A Q&A with the Saban film creators

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Next month movie history will be made as a documentary on the life and career of Alabama head coach Nick Saban will be released in theaters.  The movie, produced by the Memphis-based Flashlight Media Group, depicts the larger than life coach as one of the greatest leaders of our time through the eyes of his peers and those he has influenced along the way.

I had a chance to talk with the film’s producers Grant Guffin and Trey Reynolds on the Saban film recently.  I first learned of the film in May on a “catch up” phone call with Guffin; we worked together on my first job out of college and later went to the same church in Gardendale.  Reynolds and I were at Alabama at the same time and ran in the same circles (and wasn’t a bad intramural league quarterback as I recall).

Though their home towns are about ten miles apart, the two didn’t meet until film school at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia.  Already they have paired up for some pretty big projects, including the Defining Moments Alabama series and a documentary on Duke basketball.

I decided to give you the full Q & A, simply because there was too much not to say.

What can people expect from this movie?
Grant: “The whole idea behind the film is, here’s a man who’s done something that no other coach in the modern era of college football has done, which is win a national championship at two different schools. On top of that, he’s done it quickly, and he’s not done yet. So whether you’re a fan of Nick Saban and Alabama football or not, there’s no doubt Nick Saban is one of the great organizational leaders of our time.

“If you are an Alabama fan or a fan of Nick Saban, all the more reason you want to know about this guy, where he came from, how he became the person that he is, what influences shaped him along the way, and what he does on a day-to-day basis to make champions.

“So we wanted to go behind the curtain and show ‘this is who Nick Saban is, this is what it’s like to be inside the building on a day-to-day basis, this is what he does to make Alabama football dominant.'”

How did the Defining Moments opportunity come about, and how did it lead to this project?
Grant: “Defining Moments Alabama was an idea we had several years back.  As Alabama fans, Trey and I, like every other Alabama fan, knew the names of the players, great plays they made, unforgettable games they were involved in…but I always wanted to know more about these people.  They were very two-dimensional to me.

“I wanted to find out where Barry Krauss came from. We know him for five seconds of his life on the Goal Line Stand, but he was at Alabama for four years under Coach Bryant.  What obstacles did he have to overcome before he ever made it into the line-up, much less play a role in one of the greatest plays in college football history?  Same with Van Tiffin.  How does a guy from Red Bay, Alabama become one of the top kickers in the country? He’s a mild-mannered guy, but here he is making one of the biggest kicks in Alabama football history.  So we wanted to sit down with the guys who were our childhood heroes as kids and ask the questions every Alabama fan would want to ask. Go to their hometowns.  Meet their families. And then let them tell their stories.

“So we pitched the idea to the University…spent about nine months getting the first person to agree to an interview, and then two years later we released the set.  Which we think is an important piece of Alabama football history, and are really proud of that work, and hope Alabama fans appreciate it too.

“We first approached Jimmy Sexton’s office here in Memphis about the idea for Gamechanger.  There were people we knew there who were familiar with our work on Defining Moments and other projects. Coach Saban didn’t know us, but there were people with Jimmy’s office that knew us, that could vouch for us, that we were Alabama fans, honest guys, good storytellers…had they not been able to say those things to him the project would never have happened.  But because they were able to say that, we were able to have that first opportunity with Coach Saban.”

What was that first meeting like?
Grant: (Laughs)  “Brief.  When Coach Saban is at the office, he is very focused on the work he has to do—as he should be. So there wasn’t a lot of chit-chat or small talk.  He was to the point and asked what we would need from him to make this film, how much of a distraction it would be.  And had it been a big distraction I don’t think he would have allowed us to make the film. We explained that we wanted to be flies on the wall, to give people a glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes with him.”

Can you give us a “defining moment” for you personally while making this film?
Grant: “Interviewing Coach Saban.  It was away from the office at his lake house, and he consented to give me two hours of his time for the interview.  I wanted to ask the questions that Alabama fans would want the answers to.  Certainly there were nerves, a lot of preparation, but he was a great interview. And afterward we ate turkey sandwiches.”

What other interviews make it into the film?
Grant: “Bill Belichick, Bill Parcels, Jimbo Fisher, Gene Stallings, Ray Perkins, Paul Finebaum, Cecil Hurt, Jimmy Sexton, Mal Moore, Terry Saban, the Governor of West Virginia (Joe Manchin, III), Javier Arenas, Rashaad Johnson, John Parker Wilson, Dr. Witt, Jim McElwain, Kirby Smart, Joe Pendry, Bobby Williams, Joe Namath, Bobby Bowden, Ozzie Newsome, Phil Savage…to name a few.”

