IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: David R. Brooks and Zev Brooks Talk 'The Yankles'

Friday, 18 May 2012 12:56 Written by  Dana Gardner
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: David R. Brooks and Zev Brooks Talk 'The Yankles'

David R. Brooks and Zev Brooks are the sibling filmmakers behind The Yankles, a film about an Orthodox Jewish baseball team with a very unorthodox coach. Though both brothers co-write the script, David helmed the direction of the film while Zev acted as Producer. The Yankles is a comedy about a hapless Orthodox Yeshiva baseball team that earns a ticket to compete in the college world series. The team hires Charlie Jones, played by Brian Wimmer (Footloose, Flipper) to coach. Charlie is a washed-up, ex-major league center fielder on parole for multiple DUI convictions and desperate to fulfill his community service. While The Yankles strive for success on the field, Charlie works to rebuild his reputation and relationships. The film, which has garnered numerous awards at domestic and international film festivals, is a hilarious and touching story about redemption. The Yankles opens in theatres today, Friday, May 18th.

I recently had the chance to speak with David and Zev Brooks about The Yankles. The filmmakers discussed their long, arduous seven-year journey to make a film with no prior track record and independent from any Hollywood or studio help. The brothers also discussed working with real-life husband and wife actors, tricks for shooting on such a tight budget, the stunts involved in shooting a sports movie, the themes in their film, and their influences.

Here’s what the talented filmmakers had to say:

IAR: To make a movie when you’ve never made a movie before, to make that first film seems like such a harrowing process. I’m sure there are a lot of people out there who have an idea to make a movie but have no clue how to put that idea into motion. So I was wondering if you could tell me about how you two went from having an idea for a script to actually starting production on the film?

Zev: One half of it is developing the script and moving along that creative path and getting the film into production. The other half is getting the money to make the movie. We went from the concept and started developing the script. I’m an attorney by background. I leaned on to the project. David’s the filmmaker and went to film school. I thought it was a good idea for a project. We created a limited partnership to make this film. After the script was developed I thought we were in the right spot; it was just a lot banging on doors trying to get funding for it. The biggest challenge to making the movie was to get the funds. We had no reputation. We never made a film before, we didn’t have distribution and we’re knocking on your door saying give us money to make our movie.

David: I’ve always wanted to make movies. I’ve been making videos and movies since I was a little kid when my dad bought a video camera when I was fourteen. After film school I knew I wanted to make a movie. I traveled a little bit but I really set my sights on The Yankles because I thought the idea was completely unique, and something I’ve never seen in movies before. I think the best way to launch a career is to find something unique and will appeal to a broad audience and I thought The Yankles was the perfect fit for that and as it turns out it was. The premise and the concepts of The Yankles has really taken us across all of the barriers that stood in front of us in terms of making a film.

Zev: What we did initially was we sat down and started working on the script. We had zero money and only ourselves and our brainpower, and it’s been that way throughout the whole thing. David did a lot of the design work on our website. We were wearing all kinds of hats on this project; it’s very grassroots. From there we were coming up with this script. We were writing, writing, and writing till we had a draft and then another draft and another. It took us a long time! At one point we had an agent who was trying to shop the script around and he got nowhere. So we dusted it off around 2005 and we finally said to ourselves that the technology is such where if we raised enough money we can probably make this film ourselves. We just have to go out there and try to do it. So we got some seed money from our executive producer and then we just started to bang on doors to get money. It took me two years to get enough money, well not really enough, but enough money to go out to Utah and film the movie. Then we came back and it took us another two years, because of the recession, to get the finishing funds. Once we had the money in place and we hooked up with the producer of the film, Cary Glieberman, everything started falling into place. We did this independent of any Hollywood or studio help in anyway. As first timers with no track record we had to rely on friends and family.

What was it like working on such a tight budget? What are some of the obstacles you encountered and what tricks did you guys have to do in order to keep the cost down?

We wrote the script so we didn’t have any screenwriter fee. David directed it for free. I produced it for free. On the technical side when we worked in Utah we didn’t have to pay a union crew under the SAG low-budget agreement. We shot the film in twenty-nine days. Twenty- nine days for a baseball film is a really tight shooting schedule. It was six days total for all of the baseball action in the entire film! We shot almost exclusively during the daytime. We wrote the script with the budget in mind, so we could use the daytime light accordingly and we didn’t have scenes with tons of extras.

David: The trick was to use guerilla warfare tactics with the tight budget we had. On some days you had sixty or seventy set-ups. So we would have the same group of extras pick up and move to another spot. Also, we only shot with one camera.

