Now I know why directors have so many takes and retakes in movies. Thanks to that, I finally have a movie career. Better yet, I even have a speaking part.
I had two words make the big screen: "That's right.'' How that happened is a product of a director's diligence.
Last fall, I was summoned to Boston to be part of the movie, "The Game Plan," a Disney comedy scheduled for release Sept. 28 featuring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, a former college football player. It's amazing enough to see my mug on a big HDTV screen, but to see it on the big screen at a theater is pushing it a bit.
My scene is in one of those news conferences in which producers bring in real-life reporters to provide an air of believability to a sports movie. The Rock plays an egocentric quarterback, Joe Kingman, a T.O.-type figure for the Boston Rebels.
Obviously, the Rebels are supposed to be the New England Patriots, but producers Mark Ciardi and Gordon Gray didn't secure rights to use Patriots uniforms for a couple of reasons. First, the NFL licensing expenses probably were too costly. Secondly, they spent enough time around Gillette Stadium last year that they probably found all of Bill Belichick's spy gear.
Let's set up the scene. Kingman is an aging quarterback trying to win his first Super Bowl. That window is closing. One day, he gets a knock at the door. It's a daughter, Peyton Kelly, he never knew he had. Because of his ego and passion for football, Kingman was about as suited to be a dad as the Browns' offense is to score 24 points.
As he's getting to know his daughter and fumbles along in the relationship, he hosts a big restaurant party, leaves the restaurant, realizes he forgot Peyton and punches out one of the many photographers who capture him returning to the restaurant. Kingman has to explain himself the next day at a news conference.
Kingman and Peyton had to face an ambush of reporters. Director Andy Fickman assembled five of us for this scene. He told us the story line. From an acting standpoint, we didn't have to worry about motivation. This was the 2006 season and Terrell Owens was in the headlines every week. Put T.O.'s image over The Rock's face, and we're ready for acting.
This was Scene 49, and, as fate or scriptwriters would have it, this was the turning-point scene in the movie. It airs about 40 minutes into the picture. Not giving away too much plot here, but Kingman was trying to twist the perception about himself now being a good father. Peyton Kelly tries to win over the reporters with her wit and charm.
That's where your 35-year NFL veteran reporter comes in. Fickman called an audible and gave us speaking parts. We fired out questions to Kingman about his disregard for teammates and his daughter. I didn't need to carry a small snapshot of T.O. to prepare for this inquisition.
Because this was my first -- and probably only -- movie role, I am amazed by the obvious. The director kept ordering take after take. Johnson and Madison Pettis, who plays Peyton, had to nail their lines every time and did. A scene like this may take up only two minutes of the movie and only two pages of the script, but it often takes one day to shoot it because of the many takes.
A professional director such as Fickman is about as comfortable running a movie as Peyton Manning is running his no-huddle offense. He must be disciplined in getting the prioritized shots along with calling enough audibles to get a shot or two that sells that section of the movie.
The stand-ins had the toughest jobs on the set. They had to hold the actors' positions in order to make sure the lighting is right. Even during breaks, they had to stand. Peyton had a short, older woman sitting in her seat when she wasn't present. As the long day of shooting progressed, I wondered if Peyton had aged into an older woman during the shoot.
But it was that extra attention to detail that gave me the speaking part. My question was the third of about five or six impromptu questions. Knowing that Kingman shunned his team at training camp to do a toothpaste commercial, I asked, "Why do you treat your daughter as bad as you treat your teammates?''
The chance of that third question making it wasn't good. The director's cut turned out to be 2 1/2 hours. It needed to be 1 hour, 45 minutes. The quick pace of the questions added energy to the news conference and sparked a good reaction from Dwayne Johnson, but something has to go in trimming the length of the movie.
If you wonder why movies take more than a year to go from concept to seats, you have to understand that the editing process takes six months and is the key to the movie. Fickman does his director's cut in about three months. The final editing process takes another three months.
One of the great parts of this movie is how it's fast-paced and the timing is exceptional. That's a credit to Fickman. He was making a comedy. He has the timing of Dwayne Johnson and Peyton Kelly down to a science.
Imagine Fickman's job. He must look through every shot filmed. The volume is incredible, and who knows? Maybe he stumbled across Belichick tapes of Dolphins defensive assistants signaling zone blitzes that had to be edited.
Late in the editing, though, Fickman came across a shot in which I leaned back in my chair. Following his instructions, I was supposed to turn my disgust of Kingman's arrogance into a warm reaction to Peyton. They needed to show Peyton was winning over the crowd. As she spoke of how her dad was learning the father business and was going to be better, I muttered two words: "That's right.''
That's it, folks. That's my speaking part. Two words. To make sure it was audible, Fickman set up an audio feed so I could mutter the same words about 100 times in about 100 different styles. The words made the movie. I'm an actor ... kind of.
This was quite an experience. I spent close to an hour in makeup next to Dwayne Johnson as he quizzed me on Dennis Erickson and all of his other former coaches at the University of Miami. Because we hit it off, I almost got him in trouble for being late to a script meeting. For whatever reasons, Dwayne got the makeup and I didn't.
John Clayton, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame writers' wing, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.