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May 2006
The Heart of the Game: An Interview with Director Ward Serrill and Coach Bill Resler

The Heart of the Game: An Interview with Director Ward Serrill and Coach Bill Resler
By Stacey Chapman
June 04, 2006

THE HEART OF THE GAME follows the trials and tribulations of a high school girl's basketball team in Seattle. The main focus of the film is Darnellia, an inner-city teenager and up-and-coming basketball star. Her story, among others, is captivating because hardship does not deter this young woman but motivates her to triumph. However, there would be no lessons learned if it weren't for inspirational girls basketball coach Bill Resler. "I want my girls to be powerful," extorts Bill. Well, how do you that? "You turn the team into a Pride of Lions, a Pack of Wolves or Tropical Storm!" Of course, these are metaphors, but the results are nothing short of extreme success. During the Tribeca Film festival, I had the pleasure of speaking with Coach Bill Resler and Director Ward Serrill, whose seven year labor of love yielded this Miramax documentary due to be released in the summer of 2006.


I know it took you seven years to make this film. What was it that inspired you?

Ward: I use to be, as strange as it seems, a CPA and I went to visit a friend. At my friend's house was this fellow Bill Resler. Bill immediately sat down and started telling me basketball stories. Forty-five minutes later I was still yucking it up with him and I said to myself, "I think I came across a world class character." Later, when I followed him into the gym here are these girls smashing and crashing and flying into each other and laughing and having the best time I have ever seen in a gym anywhere.


You have such a knack with basketball. You obviously know the game and have this innate relationship with these girls...

Coach Bill: I approach life out of sixteen-year-old eyes and I expect to have as much fun as I can. If I am not having fun then I do everything that I can to change the way that is. We have fun as often as we can.


Coming up with the metaphors...Is that something that help keeps you focused when you are working with the girls especially to guide them?

Coach Bill: The metaphors, you just dream them up. One year, the girls came up with a herd of hippos; they were going to put a lot of weight on in the off-season. They picked up on the idea that this was supposed to be fun. In the end, they a chose pride of lions, but we had lots of fun laughing about it.


Is that secondary to what you think of as basketball strategy and do you still study the game and study approaches other coaches use?

Coach Bill: I go to a lot of coach conferences, and I read lots of books on basketball. I have to, because as you probably can tell, I am not an athlete. So, I am going to have to get this in some other way. But the passion is every bit as important as the externals. In that championship game, we won that game on passion and formality. Early in the game our girls are throwing the ball out of bounds and they are grinning, whereas the other team had to win that game. Whatever job you have in life, the ones that are fun are the ones that you do best at.


As their coach what have the girls taught you?

Coach Bill: I think over time I have learned way more than they have learned because I have had the input of maybe 100 girls over 12 years since I've been at Roosevelt High. But they certainly have taught me the concept of never giving up.

Also, there are a lot of stories that didn't make it to this movie, girls conquering things that on different days they could have given up and lost it all. Certainly the central figure in the movie (Darnellia) is a never-give-up person.

They also taught me... (I like to say I knew this, but they taught me) the power of teenage spirit. When that teenage spirit starts to go crazy they don't need me anymore. They flower, they blossom, and they go crazy. The girls just chatter at each other, and if I were to say something I would just ruin that.

They taught me that no matter how bad things are, you can find a way to make them really positive. You know the old cliché, the silver lining. It's not the silver lining; it's a new lining and a brand new way of approaching a thing.

Ward: Darnellia has affected my life. If Darnellia was here, she would say I'm no hero. I just had a problem, and there was only one way to solve it, and I solved it.


Seven years is a long time to work on a single thing...

Ward: I just set out to make a film about the first season and this crazy tax person who took over this team. I was there year two to get a little pick-up footage, and Darnellia walked into the gym and I said "I've been waiting for you" and it evolved. There is no way I would have ever had said that or wanted to do that.

I was going crazy after four years. I got to finish this up. I got to finish this up. Most of the time, I didn't know how to do that. People ask me how did I get this financed, but I didn't. I had a job on the side. Then an amazing thing happened. Over two hundred people came for a screening and just believed in what I was doing and gave me money. Teenage girls would give me twenty dollars. A family gave me 30 grand with no strings attached. They identified with passion and also just the spirit behind the...

Coach Bill: By the way, I called all those 200 people and now they are expecting a return. (jokingly)


Was there a moment when you said this was too big?

Ward: That was the thing; I had 200 hundred hours of footage over seven years. What was the storyline? How do I get from this place to that place? It took seven years to figure out and two and half years of editing.

Coach Bill: It took a genius move on you hiring a certain editor.

Ward: Yeah, editing is story-telling. Devon, in particular, was a girl who ends up being sexually preyed upon by a private basketball coach. That was someone that actually a number of people wanted me to take out, ‘Don't go there it's off the main course', but Devon did it and I did it for the same reason. I came forward so this doesn't happen to another girl.


That's a very interesting element of the story because when you are watching it you feel a little complicit...


Director: Yeah


And with that knowledge you say, of course, the writing was on the wall all along.

Ward: We didn't know it until she came forward two months later.

Coach Bill: All of us have second-guessed ourselves and probably always will.


Let's talk about Darnellia. Where is Darnellia now?

Ward: Darnellia is on the verge of finishing up on her second year of a two-year college. When she graduates there will be a lot of four-year colleges interested in her.


What else are you working on?

Ward: Right now, the screen adaptation. We are working on more of a character-driven story.

Coach Bill: He's saying that because I am not good looking enough for that story.

Ward: I will always keep my finger in the documentary world and there are two or three ideas I would like to do. The main project is the adaptation of this.

Coach Bill: So going back to being a CPA is out of the question.


So what do you think the Hollywood version of this movie will be called?

Ward: The working title we are using is IN THEIR EYES.

Coach: MY favorite thing about the process is that this guy is working 24/7 and whenever he misses a practice, I will call him over and say, "You will not believe what you missed in practice today."


THE HEART OF THE GAME opens on June 9th, 2006

 

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