Hockey movies worth getting excited about don’t come along all that often. Slapshot. Miracle. Youngblood. D2: The Mighty Ducks, starring Emelio Estevez. See how quickly we reached the bottom of the barrel? That’s why we’ve been so intent on following the casting and the production of the promising feature film “Goon,” a comedy starring Seann William Scott, Liev Schreiber, Jay Baruchel, Allison Pill, Marc-Andre Grondin, Eugene Levy, Big Georges Laraques, and many others. “Goon” is brought to you by Judd Apatow proteges Baruchel and Evan Goldberg, but the inspiration came from native Pittsburgher and longtime Penguin fan Jesse Shapira of No Trace Camping. I managed to get him on the phone Sunday for an interview between all night shoots in Winnipeg. Here’s the first of our two-part conversation.
GTOG: How’s it going? [Ed.’s note: I am a trained journalist.]
Shapira: It’s going great. Seann (William Scott) has created a pretty interesting character. The hockey scenes are pretty much done. We’re scheduled to finish shooting on December 5th.
GTOG: Where did the idea for “Goon” originate?
Shapira: It all started a few years ago. I wanted to come up with an idea for an original sports movie. One of the first things I thought about was centering a film around an enforcer on a hockey team. I grew up watching Mario Lemieux. It always killed me when other teams would go after him. This young, super-talented kid, and he was so vulnerable. Guys would rough him up, and a lot of the time there were no repercussions. Then we started surrounding him with guys who would protect him. That made everybody on the team more comfortable. It made everybody better.
GTOG: You didn’t think Terry Ruskowski was enough of a deterrent?
|Pulling Ruskowski From Under the Pile|
Shapira: We didn’t have a heavyweight. I feel like Wayne Van Dorp, the guy that came over in the Coffey trade, was the first heavyweight we had. The guy who, just looking at him, you didn’t want to answer to. He only had one purpose. Half the fans were coming to see Lemieux score, and half were probably coming to see a guy like that fight. I went on the Internet looking for stories about that kind of character. And there it was on page one of Google: “Goon” by Doug Smith and Adam Frattasio. So I read the book, and it was basically the story I wanted to tell. A guy was looking for meaning in his life, and he found it as an enforcer for a minor league hockey team. I called up Doug Smith. I told him I’d never made a movie before, but that I understood his story, and I asked if I could option his book. We talked for like an hour. He knew I got it. I got him. And that’s how it started.
GTOG: Then you probably had to convince people in Hollywood that there was a story here.
Shapira: Right. My partner, David Gross, and I had set up a meeting with Evan Goldberg to try to pitch him on a completely different project. It was a comedy about some guy who privatizes prisons in California and sets up a jail in his house. Evan hated it. Hated it. Now, this was three months before “Superbad” came out, and Evan had just written a script for the “Pineapple Express.” We knew he was going to be a big deal, so it was a big deal for us just to get this meeting. So we’re sitting there having coffee, he hates our idea, and at the end of the meeting I say, “Hey listen, I know you’re Canadian…” and I tell him about “Goon.” He said his friend Jay Baruchel was a huge hockey fan, and he wanted to run it by him. I never thought we’d hear from him again. The next day, he called. And we made a deal.
GTOG: It’s obviously important to get big names attached to the project. But one thing hockey fans are probably wondering right now is whether this is just going to be a Judd Apatow-type movie that happens to be set in a hockey rink, or whether you’re actually going to pay respect to the sport, and to the enforcer role.
Shapira: One thing Jay, Evan, David and I agreed on at our very first meeting was that we were going to make this authentic. We’re making a hockey movie. We’re making the movie we want to make. The beauty of this character isn’t that he’s funny. It’s that he’s a hero to his teammates. We knew there could be comedic elements to the script, but we were going to make a serious hockey movie because we’re serious hockey fans. I mean, Jay has a red maple leaf tattooed on his chest. He bleeds Canadiens hockey. I think people are going to be surprised at how true we are to the sport.
GTOG: The director, Michael Dowse, is also a Habs fan.
Shapira: We discussed many different options for a director. But it was clear that we needed a guy with the proper hockey background and knowledge of the game. We couldn’t just have some random, commercial director. There’s too much to learn. There’s too much shorthand about the game we couldn’t take the time to spell out for somebody. And in Hollywood, it’s tough to find the right person for something like this. Michael is the single most important element here. It’s his vision that’s the most significant part of the movie. Jay came up with the idea to talk to Michael. He’s a major cult director in Canada, but he’s more than that. He’s made a movie for Universal called “Kids in America,” so it’s not like he’s an Indie director.
GTOG: But aren’t you guys making an Indie movie?
Shapira: We had a chance to make this at a studio. We decided that we wanted to put our own stamp on it and make the movie we want to make. A lot of people make the mistake of thinking if you have a certain amount of money, the movie will be better. That’s not true. We can do whatever we want, and we don’t have anybody looking over our shoulder. Look, it’s not like it doesn’t cost anything. This is an $11 million movie. We feel like we have what we need to tell the story we want to tell.
GTOG: There must be immense challenges inherent in making a movie on ice. If the actors can’t skate, you know it. It’s pretty transparent.
Shapira: It’s incredibly challenging. That’s why we started getting guys comfortable on skates months before we started shooting. Otherwise it would look foolish. Having the camera equipment on ice as well, we just have to be very precise with every scene. We’ve created two different hockey leagues for the film, and Orangetown league and a Halifax league. It’s like a little hockey universe. We have full teams, stunt doubles. It’s complex. This isn’t like shooting a romantic comedy with people just walking down the street.
In part 2 of our interview with “Goon” producer Jesse Shapira, we’ll discuss the actor whose performance as one of the toughest enforcers of all time will blow audiences away, Big Georges Laraques’ cameo in the movie, and whether there’s still a place for enforcers in today’s NHL. Watch for it Monday night.