some stories that weren’t quite firing on all cylinders. When we got to the final cut stage, I had a little back and forth with Todd Field who’s the bat boy on the team, and he’s an Oscar nominated filmmaker. I showed him our last final rough cut. He was just a great supporter to work with, in terms of giving some advice, thoughts, and opinions. The great thing about him was, his only intention was to have the best film. Sometimes, when you get notes from people, you don’t know if they’re trying to make it more commercial, or more artistic. You just don’t really know, but the thing about Todd is, all of his notes were about trying to make the best possible project. That gives you confidence as a filmmaker that you’re moving in the right direction with the changes that you’re making, and it just gave us a big boost here at the end.
M WAY: And after that, we got it down to about 75 minutes. That’s about where it is right now. 75-76 minutes, which I think is great. I personally like documentaries. I’ve been a huge fan of documentary films for the last four or five years. It’s been a big passion in my life. But I do feel that there’s a lot of documentaries that suffer, because they have excessively long run times. And, I really like where are documentary ended up, because, it’s got a great pace to it, and it moves fast, and it accelerates. And I think that, when you’re making a documentary, on a story we have, which is an incredibly fun and inspiring story, there’s themes that people can resonate with. That concise, 75 minute cut is really great, and we’re getting great feedback on it, so that’s probably going to help.
I have to ask. When did you find out the film was gonna be in Sundance, and what did it mean to you?
KURT RUSSELL: All I knew about this was, I got the word a little while ago that the guys wanted to do a documentary on the Mavericks and Bing. I’d been asked many times about that as a movie, and I’d read scripts from a number of different sources, had heard some of the stories as the years went by, and thought, that’s a great story, you should really consider making a movie. And it becomes a family thing where, yeah, it was just a story about something my Dad did. It was just a long long time ago in my mind. I’m lazy by nature, and I wasn’t gonna do anything, so I was just really happy to hear that the guys were gonna view it as a documentary. I thought, that’s actually a really good idea. Good for them. Whatever. And then, about a year later, they tried to find the time to sit me down and talk to me. At that point I said, I gotta regurgitate this stuff. I gotta get this stuff going and remember it again. I was starting to remember names, and I thought to myself at the time, that’s not my job. Their job is to ask the questions. I’m not making this thing. I’m just gonna sit there, and when they ask me, I’m gonna give an honest account of what happened. And it was a long day, 6 hours or something. I’m thinking, well, I hope I didn’t leave anything out. I know that I told the truth. That was it.
And the next thing I got was, they were getting close to maybe getting it, and I got a phone call from my sister and she was like, “okay, you can’t tell anybody, but the documentary that they made is gonna go to Sundance Film Festival.” And I was like, “The Sundance Film Festival? That’s pretty big shit. What are you talking about?” She said, “yup, it got in.” I thought, whatever, it’s probably in the junk section. No, no. I thought, have they made a good thing here that really resonates with everybody? And, I began to hear about it and I said, “wait a minute.” I started talking to the guys about it a little and I thought, now they’ve got themselves in the right place. And I told the guys, this is gonna make a little more noise than you think. They know this world better than I do. But, it’s been fun, not just being a part of what they’re doing, but it’s fun to see people having such a good time with something that they created, they made. For me, I’m just appreciative as a viewer, and somebody who’s been in the business all my life. I know how hard that is to do.
M WAY: And I could speak on Kurt’s involvement too. He’s a great storyteller, and you’ll see that in the documentary film, and he gave a great interview, but, as far as filmmaking, it’s always a filmmaker’s dream to have someone come on and give you great stories, but then also just leave you alone and let you do the project you wanna do. That’s honestly every filmmaker’s dream to get that, but not get the overreach. And we knew it wasn’t his personality to overreach, but it was a great working relationship (laughs).
RUSSELL: It was also fun to discover what this was. This was their thing. I was just interested to see what they did. I was getting excited about, and when I sat down last night and I was finally gonna get a chance to see it, I thought to myself, how are they gonna start this thing? How is this thing gonna start? And I heard my Dad’s voice before anything even came on the screen, and it immediately flashed my brain: “that’s it, you’re on for the ride.” (laughs). You have no idea what’s gonna happen. I would’ve never dreamt of starting with that, and what he was talking about, I’d never heard him say. All of a sudden I was just in this thing like, “what the fuck?” (laughs). Where did they get that? That’s true, that’s right.
This actually leads to my next question. For the two of you, what was the hardest bit of footage that you needed to get? And I’m curious: when you were watching it, what was the footage that really just hit you?
C WAY: I’ll go first. Yeah, our Grandpa – we called him “Pa,” not “Bing” – he hired a cinematographer whose name is Don Gronquist, who was kind of a cult filmmaker up in Portland. He made some kind of kitschy horror films in the ‘80s, and was a well-known offbeat filmmaker up there. But, he hired Don to film some footage on the team, and he had a couple of really pristine reels of 16 mm footage that he shot, and this was great, because it was more intimate footage. The rest of our footage was kind of news, archival footage from television stations in Portland. We knew that Don Gronquist has these two reels of just really intimate, unique footage on the team. And, about 8 years ago, there was a Maverick reunion dinner, and he gave the footage to Todd Field who was a filmmaker, and he just said, “Here Todd, take the footage. Maybe you can do something better with it.”
