The buzz around “80 for Brady” focuses on its octogenarian stars — Sally Field, Jane Fonda, Rita Moreno, and Lily Tomlin — and Tom Brady’s legacy, both of which drove the movie to second place at the box office last weekend. The story of four Brady-obsessed friends who travel to see him play the Super Bowl is charming, bittersweet, and a smart play by Paramount to capture the demographics of older women and NFL fans alike. But its unsung heroes are two young filmmakers best known for a low-budget Cannes hit.
“80 for Brady” marks the directorial debut of Kyle Marvin, who, with Michael Angelo Covino, scripted and starred in the 2019 Cannes hit “The Climb,” which was Covino’s own directorial debut. In 2021, the pair rewrote “80 for Brady” and they now share executive producer credits.
They aren’t part of Paramount’s marketing push, and fair enough. “The Climb”made well under $1 million in its pandemic-afflicted 2020 theatrical release. And if you’ve seen that movie — well, that makes “80 for Brady” all the more curious. “The Climb” is an irreverent and often surreal romp about estranged old friends with more in common with European arthouse cinema.
Marvin and Covino said the unlikely fit was exactly what drew them to the opportunity. “For us, the idea of doing a big project that reaches a large audience is part and parcel of what we as a company are trying to do, which is support theatrical movies,” Marvin said.
Covino acknowledged that the mainstream appeal of “80 for Brady” might not jump out to cinephiles who appreciated their earlier work. “This movie is not for everyone,” said Covino. “We sort of knew what the movie was going to be. It’s a movie for a certain audience. You hear the title and concept and you’re like, ‘What the fuck is this?’ Our goal was, like, if we can elevate it a little bit and make the best version of that movie, that will be a home run for us.”
It’s also something of a rebound. While “The Climb” landed distribution with Sony Pictures Classics and established their unique comedy bonafides, its theatrical release was squandered by the pandemic in early 2020. In the meantime, Marvin and Covino left the commercial production company where they produced low-budget features for the previous decade to start a new venture, Watch This Ready, centered around their own directing projects.
Prior to Paramount’s involvement, a development executive at Fifth Season (formerly Endeavor Content) contacted Covino about the possibility of directing the project. The offer came around a second time when Covino was busy developing his next feature, but suggested that Marvin could take it on as his own directorial debut. “The next thing you know, we were rewriting the script, pitching it, and jumping into production a couple months later,” Covino said.
The concept began at Fifth Season by an executive whose grandmother was a member of the real-life “80 for Brady” friend group. “It had a vitality that a lot of older women in older female friendships know is true, but is very often overlooked in films,” said Fifth Season senior VP Christopher Slager. He found similar success with “Bookclub,” which has a sequel coming out in May. “We just thought it was a really fun world to tap into.”
The company entertained pitches from several writers before landing on one from comedian Sarah Haskins and “Booksmart” writer Emily Halpern, who suggested they build the narrative around Brady’s legendary come-from-behind victory with the New England Patriots at the 51st Super Bowl in 2017. As it became a period piece, the script also attracted producer Donna Gigliotti, who explored football fandom with “Silver Linings Playbook,” and helped attract the top-shelf cast.
From there, Slager said, it wasn’t a huge effort to get Brady himself onboard. “The story of these women was our north star,” Slager said. “He got that and it was the unexpected creative thing that really sparked for him.”
Covino and Marvin reworked characters, jokes, and dialogue, balancing some of the zanier interactions with more sophisticated gags. “Sarah and Emily did a great job, but it wasn’t a script that we could’ve made because we had to understand and own it a little,” Covino said. “There was an inevitability to us coming in and rewriting the characters and jokes we knew we could execute. We’re grateful we got the opportunity to come onto the project and rewrite it, but they did a great job.”
After WGA arbitration, Covino and Marvin weren’t listed as writers and received an “additional literary materials” credit instead. “The feeling on that is sort of neutral,” Marvin said. “We’re writing so much stuff and have so much that’s genuinely ours from the get-go. That’s what we want to take credit for.”
Covino and Marvin had no experience on studio productions, but they shot “80 for Brady” in 32 days without reshoots, and it shows little compromise in terms of scale. Marvin relished the opportunity to push the budget’s boundaries (a little over $30 million per sources, the usual studio comedy range). “Obviously, it had to push away from our indie sensibilities,” Marvin said.
