The directors of “Undefeated” tackle high school football


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“You keep doing the right thing. And good things will happen to you.”

Those are the words of high school football coach Bill Courtney to his team, the Manassas Tigers. Based on the incredible power of “Undefeated,” the film about Courtney and the Tigers, one has to assume that its directors, Dan Lindsay, and T.J. Martin, have been doing the right thing for a loooooong time. The film premiered at last year’s South by Southwest Film Festival, where it was quickly scooped up for distribution by The Weinstein Company. Now it’s nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary before it even opens in theaters this Friday.

The documentary category at the Oscars is always fraught with controversy. This year’s nominations have been particularly contentious thanks to snubs of terrific films like “The Interrupters,” “Senna,” and “Project Nim.” Regardless, “Undefeated” is a worthy Oscar nominee. The film, which bears obvious similarities to the television show “Friday Night Lights,” packs as strong an emotional wallop as any of the series’ best episodes.

Manassass High is located in North Memphis, Tennessee, one of the most economically depressed parts of the country. Its students are not only playing for pride, some of them are quite literally fighting for their future, like star offensive lineman O.C. Brown, whose unique physical abilities could land him a college scholarship if he could only get his grades up. His teammate Montrail, a.k.a Money, has the opposite problem: he’s an exceptional student, but he’s too small to play college ball and probably too poor to afford a good school any other way. And then there’s Chavis, a player who missed all of last season after he was sentenced to a term in a youth detention facility because of anger management issues.

These guys might sound more like the Bad News Bears than the Chicago Bears, but Courtney’s positive influence on these young men and their community over the course of a single remarkable season is nothing short of inspiring. Not to get too schmaltzy about it, but the world portrayed in “Undefeated” — where good deeds are rewarded in kind — is the world we all want to live in. And to know that this is a documentary, which means this is the world we actually live in, makes your heart soar.

During our conversation, Lindsay, Martin and I talked about how the project developed, why they chose to focus on O.C., Money, and Chavis instead of the traditional subject of football stories (i.e. the quarterback), and whether they ever received one of their own motivational Bill Courtney pep talks.

I’ve read that your original plan was to make a film specifically about O.C. Brown. How far into the process did you decide to widen the film’s scope and what spurred the decision?

Dan Lindsay: It happened after our first trip to Memphis to look into the idea. On that trip we met Bill Courtney, and his dynamic personality convinced us right away that he would be a part of the film. And then when he told us the stories of the previous five years and the amazing anecdotes of things that had happened in the past, we realized that really was the story: the team trying to break [Manassas’ 100-plus year] playoff jinx. That seemed like the perfect setup for a beginning, middle, and an end.

T.J. Martin: It opened up in scale after meeting Bill, but the approach of the film never changed even as it grew. From day one, we knew we wanted to make something more vérité. We were much more interested in things unfolding in front of the camera and less anecdotally.

We fought making a traditional sports film for a long time. The season gave us a nice spine, but we still thought a lot of the film would take place off of the field. Then we realized that it was undeniable how much drama was taking place on the field, and on the practice field, and so forth. About three games in, we realized if we were going to make a sports film we better make the best damn sports film there is.

It’s a damn good sports film, but it may be the only football movie I’ve ever seen where not only are the quarterback and the running back not the main characters, they don’t even have speaking roles. Was that a deliberate choice or was that simply how the finished film evolved in the editing room?

DL: That was our own stupidity, not a deliberate choice. [laughs] No, but it is funny; about halfway through the season we were like, “Oh man, we should probably be talking to the guys who are scoring all the touchdowns.”


DL: But it was always about the characters. We set out to make a documentary that would make you forget you were watching a documentary. We needed characters who had potential for a dramatic arc. They wanted something, and either they were going to get it or they weren’t. That was our focus. We did realize that people were probably going to be interested in who this great quarterback is. But it was never our intention to make a rah-rah football film, so those guys never seemed as important to us.

TJM: For lack of a better term, the way we “cast” our characters, besides trying to find whoever had the most potential for dramatic change within a short amount of time, was to pick people who were going to interact with each other and with the team. We did follow a couple of other storylines that were extremely compelling, but they didn’t make the final edit because we didn’t want to make a series of vignettes. We wanted it to be a really tight narrative where every scene propels the story forward.