C WAY: Yeah, maybe you can-
RUSSELL: I remember that guy.
C WAY: Yeah. Maybe you can do something with this footage at some point. This was eight years ago. Todd took it to his home in Maine, and he has a film vault, that he threw the film in. When we first called Todd and talked about the project, he said, “You won’t believe this! I have two reels of 16 mm footage that no one’s ever seen. I’ll put them in the mail tomorrow.” Tomorrow comes. “Okay, it wasn’t in the one spot I saw. I’m checking my place in Santa Monica now.” A year goes by, and I didn’t wanna bug him too much. He’s a busy man, and he’s working a lot. About a year later, I followed up with him again, and he’s like “Alright. I’m really gonna look for it. I don’t know where it is.” And we had heard that the footage was just so great, and finally, about two years later, I get an email from Todd that said, “I found the two reels of footage in my sock drawer (laughs). It’s coming to you tomorrow. Strangely enough, the sock drawer’s the safest place for that footage.” It’s safer than any film vault. And when we got the footage, it really helped take the documentary to a new level, because it was footage that wasn’t just news footage. You felt you really got to know some of the characters. It was just a huge asset to our film.
RUSSELL: I don’t know if it was this footage or not, but there was a moment last night when it was fun to watch my son, Wyatt, be a part of that as well because he got to see me as a young man. I was watching my dad having many, many year between when he was a young man, and my son was experiencing the same thing. But he was reading my body language as an athlete—it was after the championship game that we didn’t win—and he was reading it so correctly. But the footage there, I remember the moment and I remember the angle of the cameraman. I don’t know why but I remember my dad walking over to the other side to shake their hand and congratulate them because my dad’s thing was “It’s much easier to be a good loser than a good winner, you must be gracious.” So I was watching my dad be gracious in losing and I was like, “Okay, he’s gotta go shake the hand of the guy who stacked the deck so crazy that he couldn’t win,” but something else was bothering him. That footage was the greatest footage to see because when he came back, my brain was doing that, “I know what this is! Oh yeah, here it comes,” and when he turns and fires that beer on the wall, that was so deeply psychologically understandable to me because I just know my dad so well. I know all the things that were going on in his head, I actually specifically know because there were conversations he and I had, so I know what that was when it happened. But it was a display from him, it was an extremely rare public outburst and he was out in the open. To see that footage was really weird, because I don’t remember him doing that, but as it was happening I knew about a second and a half before it happened what was going to happen.
C WAY: No, we had wonderful lawyers on our team; we were able to “fair use” quite a bit of footage. We went to Portland about two years ago and just started knocking on these television station doors and told them what we were doing and just got incredibly lucky that a couple of the general managers at these stations were huge Portland Mavericks fans, so a lot of this footage was given to us for free, which is unheard of in documentaries. I think because it was a family story and because they remembered the Mavericks so fondly they were just a huge asset in wanting to be a part of it and helping us on our journey.
RUSSELL: You got some stuff that you said was on death row too (laughs).
C WAY: Yeah interestingly enough, a couple of the stations that we went to they were like, “Oh you guys are lucky you stopped by. At the first of the year this was all going to be tossed out or given to another station.” It was just so weird to think that had we decided to make this documentary three months later, a lot of the great footage that we found of our grandfather wouldn’t even exist anymore. So I think, just from a family level, it was cool that we were able to document that before it was lost forever. And now that we were able to cement it and it’s gonna last is one of the really rewarding parts of making a documentary.
The story is just loaded with craziness, and it’s all true. It’s not made up by Hollywood.
RUSSELL: It wasn’t The Bad News Bears, it was worse (laughs).
A lot of people will be reading this prior to being able to see the movie. Can you talk about some of the craziness of this team and what went on?
C WAY: Absolutely. I think some of the bigger names that people know about are Big League Chew, Jim Bouton who wrote the bestselling sports book of all time, Ball Four, made his comeback after he’d been blacklisted by the major leagues. We talked about Todd Field a little bit who was the bat boy, Kurt who’s an iconic actor. I remember when I emailed a sound mixer to record sound and I pitched him the story, he said, “This sounds like one of those fake Algerian email scams.” (laughs) “How is this all tied together? There’s no way this is a true story.” That’s what it is, you tell people and it’s like, “No way, it’s too many random people. How could they have all been in this one place in this one time in the 70s in Portland?” I think that’s what makes it a really fun documentary. You don’t know what’s gonna happen next and you do get to learn about these people. I mean who knew that all these people would converge in this little town in Portland?