Zev: David used film school friends that were established to edit the film, and people that he’s worked with before that wouldn’t be very expensive to compose the score for the film. So everywhere we could we relied on people that were skilled but that we could afford. There’s one particular guy who played three different characters in one scene as an extra. He’s an umpire, a baseball coach, and a vendor. We kept sending him to wardrobe to change.

David: There is a lot of waste on Hollywood films. I’ve worked on Hollywood movie sets and there’s a lot of waste that goes into it. If you really knuckle down, on a lot of them, you could shave a lot off the budget.

David, was the hardest thing as a director on this film to shoot those baseball scenes and get them right in such a limited amount of time?

David: For me as a director it was one of the hardest things. It was the first time I’ve done a sports movie. Everything you do in a sports movie is like a stunt. The guy is going to throw a ball and it has to go to a certain spot, and then someone else has to catch it, or hit it, or slide. They are all stunts. We had stunt doubles playing for the crew of The Yankles. Some of the actors could play well but most couldn’t. We’d have ten to fifteen takes of a ball going into a mitt. It was a pain; it was a real pain.

Zev: I remember one day we were shooting and David and I came back to the hotel afterward and we looked at the script and we realized we were supposed to be shooting these guys running all these drills tomorrow and we just realized it would be impossible so on the fly we changed it that night. On the next day instead of having everyone shooting these drills we had them at the backstop goofing around. So that’s the scene when Charlie first meets the team and gets frustrated because they are all goofing around. That scene was created out of necessity.

Brian Wimmer and Susanne Sutchy, who play Charlie and Deborah in the film, have some really amazing on-screen chemistry together. There’s a part in the movie where Charlie is kissing Deborah in a home video and the love he has for her really comes across in the way he’s kissing her. I was astonished at the chemistry and then after I watched it I found out they’re married in real life. What is it like to direct a real-life husband and wife? Was it difficult for them to mimic their personal life on film?

David: This is the first movie they’ve ever played in together. There was nothing I had to do. The first time they were playing against each other they were somewhat nervous about it but they also love each other in real life so you could feel both that nervous tension and at the same time their love. It was perfect; I really couldn’t have asked for a better team to play the lead roles.

Zev: One of my favorite scenes in the movie is the scene where the two of them are dancing in Deborah’s apartment. I really enjoyed the way it’s shot and the look on their faces.

The movie is very funny and a lot of the comedy in this film is driven from the cultural clash between Charlie and the rest of the team. Also, there are themes in this movie that are prevalent in not just Judaism but in all religions. Was it your idea from the start for this to be a comedy about cultural differences as well as a drama with universal themes of redemption?

Zev: When we wrote the script we wanted the script to be universally enjoyed by everybody. When people make choices in life, especially in family situations, they can create conflict. That’s not unique to Jews; it’s unique to everybody, all cultures. We created the relationship between Elliot and his father and Deborah and Charlie with dignity. That was very important to us and to the tone of the film. It’s a movie about Orthodox Jews playing baseball, you know it’s got to be funny, it can’t be Schindler’s List, but we didn’t want to make a slapstick or a farcical comedy. We wanted to make a movie with real people, real conflict, and real heart. So in the writing it was a real challenge to walk that fine line. When we first started to show the film at these festivals that’s what I was most nervous about. Will the audience at these festivals that are expecting one thing be disappointed if the film ends up having more substance than they were expecting? I’m glad that you point that out though, these are universal themes. It was very well received by people of all walks of life, not just Jews and not just sports fans.

Did The Bad News Bears influence this movie at all and what are some of your favorite baseball movies?

David: Any baseball movie that I’ve seen in my life has some form of influence on this. So yes, Bad News Bears and also The Natural for me had this all-American baseball feel, which influenced me. The movie The Chosen was a big influence on us because of the opening scene of that movie where the Orthodox Jews were playing actual competitive baseball; and of course Field of Dreams.

Zev: In the process of making this movie I became more involved in what baseball films are doing. When we first came up with the concept there was this image of The Chosen and we felt it would work. Neither of us are super baseball fans but we enjoy the game. A lot of people are much more dedicated and knowledgeable than we are when it comes to baseball. So in approaching the development of the story we felt we had a handle on the Jewish stuff but we did rely on some script consoles and others to help us develop the baseball aspect of things. I think I watch baseball movies now a little differently than I used to than before; that’s for sure.

The Yankles opens today, Friday May 18th!

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