Your subjects are so incredibly comfortable on camera. I’m sure a lot of that had to do with the way you guys built a relationship between you and then team. But watching how remarkably relaxed — and how incredibly open and honest — these young men are on camera, made me think about the world of YouTube videos and camera phones. Teens today think it’s totally normal to have a camera pointed at them. Do you think you guys benefitted from that?

DL: I don’t think we ever really thought about that. For us, the approach was to build a relationship. But I will say one of the reasons we got excited about the film after that first trip to Memphis was we were getting that kind of honesty right away. I can’t say what to attribute that to. Honestly, I think part of it is some of these guys were just happy to be able to express themselves and tell their stories. I know Money especially doesn’t really have a lot of people in his life who are asking him those kind of questions about his hopes and fears and stuff. I think our interest alone helped us.

Our age really benefited us, too. We’re both in our early 30s, so we weren’t unbelievably far removed from high school. We were able to relate to the kids in that way but we weren’t too far removed from the coaches either. It put us in this spot where we could relate to both the coaches and the students.

When a character like Money is going through hard times, how hard is it to just stand there with a camera and not go over and give the poor guy a hug?

TJM: It’s extremely difficult. In vérité documentaries, you’re really watching the relationship between the filmmaker and the subject. We didn’t want to be “objective” or not grow close to the subjects; we wanted an intimate film, so we did develop a pretty close relationship with our subjects. To watch them struggle with certain things in their lives, to watch them go through obstacles, and to know that in your own opinion they might be making the wrong decision, was extremely difficult. At the same time, that’s not our judgment call, and we always needed to remind ourselves of that.

With that said, Money went through some really tough times while we were there, including a lot of stuff that’s not even in the film. There were definitely times where we’d take him out to lunch, without the cameras, and give him an opportunity to vent and kind of figure out where his head was at. And that’s an opportunity to remind him that we care about his well-being.

DL: To answer your question directly, there are also times where you do give the guy a hug. We understand the line between filmmaker and subject, and we respect that, but at the same time it’s impossible not to get close with these guys, and sometimes it just happens. After [a crucial game], I was following Bill and he broke down, and I was like “None of this is necessary.” I put down the camera and we talked and I gave the guy a hug. You can’t help that. Or if you can help it, I think you end up with a very — I don’t mean this to be judgmental or anything — but a very sterile film. As an audience member, you can feel when a filmmaker is removed to that extent.

I spent part of my vacation in Memphis last summer, and I was unprepared for how hard the recession had hit the area. How familiar were you guys with Memphis and its problems before you started the film?

TJM: I personally didn’t know much about Memphis before going there. We did as much research as possible in advance, but we kind of had the same experience: when we got to North Memphis, we felt a stronger and more urgent need to tell this story. Dan and I have done a fair amount of traveling, and neither of us had seen poverty on that level in this country before. We never set out to make issues-based films; we always wanted to make more of a human interest piece. But the one thing that is pretty rare to find in communities like this is a film that celebrates the potential, the opportunities, and the good along with the bad. A lot of times in these communities, specifically communities like North Memphis, if there’s a media presence, they’re there to sensationalize a story about violence in the neighborhood or something like that. And we saw this more as an opportunity to celebrate the stories of the people who live in these communities.

As we see over and over in the film, Bill Courtney is a master of the halftime pep talk. Did you ever find yourselves on the receiving end of one of his pep talks?

TJM: [laughs] Definitely. In postproduction, we found ourselves on the receiving end of those pep talks ever day. And little does he know that’s what got us through nine months of post-production: listening to these amazing speeches by Bill. That actually gave us hope to go into the editing room each day when we were only 25 hours into a 500 hour logging session.

DL: We both still talk to Bill all the time. He always wants to know about everything going on in my life and he totally does it to us. [laughs] “Dan, you gotta embrace this moment!” Every once in a while I find myself getting kind of worked up when he’s talking to me. It’s an ongoing pep talk from him to me.

“Undefeated” opens in limited release this Friday. If you see it, let us know what you think on Facebook and Twitter.


Masters of Disguise

10 Celebs Who Went in Disguise For a Laugh

Catch David Krumholtz in Gigi Does It starting October 1st at 10:30P on IFC.

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Are you ready for Gigi Rotblum? Armed with a hefty bank account left to her by her late hubby, the 76-year-old yenta is grabbing life by the balls and shocking everyone within earshot with her no-nonsense attitude.

But it turns out there’s a man behind the granny — Yes, the star of the new IFC series Gigi Does It is actually actor David Krumholtz, who you probably know from shows like Numb3rs and movies like Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle. Krumholtz causes all kinds of trouble when he encounters people while undercover as his prosthetically enhanced alter ego.

