Making Sports Look 'Reel'

25 March 2004 The Post & Courier by Bill Thompson
Many a flamboyant athlete is accused of "going Hollywood," a pointed jab at showboating that generally doesn't refer to making movies.
 
By contrast, former University of South Carolina football teammates Rob Miller and Mark Ellis have quietly but effectively parlayed their expertise in a wide range of sports into a profitable career in show business.
 
Miller, who lives in Charleston, and Ellis, who lives in Columbia, are co-founders of ReelSports Solutions, Inc., a 3-year-old company that bills itself as a one-stop sports entertainment company combining creative filmmaking skills with detailed sports knowledge.
 
"We do everything from helping to cast actors, if necessary, to working with established stars to train them to be more believable in the sport they are playing for the camera," says Miller, a one-time strength and conditioning coach at USC and Georgia Tech.
 
"We also choreograph sports sequences and handle second-unit direction, as well as work with experienced, elite athletes. Usually, we are brought in take over the whole piece, then be on set during the filming. We also help evaluate how it's being edited to make sure they are capturing the authenticity of the sport depicted."
 
The partners actually have 12 years of experience in features and television, first teaming up for the upstate production of "The Program" and most recently working on "Miracle" and "Radio."
 
"It began on 'The Program' when the assistant director needed football players. I'd just left USC to take a job at Georgia Tech. Mark got hooked on by helping them recruit players and serving as assistant football coordinator, and later worked for the same assistant director (Allen Graf) on movies such as 'Jerry Maguire.' He also was technical adviser for 'The Rookie.'
 
"Mark and I were old teammates and I'd helped him out from time to time. But, meanwhile, I was still coaching. I left Tech to work on the organizing committee for the Olympic Games in Atlanta in 1996. I then hooked up with NBC working on the broadcast side for the 2000 games in Sydney, Australia, doing sports analysis for NBCOlympics.com."
 
Miller and team began discussing the concept of focusing on more than just one sport, football, and on more than one project.
 
"We combined my sports network with his emerging Hollywood network and our expertise in operational systems. We learned the different things you can do to showcase sports action in movies and TV that you can't necessarily do for a live broadcast. We pushed the envelope a lot with the Olympics."
 
RSS' current feature-film project is "Coach Carter" for Tollin/Robbins Productions, the company responsible for "Radio." Miller says the film is now close to wrapping.
 
The picture chronicles the life story of controversial Richmond (Calif.) High School basketball coach Ken Carter, who made national news in 1999 when he benched his entire undefeated basketball team for poor academic performance. The coach forfeited two league games and made the gym off-limits until students raised their grades, a move that, predictably, drew waves of praise and criticism from parents and school officials.
 
"It's good to be together on this one. Primarily, he worked on 'Radio,' says Miller, who earned his master's degree in human performance from USC in 1991. "At the time, I was working on 'Miracle' doing a casting tour to find hockey players with an acting gene."
 
Of late, the company is branching out, pondering inroads into related areas.
 
"Our niche to begin with has been features, but we're starting to do a lot of TV projects, such as a CBS pilot with Dean Cain called 'Clubhouse.' We're in the filming process right now. The pilot is being directed by Gavin O'Connor, who also did 'Miracle.' It's being done by Mel Gibson's Icon Productions in association with Spelling Television.
 
"We definitely have multiple projects going on, but I like to think each one gets all of our focus and our best team. Since we tap into a vast Olympic network, from archery to football, we can help with skill development. Usually, studios contact us. It's very competitive, but we've done a good job of beginning to capture a niche. There are lots of knowledgeable people out there, but our people understand both sports and the production world. We're growing and trying to bring the best product we can to the screen, helping translate other people's visions."
 
RSS also is engaging in some independent collaboration of its own, working with a group of writers to develop projects.
 
"Another thing we're coming out with soon are sports camps," Miller says. "We're hoping to do something like that in South Carolina, going through the whole process of working on skills and instructing people on how Hollywood choreographs sports action. Our database is at Reelsports.net, where we become a resource for athletes wanting to get into the business.
 
"Like I said, we intend to be a one-stop shop."
 
This article was first published in The Post & Courier (25 March 2004).
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