A Football Life Director’s Notes Part 2: The Glamorous Life

A Football Life, Behind the Scenes, Ken Rodgers, New England Patriots

Editor’s Note: Part 2 of “Bill Belichick: A Football Life” premieres this Thursday at 10:00pm on NFL Network

A lot of people who saw Part 1 of Bill Belichick: A Football Life have told me how amazed they are at all the material we captured on Coach Belichick. But only those who work in television know the secret of making a film like this: for every minute you see on screen, there must be hours upon hours of hard work, preparation and sometimes, outright boredom.

Every shoot on this project began with a long drive.  Specifically, six hours navigating East Coast traffic in a company minivan from NFL Films headquarters in South Jersey to Foxborough, MA, where I became a regular at the local Courtyard and a fixture at the nearby TGI Fridays.

By week 2 of the regular season, I realized that a football season is a lot like Groundhog Day.   Although the game plans and the opponents change, the schedule remains the same.  Inside the Patriots, every Monday is almost exactly the same as the Monday before, every Tuesday is like the Tuesday before, every Wednesday…well, you get the point.  Repetition is an understatement.

The result was that Cinematographer Chris Fadale, Audio Engineer Mike Italiano and I all fell into our own routines.

We met at the same time every morning, stopped at the same gas station for our daily allotment of Nutrigrain bars and Red Bull, and ate the same postgame meals at Davio’s.   Hell, we even started talking like each other.

The X's and O's of a film shoot - drawing up a gameplan on the whiteboard

Much of our time was spent in a small room inside the Patriots football operations office.  There were no TV’s and no computers – just an old whiteboard that we used to draw up our camera angles, just like the coaches who were drawing up their game plans down the hall.

To break up the week, we would often go shoot scenic footage around New England.  Many of those “scenics” are in the film and some, like the half day we spent at Walden Pond, hit the cutting room floor.  We decided to shoot the Walden Pond stuff because I had an idea of describing Coach Belichick as a modern day Thoreau – committed to his ideas and existing in relative isolation.  He certainly proved to be committed to his ideas (see the “4th and 2” segment in “Part 2” this Thursday night) but the truth is, Coach Belichick is far from a loner.  He’s constantly engaged with those around him – if he’s not talking with a coach in his office, he’s moving from one meeting room to another, devising game plans and teaching players.

Maybe the worst day of the production was a cold winter practice in December, when the concourse we were shooting from turned into a wind tunnel.  I was pretty sure one of us was going to lose a foot to frostbite.  I took a picture to remember that day and just looking at it makes my toes tingle.

But I’d rather stand around naked in Antarctica than be around an NFL team after a loss.  Winning football games is serious business to everyone in the Patriots organization and as you’ll see in the film, there are some very sullen moments after the Patriots lose to the Ravens in the playoffs.  And it wasn’t just coaching staff and players.  I was just as affected by the loss, which meant the end of our shoot.  After spending 5 months with this team and this coach, I was so sad to see it all end that I almost shed a few tears right there on the field.

As tough of a season as it was for me, Mike, and Chris, all three of us would do it again in a second.  And in the end, what we experienced was much easier than what NFL owners, coaches and players go through on a yearly basis.  I’m amazed at the stamina these guys have.  We’re talking 16-18 hour days for months on end.  During filming, I got to know some key players in the Patriots organization who work those long hours – Robert Kraft, Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and their VP of Media Relations, Stacey James.

Chris Fadale, Mike Italiano and Ken Rodgers at Walden Pond

One other guy I got to know was Berj Najarian, the Patriots Director of Football Operations / Head Coach Administration.  Like a lot of people with the organization, this man works hours that would drive me insane, deals with pressures that would make me sick to my stomach, and still finds a way to have a very strong focus on his personal life.   Every night during production, Berj would call me on his way home from Gillette Stadium to go over the next day’s schedule.   And no matter where we were in our discussion, I always knew when the conversation was over because I would hear him pull in his driveway and turn off his car.

It was then that he would say “OK, let’s talk in the morning.”  I soon realized that when that car turned off, his football life was over for the day – it was time to tuck his two sons into bed and spend time with his wife.  Nothing was more important.

Bill Belichick has the same balance between his football life and his personal life.  In Part 2 of Bill Belichick: A Football Life, you’ll see him tailgating in the Gillette Stadium parking lot after a victory with his sons, Brian and Steven, and his daughter, Amanda.  You’ll see him attending Brian’s championship high school football game.  You’ll even see him dressed in full costume at a Halloween party.

I’m starting to learn that whether its coaching in the NFL or making documentary films, having that kind of dedication to both sides of your life is exactly what it takes to succeed – and stay sane doing it.

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