In honor of the premiere of Gigi Does It, join us for a look at a long line of celebrities who’ve gone undercover for laughs.

1. David Krumholtz

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Krumholtz isn’t the first big-name celeb to become unrecognizable for a good, old-fashioned prank, but he’s definitely our new favorite. Accompanied by her trusty male nurse, Gigi isn’t afraid to give an art gallery curator her creative opinion on the works in his collection, or to tell a bunch of grannies how she slipped a nip in front of her grandkids. (Click here to watch a free episode of Gigi Does It.)

2. Drake

Despite his immense stardom, Drake is a polarizing figure. There are many people who have no patience for him or his music, and to weed these people out for himself, the hip hop star went undercover on the street in California. Thankfully, Jimmy Kimmel and his “I Witness News” team were on hand to watch the whole thing play out.

3. Channing Tatum

Everyone loves Channing Tatum. It’s not rocket science. But add in a special early screening of Magic Mike XXL, male strippers, and an added surprise, and it’s no wonder people couldn’t contain themselves. The added surprise was Tatum going undercover as an old man conducting a survey with the attendees. People laughed when he later gyrated on the lap of a woman in the front row, but the party really took off when he revealed his true identity.

4. Arnold Schwarzenegger

Ah-nuld can’t really go anywhere without getting noticed. So in order to promote the After School All-Stars charity, the Terminator star disguised himself as a trainer at a Gold’s Gym who just happened to sound exactly like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Thankfully his intense mustache didn’t scare folks off from ever setting foot inside a gym again.

5. David Beckham

Ellen DeGeneres likes to use her powers for good, making some of the celebrity guests on her talk show go in disguise to prank regular folks. For David Beckham, the comedienne had him pose as a Target employee and say and do ridiculous things to get customers to smell his cologne. Like Schwarzenegger, however, people caught on pretty quickly that it was really the soccer star under that fake mustache and glasses.

6. Ashton Kutcher

The That ’70s Show star made a career out of pranking people with Punk’d, so he decided to use his skills in this arena to sell some tablets. The actor became Coordrey, a product engineer for Lenovo, in order to get customers to purchase their new product. Normally we would denounce those who would shamelessly use their powers for commercial purposes, but this is pretty amusing.

7. Kim Kardashian

Raise your hand if you would like to tell Kim Kardashian what you really think of her — to her face, no less. Some people inadvertently got to do that when the princess of the Kardashian clan went undercover on an episode of Celebrity Undercover. The premise was that candidates were being interviewed for a job as Kim’s assistant, while the reality star herself got to hear what everyone was saying about her.

8. Bryan Cranston

Cranston pulled the perfect prank at Comic Con 2013 by walking around the show floor as his Breaking Bad alter ego Walter White. The mask was so spot-on, no one realized it was the actual Heisenberg underneath.

9. Johnny Knoxville

The Jackass maven had a huge comedy hit by disguising himself under prosthetic make-up to play a cranky senior. Perhaps he should drop by Gigi’s place for a cocktail or two.

10. Sacha Baron Cohen

Whether as Borat, Ali G or Bruno, Sacha Baron Cohen has made a career out of pranking people with his outrageous characters.

Comedy Crib   Sound Advice – Season Trailer – IFC

Saturday Net Live

10 Hilarious Web Series with SNL Stars

Catch your favorite SNL stars on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Even in its 40th year, joining the cast of Saturday Night Live is still the best way to know you’ve made it in comedy. But while we get to see these stars shine every Saturday night, most had a long road to 30 Rock. Every cast member had to do something to get noticed, and some still find other opportunities to showcase their distinctive comedic chops while they’re still on the show. Web series have quickly become a way to stand out for SNL cast members past, present and future. Before you catch the SNL season premiere, check out a few of the funniest Web series to feature writers and stars from SNL, many of which you can watch right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

10. Sound Advice with Vanessa Bayer

Bayer perfects her chirpy idiot character here as a PR flack for famous musicians, who’s more concerned with her ex-husband than giving good advice. (Watch every episode of Sound Advice on Comedy Crib.)

9. Notary Publix with Kate McKinnon and Aidy Bryant

Along with Portlandia‘s Candace and Toni, McKinnon and Bryant may be responsible for bringing back the shoulder pads in this hard-hitting look at the exciting life of notary publics. (Watch Notary Publix now on Comedy Crib.)

