Training camps regularly prepare football players for their roles on the field, so why not one to help them prepare for their post-gridiron roles — in this case, a career in Hollywood?
That’s the idea behind the inaugural NFL Hollywood Boot Camp that kicks off (so to speak) Monday on the back lots of Universal Studios. Born out of a meeting between Film Life Chief Executive Jeff Friday and Baltimore Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs, the new program is funded by the Player Engagement division of the NFL, an educational arm that also offers programs in broadcasting, business and music for current and former NFL players.
The four-day camp aims to teach players about writing, directing and producing material as well as such filmmaking crafts as editing and cinematography, said Troy Vincent, NFL vice president of player engagement. Competition to be accepted among the initial class of 20 was stiffer than for the other programs and the application process included writing a critical essay about movies that inspired them (among the films chosen were “The Godfather” and “The Black Swan.”)
Consisting primarily of lectures and panel discussions, the camp enlists Hollywood multi-hyphenate filmmakers including John Singleton, Michael Mann and Eriq La Salle.
What surprised Vincent the most in reviewing the applications was that many players were already in the business. Former linebacker Jon Alston, through his production company, Dream America Pictures, has written and directed a feature film called “Red Butterfly.” Alston describes the film, currently in post-production, as “a gritty underground New York crime thriller.”
Suggs, the 2011 Associated Press defensive player of the year, has also enjoyed some early success in filmmaking. The first movie he wrote, a short film titled “When Beautiful People Do Ugly Things,” was accepted at last year’s Cannes Film Festival.
“It is a pretty amazing feeling to get your inaugural effort in Cannes,” he says. “I said to myself, ‘Yeah, I think this is for me, movies are going to be my business after I’m through sacking quarterbacks.’”
What the players want to get out of this program is as diverse as their film tastes.
“I have a goal going in to be a writer, but we’re going to be exposed to the full gamut of filmmaking so I am open to other crafts that will be presented there,” former safety Nick Ferguson says.
The boot camp culminates with the would-be-filmmakers making a three- to five-minute movie. But the program does not end after the curtains fall on the fourth day; a core component of the program is mentoring.
“By the last session we will be pairing players with Hollywood professionals for a mentoring program,” Friday says. “They will ask the players now that they have gone through the program if there is a certain craft they want to explore further. From there we will pair them up with a professional from that field. We then ask mentors to commit to a one-year period where they stay in touch with the player and bring players in on their active projects.”
For players, it’s a chance to get them closer to their non-gridiron idols.
“Story, financing, production, distribution, casting, marketing — successful producers in Hollywood are like a combination of a great NFL coach, GM, owner and league executive rolled into one,” Suggs says. “So many variables come into play. That is why my hero is Harvey Weinstein. Words can’t describe his genius for picking films to be a part of. If I meet him I’ll be like a little kid meeting his favorite football player.”