Friday April 21st’s premiere event was alone enough to make the River Bend Film Festival worth attending. Celebrating the film’s 30th anniversary, we were treated to a screening of Rudy, the “all the feels”, follow your dream classic about one person’s dream to play football at the University of Notre Dame. Seeing the movie on the big screen with the energy and emotion of a crowd of viewers would have been enough, but we followed the screening with a Q&A session with director David Anspaugh.
Anspaugh was visibly moved by the viewing, his voice ringing with emotion as he recalled the various locations in which he’d watched his work; the premier in South Bend, an event in Los Angeles accompanied by a live score, and the home of the President of the United States.
“I’ve seen it at the White House, that’s kind of hard to beat, but this comes pretty darn close,” he said. “This is like seeing it at home.”
Throughout the Q&A session, Anspaugh provided the audience with a background look at the making of the film, as well as Easter Eggs and untold stories. He explained the origin of Rudy, born from an overheard tale in a bed and breakfast. A college roommate of Anspaugh’s approached the storyteller after hearing it one morning, asking him if it was true and telling him he knew the makers of the film Hoosiers. The storyteller was the real life Rudy, who eventually told the director the entire tale over the phone.
“You wouldn’t even believe the stuff that’s left out,” Anspaugh said.
He recalled great affection among the cast and crew, for each other and for the work. Sean Astin, so dedicated to the role, took most of the hits while his stunt double barely worked. He noted how his mother portrayed the librarian who kicked Rudy out of the library and what a pleasure it was to work with actor Charles Dutton.
“My god, what a great actor he is,” Anspaugh said. “I really saw it tonight in his eyes...every moment was riveting.”
One of the more impressive tales was that of the unforgettable scene of the football players, the students, and finally the crowd chanting the name “Rudy” over and over. While an empty arena and computer effects would have been adequate with today’s filmmaking technology, in the 90s, a real crowd and a real chant was required. Shot during an actual game, the director found himself negotiating with the Notre Dame Marching Band for a fraction of their 20 minute halftime program. In the end, he had a total of seven minutes to capture the chanting stadium, the entrance of the protagonist, his tackle, and his carrying off the field by his team.
“We literally rehearsed it like a ballet,” Anspaugh said, explaining the preparation that took place on a practice field.
He noted that some at Notre Dame were unhappy to have Rudy being filmed there and, possibly related, the sound system was cut off, prohibiting the announcer from explaining what was going to happen to the crowd at half time. Much of the audience had no idea a movie was being filmed, but the players and students who did started the “Rudy” chant on cue and it spread naturally through the crowd, despite most of them having no idea what the name meant.
David Anspaugh’s stories told of a filmmaking experience full of serendipitous moments. He described the “magical” process of selling the story to a producer, who happened to be a Notre Dame fan. The shoot, which couldn’t afford a proper crane, used a shaky forklift for the crane shot over the stadium. The lift had just happened to pause at the moment in which Notre Dame scored an extra point, the camera catching the perfect moment of the stadium standing and cheering.
“I had more fun doing this movie than anything I ever shot,” he said.
Stay tuned for more thoughts and recaps from the River Bend Film Festival.
Justin Flagel is the founder of Red Chuck Productions, where he writes, tells stories, and creates new media. Follow his work at redchuckproductions.com. Feedback can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.