Q&A with Undefeated director Dan Lindsay, Pt. 1

Feb 24, 2012

MU grad Dan Lindsay’s Oscar nominated film, “Undefeated,” chronicles the players and coaches of an underdog high school football team in North Memphis. The documentary will open and close the True/False Film Fest next weekend. Lindsay spoke with KBIA’s Nick Gass about making the film and the chance encounter that propelled him into directing.

I read that what your first documentary  about 9/11?
Yeah.

So how did you transition from graduating? How did you make those connections?
I went to Kinko’s to copy my resumé, and then the rest is history. I’m joking, but it’s also kind of the truth. First of all, the summer in between my junior and senior year, I went to USC’s film program. I kind of did that just to make sure that this was what I wanted to do, and then moved out to L.A. right after college.

And then went, literally was copying my resumé at Kinko’s and met this guy there who had grown up in L.A. and his family had a lot of contacts in the business. And he took a copy of my resumé and kind of started passing it around, was able to introduce me to some people and then 9/11 happened. And this guy was a journalist himself. He had written for the Chicago Sun-Times for a long time and a bunch of other publications. And he called me on September 11th, and he was like, “I know you have a camera. What do you think about driving from L.A. to New York and interviewing people along the way to get their reactions to what has happened?” And that kind of was the first of this hour-long television thing that we did that was on the Discovery Times network.

I listened to an interview where you or one of your producers mentioned that you got some of your best sound just sort of by sitting back and just observing, but were there times when you interviewed the people, certain things you did that got better tape?
Umm... no. I mean, literally, I mean our interviews, I mean they are in the film, but there’s not a lot of them in the film. A lot of our interviews were more gathering information. You know, as we’d sit down with a player, for instance, I mean, one of the players on the team, Chavis, had some kind of serious anger issues and behavioral problems and it took us a long time to warm up to him. So we went and did a three-and-a-half-hour interview with him at his house one day, but not one bit of that interview is used in the film.

That was more about sitting down with him and asking him questions and getting to know more about him, and him getting to know us a little bit. So that then he felt more comfortable the next time we were in the locker room or on the field or in the school.

OK. So before you come to Columbia next weekend, you’ll be in L.A. for the Oscars.
Correct!

So what was that like? Were you expecting a nomination?
Not at all. No. When we made the short list it wasn’t even on my radar. I didn’t even know that the short list came out that day, so me and my directing partner, TJ, were working on something else, and suddenly our phones just started buzzing and ringing, and they’re like, “Congratulations! You made the short list for the Oscars!” And I was like, “That’s incredible!” I’m like, well, that’s, “No way we’re going to get nominated,” and then on the day of the nominations, I was asleep and got a phone call from our publicist and she was kind of screaming into my ear that I was an Oscar-nominated director, which was a total surprise.

I mean, if you’re kind of aware of the film business, Harvey Weinstein, who owns the company that’s distributing our film, has a pretty good track record of success. But he’s never had a documentary, and the documentary nominations are a different beast altogether. So, you know, it was a surprise for everybody, but a very, very welcome surprise.

You can hear more of Nick’s interview with Oscar nominee Dan Lindsay on March 2.