M WAY: We certainly didn’t. Our first motivation was just to find out more. We came across a team photo that was very interesting, it was a team photo of the Portland Mavericks and it was a team photo that was totally different from baseball team photos we’re used to today where guys all have their arms folded and their straight-faced and clean-cut. And these Mavericks were crazy, drinking beers and there was a dog in the photo, it looked like these guys were having so much fun. Our first reaction was just to find out more; what was our grandfather doing here? What was this that he created? A few months into research his character started coming into play. We knew about Todd Field and we knew about Kurt, obviously, but a lot of these very accomplished individuals started coming into the fold and that’s when we realized this is an amazing story that we have to tell.
C WAY: It was really cool talking to Todd because I asked him, “Is it just chance that all these people happened here?” and he said, “No it really takes a really unique leader. The light that draws all moss.” It was really interesting hearing Todd credit our grandfather—this wasn’t chance, this happened because there was a man who was incredibly unique and brave and bold and created something that attracted a lot of interesting individuals.
RUSSELL: They did a great job of capturing our dad, but they also did a great job of giving you a feeling of what the Mavericks were like. They did a good job of balancing so it wasn’t—it was correct. There may have been things about those guys that were heavier, there may have been things about some of them that were lighter, sillier, but in general, every one of the people that was portrayed there at the time was captured. In a documentary you don’t portray people you capture them, and what they captured was the absolute essence of who they were. All I can say is what they had to probably cut must have been very difficult because there were a thousand—A THOUSAND—stories of things these guys did, just pranks, crazy shit that you probably just had to say, “This doesn’t really move the story.” But you could sit and watch them for probably an hour.
C WAY: Someone told me they used to throw a dog on the field to stop the game and I thought, “That sounds like total bullshit,” and then I came across a photo and there’s a dog on the field with an umpire chasing it and I was like, “Holy shit! I can’t believe that happened.” That just sounds like something old men come up with, but no it happened.
RUSSELL: There was some stuff where they’d come up against some heavy fines and Bing would say, “Cut that bullshit out with the dog. If it doesn’t happen by the end of the eighth inning you’re all fined $50” and then he walked away (laughs). He knew when to pull the string and he knew he had the guys to do it. The only reason he could handle it though is because, I’ll say in all honesty, it would get physical. My dad was a good boxer. He was afraid of very few people, and there wasn’t anybody on that team who could fuck with him. And they knew it quick, and he played on their level, saying, “Is that the way you wanna talk? Not a problem.” It was Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid stuff. He was always five steps ahead of everybody, so if he wasn’t ahead of you mentally, he would be ahead of you physically. Those guys learned real quick, so whenever he said something that was reprimanding someone, it was on a personal fatherly level. It was like, “That’s bad behavior. I don’t wanna see that from you and here’s why. Be a better man.” It was always “be a better man.” And he took guys that I couldn’t believe he’d waste the time on, lost causes, and he relished lost causes. He never gave up on anybody.
Hollywood has a way of, when something gains a little head, seizing the opportunity. The documentary has been very well-received, so I imagine there might be new interest in an adaptation.
RUSSELL: It’s really interesting; it’s kind of backwards. I’ve been told by many people, “You should make this a movie.” I’ve actually had my agent say, ‘You know, that’s a great story.’ And when it’s part of your life, you just have a tendency to say, “Oh who cares? It’s was something that happened, we did it. Really? Honestly? I don’t think so.”
RUSSELL: And so because of that, I would often think about that. I would get about that far and I’d go, “Nah, it’s not gonna happen. Forget it.” And then what happened was, When I got word they were gonna do a documentary on the Mavs, I kind of said, ‘Yeah, that’s what they should do with this story! Do a documentary.’ And by the way, on a professional basis, that’s the process that should be gone through here. That’s the vetting process. Do a documentary, if the documentary’s interesting and holds up [then consider a movie]. It’s sort of like, “You wanna play big league ball now?” It resonates with me that way, this is doing what it should do. It’s living the life it should live. At that stage of the game, then you kind of have to go, “Would I be one of the people that I would be considering to play Bing Russell?” I have yes’ and no’s. What I think is kind of cool is that everybody talks about that. Now if that happens, and if that happens with these guys, then you cross that bridge at that time.
It’s really interesting, because when I look across from you right now there’s someone that looks like a younger version of you that has acting experience, which could be implemented. I’m just saying there could be a family thing.
RUSSELL: (laughs) It’s really interesting, that. In the last three days, obviously for the reasons you asked, I’ve started thinking about it more, and maybe we’ll be forced to think about it further… There’ll be lots of people that I think in my mind [are possibilities] to play different people, but you can’t not think about it. And after seeing this, you can’t not say it’s compelling.
C WAY: I think the one thing that’s tough about a documentary is it’s five years condensed and there’s so many things you can’t show. I remember talking on the phone with Kurt a couple of weeks ago and I think you mentioned something about maybe a miniseries.
RUSSELL: Maybe it’s a long-form deal.
C WAY: Maybe a miniseries is probably the best way to do it because there are so many characters whose stories didn’t get told and to condense five years into a 90 page script is really hard. It’s really difficult to do and it was really difficult to do for a documentary, and I personally think a miniseries would be an unbelievable way to tell the Bing and the Mavericks story.