EDITORS NOTE: This is part of a series of interviews, conducted via email, profiling directors who have films screening at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival.
Screening in the Discovery section of the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival, short film director Brin Hill makes his feature debut with “Ball Don’t Lie.” “Ball” tells the tale of Sticky, a young streetballer who with a lot of talent for the sport but also a lot of baggage from a childhood tragedy. Starring newcomers Grayson Boucher and Kim Hidaglo, as well as Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Nick Cannon and Rosanna Arquette, “Ball” is based on the popular novel of the same name by Matt de la Pena, who co-wrote the screenplay with Hill. indieWIRE talked to Hill about the film and his expectations for its world premiere at Tribeca.
In the Tribeca catalog, TFF programmer David Kwok writes that “Boys Don’t Lie” is “a unique, authentic basketball film” that “brilliantly weaves the narrative through a series of flashbacks that reveal the many layers of Sticky’s troubled childhood.”
What initially attracted you to filmmaking?
Growing up, I was gifted with the myriad life of multi-cultural and socio-economically diverse environments. We are so often defined, for better or worse, by how we are socialized. We then spend much of our lives attempting to either redefine ourselves or trying to constantly evoke the lessons we learned from neighborhood and extended family. My environments were complex mosaics that selected unusual mentors for me; mentors that weren’t as cut-and-dried as the ones I saw in fiction. Both good and bad at once, there was a complexity to them and their world that I was drawn to share. My parents were both filmmakers, so I was organically attracted to the power of this visual medium as means of exploring the world I knew, a world I saw as under-represented. “Ball Don’t Lie” is direct lineage of that socialization.
What was the inspiration for this film?
The obvious inspiration is the source material – acclaimed novel “Ball Don’t Lie.” When I read the manuscript before it found a publishing house, I discovered truth and authenticity. There are no punches pulled in it – it is a book about teenagers that’s honest to both their world and the world around them, and because that’s so rare, it appeals to teens and adults alike. It captured a world I recognized and was looking to share. We wanted to do justice to the book and appease its fans, but we also had to be honest to the medium of film and make protagonist Sticky’s story a unique filmic journey. The movie has to be its own visual experience and we feel like we’ve created that. It’s not better or worse, it’s just a different, still very honest, ride with a kid named Sticky.
Please elaborate a bit on your approach to making the film…
We wanted the film to feel immediate, urgent and real, thus we made choices that would lend themselves to those sensations. The story unfolds in much the same way many of us tell stories when we’re talking to friends; it’s not overtly linear, there are jumps in time and space, but we always return to the main thread. We made very specific choices on color and film treatment in the interest of audiences immediately understanding where we are at all times based on visual execution. Also, as a former athlete, I always hate when sports look fake in films. So, in the interest of authenticity, we cast a real, well-known street basketball player “The Professor” in the lead role and other ball players around him to assure that the sports action would be credible.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in developing the project?
The first challenge was in the adaptation. There’s so much rich material in the book that we found it difficult narrowing it all down. We tried to make choices in the interest of Sticky’s narrative and perform smart edits that enriched him and his truth. Our most overt hurdle was probably getting people to understand and believe in a non-linear script that jumped time and space so much. We knew it would work on screen, but it took imagination on paper and sometimes that’s asking a lot of script readers. In shooting, basketball was a challenge. As a ball player and fan, the biggest gripe I have with sports in films is that it comes off looking wack. Actors often seem like they’ve never been on a court or shot a ball before. We used no camera tricks, had no actors jumping off trampolines, because we want people to believe in our story and give themselves over to the unusual journey in “Ball Don’t Lie” without suspension of disbelief.
What are your goals for the Tribeca Film Festival?
We want a New York audience to walk away feeling like it has found a truly unique film that offers a ride laden with raw intensity. We want folks to believe they’ve unearthed a distinctive, normally untold story about a survivor named Sticky and the 100,000 foster kids just like him in this country. And, we hope a distributor will discover our film and share it with a wider audience that doesn’t normally have access to a wonderful festival like Tribeca.