One of the most painful steps in the producing process is accepting that some of your content will inevitably fall to the cutting room floor. NFL Films Producer, Greg Frith, gives you the scoop on what didn’t make the final cut of tonight’s premiere of “Dick Vermeil: A Football Life.”
By: Greg Frith
One of the biggest challenges in producing an “A Football Life” documentary is fitting the entirety of a man’s football life into 44 minutes, especially when that man has done as much in the sport as Dick Vermeil. Typically, our first cut of a film comes in between five and ten minutes heavy. That’s five to ten minutes of good content that has to be taken out. It can be painful as a Producer.
We did four shoots at the Frediani Vineyard in Calistoga, California over the course of five months. The wine theme became a central thread to our story. There were other shoots we did with Coach Vermeil that didn’t see the light of day. On one visit to the Napa Valley, we spent a day with Vermeil at the car race named after his father. The Louie Vermeil Classic has become one of the nation’s top sprint car races. Louie was an auto mechanic who was a huge presence in the dirt track world. Eight years ago, the race was named in his honor. Every Labor Day weekend, Dick Vermeil returns to his roots to attend the event. We spent some time in the pits with Coach, who shares his father’s love for cars and spends some of his spare time working on his own cars. The Coach doesn’t just build football teams – he can build a car engine. Ultimately, we decided to run with the comparison of wine making to coaching, and our great car footage went unused.
We also spent time with Coach at his induction into the Hillsdale High School Hall of Fame last June. Hillsdale was the first stop on his long and legendary football career. In just his second year, he led Hillsdale to the 1961 PAL Championship. More than 50 years later, it was clear to see that his Hillsdale years still meant a great deal to him, probably as much as he meant to the community at Hillsdale, even though his tenure there was relatively short. Mike Abbott, a former player on that ’61 team, presented Vermeil at the ceremony. Abbott, who had remained close to Vermeil, was battling cancer. He mentioned to me that night that he was grateful to be alive to allow him to take part in Vermeil’s special night. Mike Abbott sadly passed away October 6th.
Vermeil was not just a football coach at Hillsdale; he was also the swimming coach. He readily admits that he knew very little about swimming, but he was told if he wanted the football job, he had to take the swimming job, too. He claims that he learned valuable lessons in coaching by observing the work ethic of swimmers. We shot many scenics of the Hillsdale pool and high school that ended up on the cutting room floor.
There were even good NFL stories that got left out. Prior to the 1999 season, Coach Vermeil attempted to motivate his team by telling them the “wheelbarrow story” (see the behind-the-scenes photos below for a copy of the full wheelbarrow story from Coach Vermeil’s notes). Former Eagles running back and Rams assistant, Wilbert Montgomery, said, “We were coming off a 4-12 season, and he wants us to buy in to his wheelbarrow story. He used to talk about it every meeting. But the guys bought in. They believed.” It was mildly humorous to hear each player give their version of the wheelbarrow story. Some were even close to the story Vermeil told. That entire season, Vermeil left a wheelbarrow on the practice field as a motivational tool. We sent NFL Films cinematographer Drew Matyas to the Rams facility to shoot the wheelbarrow, which they still had. It was now more museum piece than grounds crew aid. Drew shot the heck out of the wheelbarrow, like no cameraman had ever shot a wheelbarrow before. The footage looked beautiful. It was one of the final things taken out of the show to help us get to time.
Tune in to NFL Network tonight at 9:00 PM/ET for “Dick Vermeil: A Football Life.”
“Dick Vermeil: A Football Life” was Produced by Greg Frith, Jeff Cameron, and Dave Douglas.