‘American Underdog’ Filmmakers Find ‘Field Advantage’ for Kurt Warner Story

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When Jon and Andrew Erwin set out to tackle the true and inspiring story of Professional Football Hall of Fame member Kurt Warner, the filmmakers were looking for an “edge on the pitch.”

Although the Erwin brothers are from Birmingham, Alabama, that meant going back to Oklahoma, where they made their blockbuster “I Can Only Imagine”.

“It was the # 1 independent film of 2018, and it blew all our expectations to almost $ 85 million at the box office. So when was the time to make Kurt Warner’s story and what we were right in the middle of the pandemic, I just felt like, ‘I need an edge on the pitch. I would love to go back to Oklahoma, ”Jon Erwin told The Oklahoman in a recent Zoom interview.

“I love Oklahoma. I love working in Oklahoma. I love the people of Oklahoma. I love the spirit of Oklahoma; there is just a middle-American grain capable of doing from Oklahoma. ”

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Warner’s remarkable real-life story of Cinderella and the state’s spirit of ability earlier prove powerful teammates in “American Underdog,” the Erwin Brothers’ new film based on Warner’s memoir “All Things possible: my story of faith, football and the first season of miracles. ”

“I am proud that this is a PG movie release on Christmas day that the family can watch together … It’s an inspiring love story, and football is totally exciting. But it’s a movie for the whole family, “Erwin said.” At the end of the day, I think our path is just to tell inspiring true stories – and we fell in love with it. ”

Zachary Levi plays Hall of Fame quarterback

Zachary Levi plays Kurt Warner in "American underdog."

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“The hardest part is figuring out how to cover this incredibly large story – it spans many years. It spans college football, arena football, which is so exciting and so rarely seen. .and then, of course, the Rams, the NFL and the Super Bowl, ”Erwin said, recalling how he covered football games in Atlanta arenas for NBC when he was working as a cameraman.

“That’s one of the reasons Oklahoma was so useful, just the reach we were able to get. What we were able to get for the dollar was amazing… and I think the movie you see in there the screen was much larger than the resources we had. ”

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Likewise, Warner’s story is far more important than football, as “American Underdog” chronicles the quarterback’s relationship with his wife, Brenda, a former Navy who had two children from a previous marriage when the couple began his courtship display.

“Football is amazing, it’s exciting, it’s cinematic… and it just deserves to be seen on the big screen. Yet the heart and soul of the film is Kurt Warner’s relationship with Brenda, this story of love and this story with her son Zack and his disabilities and how his son really inspired Kurt Warner. And he found the heart of a champion off the field and then brought it to the field. ”

“American Underdog” stars Zachary Levi (“Shazam!”, TV’s “Chuck”) as Warner, Oscar winner Anna Paquin (“The Piano”, “X-Men”) as Brenda and newcomer Hayden Zaller as Brenda’s son, Zack, who suffered a traumatic brain injury as a baby, which left him visually impaired and developmentally disabled. The Erwins also found Dennis Quaid, star of “I Can Only Imagine”, who plays Dick Vermeil, the legendary NFL coach who tried his luck with Warner.

“It was just an amazing cast, but I would say for Zac and Anna these are roles that they were both born to play. And they’re so good at this movie,” Erwin said. “Zac Levi just has an infuriating level of talent… For years my brother and I were friends with him and never did a project together, and we just felt it was right.”

“The Unbreakable Boy” also shot in Oklahoma

The Erwin brothers have actually finished make not one but two factual films with Levi, with both projects shot in Oklahoma. With COVID-19 pandemic protocols in place, filming began in fall 2020 on “The unbreakable boy“in Oklahoma City, Norman, Midwest City, Okarche, Guthrie, El Reno and Bethany, with production by Erwins and writing and directing by Jon Gunn.

“American Underdog” was then filmed earlier this year in central Oklahoma, with the Jim Norick Arena at the OKC fairgrounds and the University of Central Oklahoma’s Chad Richison Stadium among the venues.

Hayden Zaller as Zack Warner and Zachary Levi as Kurt Warner in "American underdog."

“The Kurt Warner (the story) was lit, and we had this other movie, this amazing, beautiful movie… We thought Zac would be great in it, and we had this little window to do the movie before Kurt Warner. So we had this crazy idea: let’s do two movies back to back and learn how to make movies in a pandemic with a smaller movie before this big football movie, “Erwin said, adding that the filmmakers spent five months in Oklahoma on two projects.

“Zac is awesome in both… and both went off without a hitch with no downtime due to COVID. And again I credit the State of Oklahoma, the people of Oklahoma, the crews of Oklahoma for this result. ”

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Based on the book “The Unbreakable Boy: A Father’s Fear, a Son’s Courage, and a Story of Unconditional Love” by Scott M. LeRette and Susy Flory, the family drama centers around a boy named Austin (Jacob Laval, “John Mulaney & the Sack Lunch Bunch “), who was born with a rare brittle bone disease as well as autism. With his cheerful outlook and indestructible spirit, Austin transforms everyone around him, especially his father (Levi), in the inspiring film, which will be released on March 18.

“It’s been a really interesting trip… It’s two stories from real families, and I play a real person, the father of this family, and both show the difficulties of navigating all of this stuff in life,” mentioned Levi, who told The Oklahoma he enjoys working in Oklahoma so much so that he moved to Tulsa to make more films in the state.

“It was very fatal: the whole trip to Oklahoma, the two films.”

Filmmakers plan to return to Oklahoma

The Erwin Brothers’ Kingdom Story Co. has a long-term partnership with Lionsgate to provide “event-level entertainment for faith audiences”. But the story of Kurt and Brenda Warner – a soccer player and divorced mother of two who meet at a bar and ignite a romance around beer and line dancing – might not be it. that many people expect from a “faith-based film”.

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“We love true stories where the story does the job. And I love what Brenda Warner said: ‘I have a relationship with God… I’m a work in progress, and I’m far from perfect.’ “, Jon Erwin mentioned. “Sure, they made mistakes all along the way, but they found their way to each other, they found their way to God, they found their way to faith … relates to the imperfections of the story and the imperfections of the characters as they find their way because it says, “Okay, God can use me too, and I can have a dream too.”

Dennis Quaid plays Dick Vermeil in "American underdog."

Part of this dream includes back from Oklahoma to make more inspiring films.

“Every state has a vibe and kind of ethic and soul, and the people of Oklahoma are just incredibly hospitable and friendly.… We had a great time and filmed all over the state – including right in the middle of a blizzard which was great because we had a blizzard scene in the movie (“American Underdog”), ”Erwin said with a chuckle.

“The film community is only growing and growing, and the state provided such support to the incentive and the film bureau. It’s exciting to see all of this work come together, and I would love to bring a lot more movies to Oklahoma. ”


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