Varsity Blues: About The Production

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High school football is king in small town Texas where 17-year-old school boys carry the hopes of an entire community onto the gridiron every Friday night. "Varsity Blues" follows the travails, both hilarious and pained, of five seniors on a high school football team in a small Texas town as they approach the end of a near perfect season. With mounting pressure from their hard-driving coach and parents, who live vicariously through the boys' victories, the resolve and determination of the young athletes is put to the test as they seek to finish the season as heroes - their way.

Paramount Pictures presents in association with MTV Films, "Varsity Blues," a coming-of-age football comedy directed by Brian Robbins. The Marquee Tollin/Robbins Production in association with Tova Laiter Productions stars James Van Der Beek, Jon Voight and Paul Walker. Tova Laiter, Mike Tollin and Brian Robbins serve as producers. The film's executive producers are David Gale and Van Toffler with Elysa Koplovitz serving as associate producer and the screenplay is by W. Peter Iliff. The cast also includes Ron Lester, Scott Caan, Amy Smart, Ali Larter and Eliel Swinton. Paramount Pictures and MTV Films are part of the entertainment operations of Viacom Inc.

Recreating the intensity and excitement of Friday night football games was of paramount importance to director Robbins. "Being a big sports fan, I couldn't make a movie with non-realistic action scenes," Robbins declares. So cinematographer Charles Cohen, whose experience capturing live sporting events is unparalleled, and football coordinator Mark Ellis were hired to ensure Robbins' vision would be carried out. "I didn't want to shoot this movie like you see football on television. I wanted to try to make the audience feel as though they are in the game. We created a play book just like you would in a real team, we knew every play, made camera plots, and before we ever stepped onto the field, we knew how we wanted to shoot every sequence." With Musco lights ablaze and teeming crowds in the stands beneath the signature water towers that dot the Texas landscape, members of the cast and crew of "Varsity Blues" worked diligently to mimic the sport of live high school football. The natural athleticism of the young cast coupled with their intensive training by veteran football coaches and actual players further enhanced the reality of the brutal contact sport.

Mark Ellis, whose long list of credits as football coordinator include "The Program," "Jerry Maguire" and the Adam Sandler film "The Waterboy," interviewed over 350 candidates and put together a core group of 40 of the best young players in West Texas to surround the five principal actors on the field. He designed all the plays used in the film and put his players through weeks of an intensive mini-camp.

When the actors arrived in Austin, they were immersed in this group and underwent extensive and rigorous training of their own. Former University of Texas quarterback and local hero Peter Gardere assisted Ellis in teaching the actors the fundamentals of the sport and how to run the specific plays in the film, and helped Van Der Beek and Walker look like all-state quarterbacks. The actors were in heaven, as Van Der Beek enthuses, "We got to put on football pads, step out onto the field with a bunch of real football players and actually run plays, catch the ball, run to the end zone, get hit and see the crowds on their feet. It was a blast. We play the game in this movie the way it's played in real life. I think not only football fans are going to be impressed but anybody who's ever played football."

Ellis continues, "It's real, full-contact, wide-open football. We shot as close to the game as possible and tried to make Texas high school football look as great as it is. Most of our guys are former district all-state football players. We had to have players of that caliber who understood football well and could take hits, because Texas ball is very sophisticated. Brian and Chuck (Cohen) understand the game and have a good eye for it. The action in this movie is tremendous."

"The greatest challenge was the action and football. You're out on the field night after night, week after week, you have 100 players on the field, another 1,000 people in the stands, all the sideline extras, referees and you're in this enormous 100 yard by 50 yard space. It's draining and takes a great amount of concentration and preparation," Robbins comments.

"Nothing beats going to the actual location of your script to shoot," says Robbins. Principal photography on "Varsity Blues" began in April 1998 in Coupland, Texas, a small farming community 25 miles northeast of Austin. Shot entirely in practical locations in and around the state capital, the film's hectic eight-week production schedule was completed mid-June.

Working months in advance of shooting in a rural landscape typical of Texas, production designer Jaymes Hinkle supervised a team of construction workers, set dressers and graphic artists who converted several of the craftsman-style farmhouses in Coupland to set the scene for the residential portions of the film's shooting schedule. To help signify the gaudy pageantry and overwhelming importance high school football plays both in the small community and in the players' families, Hinkle designed giant billboards of the star athletes and positioned them prominently on the lawns outside the heroes' homes.

After two weeks of filming in Coupland, the production moved to the neighboring town of Elgin, whose Main Street serves as town center for the film's fictitious West Canaan, Texas. Among the many sites in Elgin featured in the film, the interior of the town's middle school serves as the high school where the characters not only attend class, but participate in the ceremonial and sacrosanct pep rallies.

From filming grueling football practices under the watchful eye of Coach Bud Kilmer to capturing riotous party scenes where our heroes escape the pressure and tension of the football field, "Varsity Blues" enjoyed tremendous local cooperation and enthusiasm from small towns throughout the Austin area. Night shooting of the film's exciting and dramatic football games were shot in a high school stadium in Elgin (the Coyotes' home stadium) and at the 8,500 seat stadium in Georgetown (the away stadium), where our characters battle it out on the field.

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