They still worked within constraints. The Super Bowl sequences, which consume the movie’s third act, recreated crowd scenes with a green screen. “It’s not like we were building a Marvel universe from scratch in post,” Marvin said. “We knew what the stadium looked like. We knew all those components ahead of the shoot. We could integrate that into our production.”
Covino spend days at the NFL Films office in New Jersey combing through footage from the game to inform various shots. “For the most part, it was pretty well visualized ahead of time and that enabled us to seamlessly integrate real-life events,” Marvin said.
They also studied YouTube videos and other game documents to get a sense for which celebrities attended. That led them to notice Guy Fieri (who plays himself in a hilarious hot sauce competition featuring Fields’ character), which the writers based on his barbecue event from the game.
Fieri ultimately did much more than cameo in “80 for Brady;” he also appears in an extended hallucination after the women overdose on edibles at a pre-game party. “We were like, ‘Let’s just write him in and see if we can get him — if not, we’ll replace him with someone else,” Marvin said.
Added Covino, “We went on IMDb Pro and realized he had the same agent as Tom Brady,” he said. “So we knew we had a way through.”
Although the shoot marked the first time that Marvin directed famous actors — and you can’t get much more famous than this group — his own acting career is on the rise. The “80 for Brady” shoot coincided with the airing of FX’s “WeCrashed,” in which Marvin appears opposite Jared Leto as one of the founders of WeWork. “They were watching me act every weekend and then acting for me,” Marvin said. “There was a bit of a rapport there as actors understanding the craft.”
Covino was often on set and helped brainstorm with the actors in between takes, but the pair has no interest in being official co-directors on any of their projects (and would need DGA approval to do so). “We disagree on about 20 percent of things and that’s enough to crash the plane,” Marvin said. “At some point, one or the other of us has to run point on things.”
They faced the usual wave of studio notes in post-production. “Kyle and I went into this one knowing that it’s not our movie and it’s never going to be our movie,” Covino said. “Trying to navigate within that context is healthy.”
As with “The Climb,” the filmmakers favored a lot of single-camera long takes and prolonged bits, some of which were too eccentric or slow for the studio. Among the cuts were an awkward song that Tomlin sings while her character is stoned, along with more extensive scenes between Field and her character’s needy husband (Bob Balaban). The women perform an impressive dance number late in the movie, but the original version included a more prolonged slapstick bit as they attempt to find their rhythm. Olympic skier Gus Kenworthy recently complained that a make-out scene with his onscreen boyfriend was cut, another casualty of stuffing the narrative into a 98-minute running time. (Multiple sources involved in the production say Paramount never took issue with the context of that scene.)
Scott Garfield/Courtesy of Paramount Pictures
On the subject of studio-mandated cuts, Marvin shrugged. “You look at auteurs that try and operate within the studio system and don’t take any feedback from that system,” he said. “Sometimes you get home runs and sometimes you get travesties. There is wisdom within the studio system that satisfies their need, which is ultimately to make these movies profitable to a wide audience.”
The week of release was a whirlwind for the filmmaking team: Marvin’s third daughter was born days before the premiere, and Brady’s retirement announcement caught everyone by surprise. “It was crazy,” Marvin said. “But the truth is, it felt right.” Brady initially announced his retirement in February 2022, shortly before “80 for Brady” went into production; he then returned for the latest season, which ended up being his worst on record. “It was one of those things we had kept speculating about,” Marvin said. “We were following the whole season and we were like man, does he do it now?”
Although Brady’s 199 Prods. was involved in the production, the project’s conception predated his involvement. Still, “the movie doesn’t really work without him attached,” Marvin said. “That’s the thesis of the film — the fans lift up the players and the players lift them up. It’s a symbiotic relationship.”
Having adapted to the studio experience, Marvin said he and Covino hoped to continue juggling larger commercial undertakings with smaller projects, some of which they will produce for other filmmakers. “The world of cinema is an ecosystem,” he said. “You need the elephants in the jungle in order for the mice to have a place to play around, too. Not that any films are any less important or valuable, but in the marketplace for film, we need movies like this as much as we need prestige movies or movies that wow us with craft or because it pushes the art form forward.”
“80 for Brady” is now in theaters.
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