Last Friday, one of the employees at Seattle-based Levy Films accidentally posted a trailer for an unfinished documentary on the Seattle Sounders. In typical Internet fashion, word spread like wildfire.
“It was up unprotected only for a few hours, but thousands of people had seen it,” says company founder Scott Levy, who was on a flight home from Salt Lake City when it happened. “It got a lot more attention than I anticipated.”
Levy is aiming to finish the film, tentatively titled “American Football,” by the end of the year. In the meantime, he hopes he won't be shooting his final few hours of footage on Sunday, when the Sounders, down three goals to the L.A. Galaxy, host the second leg of the MLS Cup Western Conference final.
Before shooting that match, Levy spoke to ESPN about his year with the team.
Why do this documentary now?
It’s an interesting time for soccer in America. It's the golden age, as the sport really emerges. Once it’s like Europe and we have a Tiger Woods of American soccer, it’s never going to be the same. It’s going to grow out of its shell and become big business. For now, on a player level, these are still guys who put the hard hat on and show up to work every day. They're really ordinary guys.
Professional athletes are ordinary guys?
Yesterday, I filmed [32-year-old defender] Zach Scott. He's just a ferocious player who goes at everything 150 percent. Turns out his wife is the one who really brings home the bacon. He goes home after practice and picks up the kids from daycare. That’s what I filmed him doing. You don't see NFL players doing that.
Why the title “American Football” when the doc focuses on the Sounders?
Because the film is about the brand of football evolving here. Most of the world knows football as soccer. We’re the only country that has our own football, and this is the world's football as it’s growing and taking root here. This is a story of football in America.
Sounders majority owner Joe Roth is a Hollywood bigwig. Has he been involved?
No one from the Sounders has weighed in or given me restrictions. They've been really good about letting me tell the story that’s there. I haven’t been tethered or restricted in any way. No one has ever come to me in the locker room or on the field or anywhere else and told me not to air something I just shot.
You mean like head coach Sigi Schmid's tirade after the loss to Real Salt Lake in last year's MLS Cup? How did you get that footage?
I told the team I wanted to go to Salt Lake and be in the locker room, and they let me do it. I still wasn't sure if he'd throw me out. The visiting locker room there is tiny. There was nowhere I could hide, so I stuck the camera in a locker and stood off to the side. It was like I was a towel boy who was supposed to be in there. I have lots of other locker room speeches. The L.A. speech last week was a full-circle rerun of the Salt Lake speech.
So that's how you shot scenes in the locker room?
From the way we shot it all handheld to where I held the camera to the spaces I was able to fit into to the cameras I used, I worked hard to perfect everything so no one would be inhibited. When camera crews go into locker rooms, there’s usually a shoulder-mounted camera guy, a guy with a boom, and maybe even a light guy. Once you stick a shoulder-height camera in someone’s face, you’re not there anymore. It’s now TV. Fans have seen that kind of footage, and we all joke about what players and coaches say. It's completely devoid of any meaning. You don't get what they're really thinking or feeling.
After seeing so many of Schmid's speeches and tirades, what do you think of him?
I think he’s a genius. It's amazing how he can lay things out and they come true. He's not perfect, of course, but he's a brilliant coach in terms of the X's and O's. The memory of his mom, who died when he was young, still drives him. I think it's interesting how things that happen in our childhood define who you are and what you’re doing in your job. That's certainly true of Sigi.
How about the players?
The guy every player on that team would tell you is absolute gold is [31-year-old Argentinian midfielder] Mauro Rosales. He’s the kind of person who takes a moment to let you know he appreciates you, whether you're doing the laundry or making a film or playing alongside him. He gives everything he has and takes nothing for granted on the field. He loves playing soccer and never forgets it. He garners respect right away. You can tell from the way his teammates respond to him on the pitch.
It sounds like you have a lot of footage to edit.
Yeah, and the mountain is getting bigger. I went to practice yesterday and filmed players kicking a ball against one of those springy nets. They were trying to trick each other, getting the ball to bounce at strange angles, but their skill was ridiculous. I could watch Fredy Montero rule the soccer tennis court in the locker room for 20 minutes. To see what he does at the spur of moment with his feet is insane. My challenge is boiling it all down and sculpting this film into something that conveys the soul of the people while doing justice to the game footage. I hope the few hours the trailer was live whetted people’s appetite for it.