FROM SUNDANCE TO NETFLIX: THE UNLIKELY, AMAZING “BATTERED BASTARDS OF BASEBALL”

In the fall of 2012, I got a call from Chapman Way.  He was looking for a post house for a film that had not been shot yet.  This amount of lead time was very unusual, as was his aspiration: they were going to take the film to Sundance in January 2014.  Saying that a film you haven’t made is going to get into Sundance is pretty bold.  But late in 2013, we got a call that the film was about to be locked, was going to Sundance, and would finish at Fancy!

Not only that, but “The Battered Bastards of Baseball” was one of the breakout hits at Sundance this January.  Profiling an independent baseball team from Portland, Oregon in the 1970’s, the film featured rare footage of the quirky team and interviews with Kurt Russell and others who were on it. 

Sundance StepAndRepeat

Maclain, Chapman and Brocker with their uncle at Sundace

Netflix bought the film after a bidding war.  Justin Lin’s Perfect Storm Entertainment bought the rights to remake the film.

The filmmakers, Chapman, Maclain and Brocker Way, are brothers.  Their grandfather, Bing Russell, owned the team.  Their Uncle, Kurt, was the Vice President and Designated Hitter.  

The fascinating story unfolded to them as they delved into the history of their family and the Mavs.  On a recent Friday afternoon, Maclain Way and I sat down over a beer at The Black Cat, near Fancy’s office.

Bill Macomber:

When did you first hear of the Portland Mavericks?

MacLain Way:

We knew about the Mavericks from the time that we were little, but it didn’t catch our attention.  We knew our grandfather Bing [Russell] had a crazy life.  There were pictures with him and Joe Dimagio in his Yankee uniform.  Boxes of Big League Chew would come to him for free sometimes, for no reason.  So the fact that he once owned an independent baseball team didn’t stick out – it was just another cool, weird thing about Bing.

So when did your attitude change?  It must have been a pretty big change for you to want to devote a couple of years to making the film…

Kurt Russell with his father, Bing. Kurt was DH and vice president, Bing owned the team.

A couple of years ago, Chapman and our mother were cleaning out Bing’s office, which was unchanged since he passed away in 2003.  He saw the Mavericks “official team photo” which would eventually become the film’s poster.  It’s the craziest picture!  Things really unfolded from that moment.  We were fascinated by the characters on the team – and we still are.

But also, the thing that stuck out was that this was the only independent baseball team in the country.  The ONLY team.  In the entire country.  At the time, Major League Baseball was consolidating the smaller teams into the farm system that we have today, and the Mavs bucked that trend.

So we were interested in the story for all of those reasons.  And since I have a background in historical research, I jumped at the chance to find out more through interviews and research.  There was a film and TV archive in Portland that turned out to be a huge resource for us, and I spent a lot of time there going through tapes of the games.

What did you learn from watching all that tape?bbbmavericks

I learned that the Mavs were rough.  Major League Baseball is so perfect that it gets stale.  The experience of going to a Mavericks game was the opposite.  There’s footage of the Mavs going into the crowd during games, sitting with fans, eating their food, drinking their beer.  They were cool!

But there was a darker side as well, right?

Yes, and there was one crazy story that didn’t make it into the film.  There’s a baseball tradition that when it starts to rain, everybody helps pull the tarp across the field.  Well, one game Reggie Thomas didn’t help and the manager was going to drop him from the roster for the next game.  When Reggie saw that, he pulled a gun and put it to the manager’s head.  The manager calmly wrote Reggie’s name onto the roster card and took it out to the umpire.  Reggie played that game.

We couldn’t put that in because we just didn’t have any supporting footage.  And to have it play out in interviews wasn’t very interesting – I mean, it’s such a crazy story, you kinda have to see it to believe it!mavs4

Were there other things that didn’t make it in because you didn’t have the archival footage to support it?

The big thing were all the stories from being on the road.  When they travelled, the Mavs played up the bad guy persona to get more attendance.  But since we only had footage of home games, we had to leave that whole part out.

So you really focused on what parts of the story you could show?

Well, yeah.  Our first cut was an A-Roll cut [interviews only, no archival, music, etc] that was 2 hours long.  Nothing but talking heads.  It was brutal.  We weren’t sure we could make the film interesting at that point.  So we knew that we would have to make the film around the historical footage we could find.  Which it turns out was not too hard, since so much existed in obscure collections in Portland.

Were you disappointed in the interviews?

No, not at all.  We knew that we weren’t going to get a lot of time with people like Kurt, so we knew what we wanted to ask and which story we wanted which person to tell.  Each interview was 90 minutes long, and we covered a lot in that time.

You must have known that getting an interview with your Uncle would raise the profile of the film.bbob

Sure, and Kurt was very cool about it when we approached him.  He said, I’ll give you four hours of my time and then I’m going to leave you alone.  So he did the interview and then didn’t see a cut of the film until he was at the premiere at Sundance!  It’s something that I really appreciated.  Our family was supportive but didn’t try to tell us what to do.

Also, I think as first time filmmakers my brothers and I felt like we had freedom to make the film we wanted to make.  We knew we would make mistakes, and so we just tried to do the best we could while at the same time taking risks.

What was the biggest mistake you made?

[Laughs] By far the biggest mistake we made was misspelling my grandmother’s name.

In my defense, I have two grandmas, named Lu and Lou.  And Lu’s lower third was spelled “Lou” in the film.  We caught it very late, like right before we went to Sundance.  I told our Mom about it and she said, “You gotta fix it.  It will break her heart.”  And that was one of those times when the team at Fancy came through!  Even though it was a simple fix, we had already gone to tape so it took pretty much everybody to correct it.  And we did, and Lu’s heart was not broken.

We loved working with you guys.  I’m glad you went away so happy with Fancy’s work.

Yeah, we loved coloring with Adam [Hawkey] and mixing with Paul [Hollman].  The techs we worked with – Tiffany, Tony and Kyle – put in such long hours, we couldn’t have made the deadlines without them.

And then on to Sundance, where you sold the documentary to Netflix and the remake rights to Justin Lin’s team.  Amazing!

Yeah, it was unbelievable.  We knew we had come a long way from that first rough cut, but the reception of the film was beyond what we imagined.  And it also meant that we had a lot of work to do.  We recut parts of the film based on the screenings at Sundance, and we also started working with Todd Field on the narrative remake.  The cool thing is that Todd, whose work I’ve admired since “In The Bedroom” was the Mav’s Bat Boy.  So he’s really excited to tell those stories in a narrative form.

What’s next for you guys?

We loved making the film and we’re looking at other stories that we could tell using the same filmmaking techniques.  My background in historical research, Chapman’s in filmmaking and Brocker’s in music are a great match.

Well we can’t wait to work together again.  Thanks for catching a beer with me!

My Pleasure!

See the film at: netflix.com/BBB

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