Tinseltown Touchdown

Former Gridiron Teammates Now Teammates In Hollywood

17 June 2005 The News & Record by Tom Steadman

Nearly 20 years ago, Rob Miller and Mark Ellis and were college football teammates envisioning likely careers as college coaches. These days, they're still together and coaching, all right. But their players are actors and athletic extras in some of Hollywood's top sports movies.

Movies such as "The Longest Yard," the current box office hit starring Adam Sandler and Chris Rock. Or "Miracle," the film about the 1980 U.S. Olympic ice hockey team. Or "Mr. 3000," "Radio," "The Rookie," et al.

"It's so fascinating and so rewarding, to have the action in your head and then create it on the screen," said Ellis, who starred at Page High in Greensboro, NC then went on to play wide receiver at Appalachian State before transferring to Guilford.

While there, his life intersected with that of Miller, a linebacker recently transfered to Guilford from UNC, who grew up in nearby Burlington but played high school football in Tennessee.

Ellis finished his bachelor's degree at the University of South Carolina, where his younger brother Todd, a record-setting quarterback at Page and at USC, was in law school. That's when the movie industry literally came calling. "My brother got a call," Mark Ellis said. "They were going to do a movie called 'The Program' at South Carolina, and they were looking for guys to help put together the football sequences." Todd was busy finishing law school, but Mark Ellis met with people from the movie and was hired to work in the film, which starred James Caan.

Hollywood liked his work, and one thing led to another. "The phone just kept ringing," Mark Ellis said. He was hired to work on "Jerry Maguire." Then "The Waterboy," "The Replacements" and "Any Given Sunday." Ellis had found a career.

"I got a history degree at USC," he said. "It wasn't anything I studied and planned for. I just kind of learned on the job."

Miller, meanwhile, finished his undergraduate degree at Guilford College and was hired as a strength and conditioning coach, first at South Carolina (where he earned a masters degree) and then at Georgia Tech. A few years later he left coaching to become a sports planning manager for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, which led to a job as Senior Producer for NBC’s Olympic coverage in Sydney, Australia.

Miller and Ellis had remained friends. Four years ago, when Ellis and Miller decided to form their own company, ReelSports Solutions, they became teammates again.

"I was on the set of 'The Replacements,' and I got a call to do 'Remember the Titans,'" Ellis said. "I couldn't do it. I had to refer somebody else."

"Titans" went on to become a major hit. Ellis decided he couldn't afford to let such opportunities pass. Meanwhile, Miller had completed two Olympic Games and had a huge vision for how to expand on Mark's single sport Hollywood niche. "Mark was the first guy I called," he said. "Prior to 'The Rookie,' we starting putting everything together."

They devised a five-year plan for ReelSports, starting with hiring themselves out to moviemakers to recruit sports extras, train players and actors and choreograph action scenes. The two could work on different films simultaneously, expanding the company's reach. "We're traveling quite a bit," said Miller, most recently busy wrapping up "Four Minutes," a track & field drama for ESPN starring Jamie Maclachlan and Christopher Plummer. "The first year, I was on the road for 13 months straight," he said with a laugh...

ReelSports provides six areas of specialty, Miller said, "beginning with casting then 'training camp' for actors and special ability extras. "We even have two-a-days."

They use their Web site, http://www.reelsports.net, to recruit athletes for movie roles, then put qualified applicants through a "combine" session, much as pro sports teams do to appraise potential players.The trick is to make the on-screen action realistic. "You can't fake sports action," Miller said. At times, that means teaching talented players to fumble or fall and make it look real. That can be tough for players used to succeeding, he said.

These days, a year ahead of its own five-year plan, ReelSports is beginning to create its own film productions. The likely first such project, Ellis said, will be a period piece set in Tennessee."It just so happens that a lot of the things we are looking at are stories out of the South,'' he said. "That's where our roots are at.

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