Editor’s note: CultureMap has partnered with the Lone Star Film Festival to publish a series of filmmaker interviews conducted by LSFF organizers.
The Roughnecks, a documentary about one of the oldest and most intense peewee football teams in Texas, screens at the 2014 Lone Star Film Festival on Saturday, November 8, at the AMC Palace 9.
The Lone Star Film Festival spoke with co-director/co-producer Richard Cameron White about filming the Ridglea Roughnecks in Fort Worth.
Lone Star Film Festival: Who are the Ridglea Roughnecks?
Richard Cameron White: The Ridglea Roughnecks are a Fort Worth youth football association with players from age 4 to 11 on various teams. The organization has been around for several generations. The particular team our documentary follows is the senior division of 10- and 11-year-olds. The core players on the team have been playing together since they were 4 years old.
LSFF: What drew you to the subject of the Roughnecks, and why is it the story you chose to share with the world?
RCW: First and foremost, I grew up playing football. I was captain of my team, and I believe it helped make me the person I am today. The experiences I had playing football are some of the strongest from my childhood.
Nowadays, I’m just an avid fan, but as a filmmaker, it’s fascinating how the sport of football is such an overwhelming aspect of American culture. The NFL boasts easily the largest fan base of any professional sport in the U.S. The Super Bowl is the most watched event every single year. Sunday and Monday night football dominate the TV ratings. High schools are defined by their Friday-night performance within many communities. And football is heavily responsible for much of the growth at many major universities.
Football is a multibillion-dollar entity. And it appears to all begin at around 4 years old! I wanted to know why.
I was absorbed with understanding how these kids felt about the game. I’m young enough to remember how it made me feel as a youth, the ups and downs, and I wanted to convey that emotion. I wanted audiences to be able to either relive that passionate, youthful exuberance or completely immerse them in it for the first time. I wanted audiences to feel like a kid again, if only for an hour and a half.
Also, I’m a child of the ’90s. I grew up watching kids sports movies like The Mighty Ducks, Rudy and The Sandlot. It’s a genre that has been relatively forgotten recently, but I still love ’em, and I think kids do to.
I wanted to make a movie that a father and son could enjoy together that didn’t involve a comic book character, that wasn’t a cartoon or overly sexual, violent or adult. I think The Roughnecks is a fantastic family film.
Directing The Roughnecks was also an opportunity for me on many different levels. I had just turned 23 when producer Marty Bowen contacted me about the project. Marty is a former Ridglea Roughneck player himself, and I think it’s a movie he’s wanted to make for some time. As a young filmmaker, I saw it as a major opportunity and dove in headfirst without a second thought.
LSFF: How would you describe the role of football in the lives of the kids and coaches?
RCW: For the kids, I think football plays an important role, but in very unique and individualized ways. For some, the coaches are much-needed father figures, male role models there to support, encourage and discipline. For others, it’s a release of pent-up, young energy and emotion, and it’s about learning how to control those emotions.
There were some kids there that I think just needed somewhere positive to go after school, to be completely honest. For some of the kids, teammates mean much-needed friends and comrades in the physical world outside of TV, Internet and video games. For a few, plus the fact that it’s 2014, merely the daily exercise and committing to a routine is crucial.
For all of the kids, it’s a mixture of some of these things and more at any given time. Football is an avenue for all of them to learn teamwork, leadership, discipline and many more crucial life skills.
For the coaches, football is something very different and, to some extent, that comes through in the film. At the heart of it, they’re spending so many hours out of their week doing this to support their kids and their communities. For some, it’s a great father-son activity.
For a handful of months out of the year, there’s something new to focus on. It’s competitive, they know it’s positive for the community and they know they’re shaping the lives of young men. Coach Mayland and Malik both took that pretty seriously.
Malik brought his military background to the table and Mayland his relatable street sense. Neither swore or did anything inappropriate, ever. They’re both standup citizens. The focus was being a positive role model for impressionable young men.
LSFF: The film includes such an interesting and charismatic cast of characters — from the kids to the coaches and the parents. The kids especially have such a strong work ethic, and you can’t help but root for them. Were you familiar with your subjects before shooting, and did you expect this going into the project?
RCW: I was only somewhat familiar with the characters before making the film. I spoke to some of the coaches and heavily involved parents on the phone before visiting them in Fort Worth just once before production. I asked whom they thought should be the focus of the documentary, and they all gave me the same 34 names.
So when we showed up in July/August, the goal was to get to know those 34 families first. We did end up focusing on other players and coaches along the way. Some made the movie; others didn’t. For the most part, those initial 34 characters chosen by their peers were indeed the perfect choice.
I initially had very little interest in focusing on the coaches. My reasoning was that every sports documentary seems to focus on the coach, and I wanted to make a movie about the players — a movie about kids, with kids, for kids. I think a lot of that has to do with sound, by the way. It’s very easy to put a microphone on a coach standing on the sideline but very difficult to mic a player at practice or in a game, let alone several.
In our situation, the kids rarely spoke when suited up. They listened to Mayland and they practiced, trained and played games. Mayland became a central figure in the film because he was such an enigma.
He didn’t mind that we were there filming his team, but he also didn’t necessarily care for a while. He was focused on the task at hand: coaching football.
It took several months for him to talk to us on camera. So no, I could never have imagined how wonderful the players’ and coaches’ personalities, character and work ethic would be. But I do think it’s a positive and accurate representation of what youth football actually looks like across the country.
Over the three years it’s taken to complete this movie, I’ve been asked countless times if the documentary focuses on any number of different negative stereotypes and situations sensationalized by reality TV and news. It doesn’t, because those things didn’t happen. The film focuses on a real community with real people and real kids who are passionate about playing youth football in America and have a fascinating story to tell.
The 2014 Lone Star Film Festival takes place November 5-9 in Sundance Square in Fort Worth. For more information, visit the festival website.