Emerging filmmakers Bill Bryan, Alex Browne and Chris Browne talk about their motivation for making a bowling movie, getting hustled on the lanes by professional players and the similarities between cooking and independent film.
Why did you decide to make A LEAGUE OF ORDINARY GENTLEMEN?
There were several reasons: outrage that our local bowling alley was converted into a day spa, and ungrounded suspicion that this might be connected to the decline of professional bowling in general. It was our first project of this scope. Had we taken on something like terminal disease or the horrors of war and bungled the film, we might have felt quite badly. If a film about bowling gets bungled… no one suffers.
How did you convince the pro bowlers in the film—both veterans and newcomers—to open up to you about their lives?
The newcomers were part of the whole MTV/reality television generation, so they were pretty into the project from the start. The veterans we bonded with over time, usually bars in and around bowling centers.
What is the most interesting or alluring facet of life on the pro bowling circuit?
Alluring is an interesting choice of words. It doesn’t come immediately to mind when describing life on Tour. I suppose the camaraderie of the bowling alleys. Obviously, bowling groupies are totally hot, so that wasn’t bad either.
Did you improve your bowling game or pick up useful tips from the pros during the making of the film?
Bill: Moderately. I learned to throw the ball with a curve, and added a few points to my average, it briefly hovered above 100. Also I learned to never play for money against professionals no matter how many points they give you at the onset.
What were some of the challenges you faced in making this film?
Keeping sound recordists—we went through five on the production. Also maintaining a belief in our own sanity despite our friends, families and colleagues’ intimations to the contrary.
What impact do you hope this film will have?
That people watching will be entertained. Generally, we think that if one’s goal is to provoke social change with a film, you don’t choose professional bowling as your subject matter. However, if positive social changes come about as a result of A LEAGUE OF ORDINARY GENTLEMEN screening on Independent Lens, we will be pleasantly surprised.
What period of time did filming take place and when did it conclude? Any updates on the people and what they have been doing since then?
Filming began in September 2003 and ended in March 2004.
Wayne Webb now works in a pro-shop in Sacramento, California. He has a karaoke business on the side.
Steve Miller has retired as CEO of the Professional Bowlers Association. I haven’t spoken to him in a couple of months, and don’t know exactly how he is spending his free time.
Chris Barnes still bowls on the Tour. He has won two tournaments since we stopped filming, including the 2005 U.S. Open.
Walter Ray Williams, Jr. is also still on the Tour. He is now one victory shy of tying Earl Anthony’s record for 41 career victories. Williams has a very stylish mustache in his press photo now, in lieu of the beard. It makes him look ten years younger.
Pete Weber also bowls on the Tour.
The independent film business is a difficult one. What keeps you motivated?
The desire to tell interesting stories combined with a fear of having to apply for jobs with a resume consisting mostly of independent film work.
Why did you choose to present your film on public television?
We didn’t make the film with a specific outlet in mind; we were flattered that PBS wanted to air it.
What are your three favorite films?
Many, among them: Crumb, Amores Perros, Chinatown, any one of the Porkies movies isn’t bad either.
What didn't you get done when you were making your film?
While shooting we forgot to pay our cable and utility bills and neglected our personal hygiene, but other than that we have no regrets.
If you weren't a filmmaker, what kind of work do you think you'd be doing?
Chris: If I weren’t involved in film or the performing arts I’d probably be a chef.
Alex: I would be working in advertising or television production.
Bill: I would be working in advertising or a media start-up.
What do you think is the most inspirational food for making independent film?
Anything you make yourself can be fairly inspirational, in that there are lot of similarities between cooking and filmmaking. When you cook, you take a lot of different ingredients and try to transform them into something plausibly edible. It is not that different from taking a lot of different images, sounds and voices and trying to make a scene. In one, you’re dealing with flavor and texture, in the other, emotion and narrative, other than that, it’s pretty much the same thing. Making non-independent film is another matter entirely, at least from the epicurean perspective.
What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers?
We still view our careers as somewhat aspirational. It is a bit presumptuous to be offering that kind of advice at this stage. One piece of advice would be to think about your audience. At the end of the day, it’s not about you. Someone else has to be able to enjoy your work.
If you could have one motto, what would it be?
Get things done and don’t be annoying.
What sparks your creativity?
Being in a room with the right people and allowing an idea to build organically.