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Interview: Director Thomas Carter discusses new film, “When the Game Stands Tall”

When the Game Stands Tall is inspired by the true story of celebrated football coach Bob Ladouceur (Jim Caviezel), and the personal trials he endured while leading the De La Salle High School Spartans on a remarkable 151-game winning streak.  But, this film isn’t about a high school football team wanting to win.   It’s about being able to accept their losses and learning that there is much more to life.

I got a chance to sit down with director Thomas Carter (Coach Carter) talk about his new movie, his fears, and the other films that have given him inspiration.

There’s a great part when the Spartans play Poly and the quarterback, Chris Ryan, gets injured.  And he tells his team mate, “The only way I’m leaving this game is on a stretcher.”  What’s something for you that you would have to be practically dying for you to miss out on it?

“(Laughs) You know that’s a big if, I mean I love film making and just being involved in filmmaking is just something I care about that much.  You know I would never want to not have been able to do what I get to do in my life.  I made a choice to be in film, first to be an actor and then to be a director. And I’ve been able to that, so I’ve been very lucky.”

There’s a great message in the film, “it’s about the man next to you.”  Can you kind of discuss the meaning behind that quote?

“Well this is a team that won 151 games straight.  A 151 winning streak over 12 years, never lost a game, you know, how do you do that?  The truth is, in high school, when you have different teams coming through, you have different students coming through, and you’re not doing that just because you’re teaching X’s and O’s on the field.  You’re doing it because you’re instilling in those kids what you know is a life lesson that is something that lasts forever, that’s permanent, and that’s what Bob does, you know.  What he teaches is not football, but who are you to your fellow player? A sense of brotherhood, a sense of love, a sense of responsibility that you have that he wants you take not just on to the field but off the field as well.”

The film is also about facing your fears, the Spartans certainly do that when they play Poly.  What is a fear of yours that you maybe have already faced or hope to face someday?

“(Laughs) Well I’ll tell you, my biggest recent fear in the last year was that I would make this movie and Bob Ladoucer would not be happy with it.  That was the biggest challenge for me, that was the most important thing for me, and luckily he’s blessed the movie and given it his stamp of approval.  And I think that’s something that’s just really gratifying to me more than any other kind of approval that I have gotten, so I’m glad that happened.  It’s a movie, it’s really good I hope, and I’ve seen people respond, so I know it’s emotional, I know it’s inspiring to people.  I’ve seen them react to the football action, so I know people are responding, but you know we only really tipped the iceberg of what they really do at De La Salle.  The kind of training, the kind of love, the kind of commitment that the coaches show to these kids and the kids show to each other, so I wanted the audience to just have a taste of that, so hopefully we’ve given them a good taste of it.”

Yeah for sure, this is one of those movies that while you’re watching, it’s both uplifting and inspiring.  So, do you have another movie that also gets you in that inspiring mood?

“I have movies that I really like because I’m inspired by the artistry of the film, not necessarily that it’s an inspiring story.  You know watching The Godfather, one and two, is inspiring to me as a filmmaker.  So my inspiration as an artist, I think, comes from watching people work at a really, really high level.  But, I am a fan of other sports movies.  I’m a fan of Remember the Titans and I cried three times every time I watched that movie, I think so many things are really effective in the way that movie is done.”