“The story is told through interviews and footage, no narration.”

What is the most surprising thing about Coach Saban from the standpoint of someone who’s been around him as much as you?
Grant: “I don’t know if this will translate in the film, but he has a strong sense of humor.  When he’s away from the office and not focused on work, he is able to relax and enjoy himself.  To hear Bill Belichick, the Governor of West Virginia, and those who know him well talk, Coach Saban has a mischievous streak.  And I thought, probably like many, that he was a guy who was all about football and intensity 24-hours a day, 7-days a week.  During football season I believe he might be focused like that (laughing), but when it isn’t, he’s able to unwind.  And that’s a great thing for Alabama fans, to have a guy who’s not out of balance.  You don’t want a coach who will burn out.  He’s a smart guy with a wonderful wife, a great staff of people around him, and knows he has to have other things in his life.”

What does his relationship with Terry look like?
Trey: “They look like they work together.  She loves being part of the football program.  She puts a human face on the program for recruits.  When we were at the lake she made us lunch.  He’s football.  She’s the motherly touch to the football players.  She loves interacting them them.  Makes it easy for the players to transition from high school to college.  She helps make that introduction, from leaving home to being a part of the program, seamless.”

“Second, they seem like they’re really good friends.  When we saw them together, they were just genuinely kind to one another and like being together.  He’s been a coach so long, they know how to make that life work well.  They just do life well together.”

Why go straight to theaters with the fim?
Trey: “Two reasons.  One, the Alabama program is at a high point right now, obviously, winning the National Championship and Heisman Trophy.  He’s the most well-known figure in the state and we’re witnessing an amazing success story play out before our eyes. What better way to show a larger than life event, character and institution than on the big screen? This film is unique and memorable because of what’s happening, who he is, and because he’s given us special, unprecedented access to him. It calls for a special release.”

Grant: “When he won the National Championship, we weren’t the only people asking for the opportunity to tell his story.  There were many approaching Coach Saban and his representatives with different ideas, and yet this is the only project coming out that will tell his story.  For Alabama fans wanting to know more about the coach, this is the vehicle he’s chosen to give them a glimpse at his life. And not many public figures have chosen this route—but Coach Saban is a trail blazer, and I bet you’ll see a lot more projects like this when we’re done, though I’d say there are few people who merit a project of this magnitude. He’s definitely one of them.”

How do two boys from small towns in Alabama find yourself sharing helicopters and meals with the likes of Coach K and Nick Saban?
Trey: “Well, the Lord works in mysterious ways!  You know, it could be attributed to working hard and a lot of people; the relationships we’ve formed from this guy to this guy who trusted us and opened doors for us. We try to honor them with every relationship and build trust along the way. I don’t know if we’ve been rewarded for that, but people keep opening doors for us and we keep walking through them.  Just in general, there have been a lot of instances where we have the expertise and the history of doing these kinds of projects, but it’s been about relationships with people and their trust in us.”

What’s on the horizon for Flashlight Media Group?
Grant: “There are other sports documentaries in the works, and we’re also pulling together some feature film projects that have some exciting potential. We’re also launching a corporate division to our business—hoping to do high end commercials for top shelf companies.”

Now the million dollar question…is Coach Saban at Alabama for the rest of his career?
Trey: “Well, as everyone says, I don’t have a crystal ball, but if you watch the film I think you’ll draw your own conclusions about who he is and where he wants to be.”

Nick Saban: Gamechanger will premiere at the Carmike Summit Theater in Birmingham August 24th and will release statewide in theaters August 27th.  It’s tentatively scheduled to run in thirty theatrical locations around the state of Alabama, as well as markets in Tennessee, Florida, Georgia and West Virginia.  For theater locations and other specifics about the film, visit their website: www.sabanmovie.com. You can also find them on Facebook (www.facebook.com/sabanmovie) and Twitter (www.twitter.com/sabanmovie)

Please note too that if a theater chain feels there’s a demand for a film, they may run the film in their theaters.  So if the movie isn’t playing in your area, contact your local theater chain and ask for it.

Also, watch www.capstonereport.com for the movie trailer in the near future.