BSU's Fiesta Bowl win: ‘Where sport became art'

A conversation with Boise filmmaker Michael Hoffman, who will make a documentary about Broncos

Idaho StatesmanMarch 4, 2007 

Boise-based filmmaker Michael Hoffman hopes moviegoers someday experience the same thoughts he did as he watched the Boise State Broncos beat Oklahoma 43-42 in overtime to win the Fiesta Bowl.

Amazement. Admiration. Intrigue. Sadness. Joy.

Hoffman, a Payette native who graduated from Boise State with a theater arts degree in 1979, reached an agreement last week with BSU to generate a documentary about the Broncos' season and market the movie rights. He will work with Boise State professors and filmmakers Heather Rae and Russell Friedenberg.

Rae is the producer, Hoffman is the director and Friedenberg is the writer. They started shooting documentary interviews Friday, but the full-scale production schedule begins Monday. The documentary is scheduled for a fall release on a broadcast outlet to be determined.

Hoffman, who is also a soccer dad with three children ages 6 to 13, is working on three other projects — a movie about Leo Tolstoy starring Anthony Hopkins and Meryl Streep, which begins production in September; a series pilot for HBO about a CIA station chief raising a family in Jordan that he's writing with New Yorker journalist Seymour Hersh; and a documentary on T.S. Eliot.

Last week, Hoffman talked to Statesman sports reporter Chadd Cripe about his love for Boise State and his vision for telling the Boise State story.

Question: Are you a Boise State football fan?

Answer: "I am. Since I went to school there, I've followed Boise State. … I always listen to the games on the radio, even when they're on television. I don't know why. That's an old habit. … Certainly I followed (quarterback) Jared Zabransky's career with profound interest, and the team. It's hard not to be intrigued by them."

Are you a season-ticket holder?

"I'm not, but I go quite often. My kids love to go, so we make it a family outing."

How many games did you attend last season?

"Four, I think. Utah State, Louisiana Tech, Oregon State and one more."

Where did you watch the Fiesta Bowl?"I was home. I don't think I was ever at any sporting event where I reacted as violently and physically and joyfully. I couldn't believe what was happening. It wasn't only that they won — it was how they won, and the imagination that it took. I wasn't one of the people who thought they were going to get beat up. I felt they had a good chance to win from the outset. But there was something from that moment when (Zabransky) threw that interception that made you think, ‘Oh, this is that story.' … I was already into that chatter in my head about how you make the best of a really valiant effort with a disappointing outcome. And then all of a sudden it turned around. It turned into a very different movie than the movie in my head."

What was the scene like at your house?

"It was me and the family and being on the phone with a lot of people. People were calling from all over the place. One friend of mine who is in the movie business happened to be in Sun Valley and he called me to ask what did I think of this Boise State team, was it worth it to watch the game. … He ended up being a complete convert. That game made a lot of converts."

Some people turned off their TVs or walked out of the stadium when Oklahoma took the 35-28 lead on the Zabransky interception. Were you tempted to turn off your TV?

"No. I thought, ‘I'll hang in there.' We make stories in our head as things develop. The story I was making was the one about ‘Gosh, what an amazing season. What a remarkable attempt at something really, really difficult. Maybe they're right, those doubters.' … And then they just kicked it up to another level. It was another level of imagination, another level of creativity, another level of inventiveness. That's what was so thrilling about it. It's one of those things where sport became art."

It was the type of ending that would get laughed at if someone wrote it as a script, right?

"It really would be hard to script it. You take Jared Zabransky's career, and he had sort of a remarkable sophomore year, then the disappointment of — even though it was a desperation pass — throwing an interception in the Liberty Bowl and coming back and having that kind of downward movement in his junior year. I was at that Idaho game where they replaced him, and obviously the fans were not as on his side as they have been at certain points. And then to see the way he pulled himself up. He really recovered and found a way to be the player everybody hoped he would be, and then that interception gets thrown. It was, ‘Oh my gosh, maybe this is something he doesn't get to overcome.' And then he proves himself.

"It's a remarkable story. If you wrote it, Hollywood, they'd probably throw it back at you and say nobody is going to believe this."

When did movie bells start going off in your head?

"What goes off in my head is story bells. … One of the first conversations I had was with (BSU president) Bob Kustra. He said some people had approached the university (about a movie) and asked what did I think would be a smart thing to do. I said, ‘Maybe the thing to do is to make a documentary first and then out of that documentary maybe a feature could grow. I should talk to you about this.' It was sort of a long, relatively relaxed conversation about what would be the possibilities.

"There really is not much money in documentaries. A feature is one of those things where eventually it could turn into something, jobs and salaries, but that's a long way down the road. But what I do think is very possible is that we'd be able to get it set up at a studio, get a writer assigned to write it, get the money for the rights. … The chances of any feature idea actually getting made are always extremely slim, but I do think there's enough in this story — enough resonance, enough real underdog tale about a disparate group of kids from really different backgrounds coming to this place and finding a group of coaches and a program that encourages them to believe in each other and believe in themselves to make some magic happen. That's an attractive story."

How did you hook up with Rae and Friedenberg?

"They're really just friends of mine. I haven't worked with them on anything before. I respect what they do. My work life has always been outside of Boise. They're trying to find a way to create a work life for film professionals in Boise. I'm really interested in finding ways to help them make that a reality."

What do you envision this documentary will look like?

"The thing that intrigues me is again how these people come together to form a family, to form a community, and the ways in which this university and this particular program put real emphasis on the kind of life values and lessons that can be taught through this game. These coaches intrigue me. Coach (Chris) Petersen intrigues me.

"This story of the transition and new coaches coming in. You want to find what are the stories that connect on big things like family and trust and overcoming obstacles, overcoming doubt, overcoming your own insecurities about whether you're good enough or the program is big enough. So it won't be a highlight reel, although there will be a healthy dollop of football in it. It will be a lot about the people and a lot about what makes Boise State a kind of remarkable place."

What do you envision for the movie?

"That's one of the reasons I really pushed for doing the documentary first. I think the richest version of a feature is going to come from doing the documentary research. Getting to know the kids. Getting to know the coaches. I think we'll turn up some surprising, fascinating stuff about these kids and what matters to them and what they've struggled with and what they've overcome. That's what makes a great feature."

What's the process now for getting the movie made?

"It's a matter of figuring out more specifically what the story is we want to tell and going to (Los Angeles) and talking to some people, and some people we've already talked to. … The company buys the rights and pays to develop a screenplay."

Some say the movie should come out quickly to capitalize on the interest. Others say it should be delayed to let people forget some of the details. What's the right timeline for you?

"The important thing is to find a story that withstands the test of time. No great story has a definite sell-by date. Great stories are great if you make them in 2008 and they're great if you make them in 2018. The responsibility is to find a way to make the story great and then push to get the movie done. Even pushing to get the movie done quickly probably means a two-year gap."

Do you see some or most of this movie being filmed in Boise?

"I'm hoping the Legislature continues to work toward being supportive of a local film industry. … I think there's every chance we could shoot a lot of it in Boise."

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