8. If I Was In It with Will Stephen

Will Stephen is a new addition to the SNL writing staff this season, but he showed off his acting chops with this Comedy Crib series about two “self taught film students” who explain what they would do in famous movies like Jaws and The Matrix. (Watch If I Was In It now on Comedy Crib.)

7. Pursuit of Sexiness with Sasheer Zamata

This series about two friends navigating life, love and sex in the city helped get Zamata noticed by SNL. The rest is history.

6. The Bu with The Lonely Island

The Lonely Island ushered in the era of the SNL Digital Short, and helped make YouTube what it is today, but before they hit the big time, they were just three guys making goofy videos in their living room. The Bu, which ran as part of the popular Channel 101 showcase in Los Angeles, was their first viral success.

5. 7 Minutes in Heaven with Mike O’Brien

Mike O’Brien shuffled through many iterations during his SNL tenure. Cast member. Writer. Digital Short mastermind. He also had a Web hit with this absurdist interview series where he chats with guests like Tina Fey, Paul Rudd and even the Insane Clown Posse while inside a closet.

4. Fresh Perspectives with Beck Bennett

Before his SNL run, the majority of people probably recognized Bennett from his popular AT&T commercials, in which he talked down to groups of children. Supposedly, Fresh Perspectives, a Web series with a strikingly similar premise, helped him land that gig.

3. Carpet Bros with Tim Meadows

SNL writer Matt Piedmont enlisted Meadows to star in this Funny or Die series about a group of carpet selling brothers who never seem to get around to actually making a sale.

2. Funny People Reading Books with Simon Rich

Author and former SNL scribe Simon Rich reads from his book Ant Farm: And Other Desperate Situations in this Comedy Crib series where funny folks like Megan Amram, Dave Hill and more share their literary masterworks. (Watch Funny People Reading Books now on Comedy Crib.)

1. FCU: Fact Checkers Unit with Bill Murray

Bill Murray is more folklore than man these days, and this episode of the Funny or Die series about an elite team of fact checkers does little to dispel that notion. It’s not entirely clear if Murray even knew he was on camera, but the result is a video that allows us all to feel like we got to hang with the elusive buster of ghosts.

Donna That 70s Show

Donna Rules

Love Donna From That ’70s Show? Take the Quiz!

Catch That '70s Show Mons & Tues 6-11P on IFC.

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Photo credit: 20th Century Fox TV

Donna is the strongest (and probably the smartest) member of the That ’70s Show gang. But how well do you know the sassy redhead? Take the ultimate Donna fan quiz and find out!



Get Carrie's New Book

Pre-Order Carrie Brownstein’s Memoir and Win a Chance to See Sleater-Kinney in NYC

Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl will be released on October 27th

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Attention fans of Portlandia and reading! Carrie Brownstein’s highly anticipated memoir, Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, is going to be released by Penguin on October 27th, but pre-ordering has its benefits. If you pre-order the “deeply personal and revealing narrative of Brownstein’s life in music” from iBooks, Barnes & Noble, or Amazon, you can win a chance to see Sleater-Kinney perform in NYC.

Simply click here to enter your pre-order information, fill in the requested information (name, email and pre order #) and you’ll be entered for a chance to win two round-trip tickets, hotel, and transportation to NYC to see Carrie in concert on Sunday, December 13th. (You must have a U.S. mailing address to be eligible to win.)

You can also catch Carrie on her nationwide book tour at one of the dates below where she will be joined by specials guests like Questlove, Amy Poehler and more. And check out the full awesome book cover as well below.


WORD Bookstore at Saint Vitus Bar

In conversation with Questlove


Barnes & Noble Union Square

In conversation with Gaby Hoffman


Philadelphia Free Library at The Merriam Theater

In conversation with Aidy Bryant


Pitchfork at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago

In conversation with Jessica Hopper


BookPeople at Central Presbyterian Church

In conversation with Liz Lambert


Vroman’s Bookstore at Pasadena Presbyterian

In conversation with Amy Poehler


Jewish Community Center of San Francisco

In conversation with Dave Eggers


Powell’s Books at The Newmark Theatre

In conversation with a Special Guest TBA


Elliott Bay Book Company at The Neptune Theater

In conversation with Maria Semple


Drawn & Quarterly at The Rialto Theatre

In conversation with Jessica Hopper


Toronto Public Library’s Appel Salon

In conversation with Johanna Schneller



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