Interview: DON HANDFIELD, Touchback

There was much to enjoy in Don Handfield’s “Touchback”. Not a perfect movie, but a movie with heart and a story of a man who has not fully appreciated his life.

I spoke briefly with Don on August 28, 2012 about the film.

GS: Before we even get started, can you confirm that you appeared on an episode of “Saved by the Bell”?

DH: Oh my God, I did. I hope you didn’t see it.

GS: I’m sure I did, but it’s been a few years.

DH: Yeah, that’s when I had long blonde hair. I was on “Saved by the Bell: The New Class”. Screech was there, Mr. Belding was there, but it was a new group, yeah.

GS: James Duval is in “Touchback”, but doesn’t have any lines. He’s such a great actor — how did this lack of screen time happen?

DH: James is a friend of mine and he is a wonderful actor. Sometimes when you’re shooting on location you have to work with a local cast and hire people who are local. Sometimes they’re great, sometimes they’re not so great. It all depends on the time of year, how many movies are being shot. James is just someone I know, and he came out and was part of the film. We were lucky to get him, very grateful to have him. When you’re shooting a movie, you’re dealing with acts of God left and right. He’s a personal friend.

GS: What can you say about the aging process, particularly with Kurt Russell?

DH: We had a guy named Barney Burman, who had won the Academy Award for “Star Trek”. We were very lucky to get him with our budget and our schedule. Kurt had never been aged for a movie before, so it was a great experience for him. I thought it looked great, he did a great job. Even with our younger actor, Brian, he was in makeup for the scenes being shot in the fall. We had a lot of extras on set who were shcoked when they saw him out of makeup because that’s what they thought he really looked like all the time. [Gavin notes: Burman has been a makeup artist since 1984 and has worked on countless movies and television shows. His father, Thomas Burman, has done makeup since 1971. And his grandfather, Ellis Burman, did special effects and makeup for the horror classics “The Wolf Man” and “Ghost of Frankenstein”.]

GS: Maybe this is a cynical question, but why was Scott Murphy deserving of a second chance?

DH: I guess I think everyone deserves a second chance. And sometimes the people who are seemingly least deserving may be the most deserving because they have something to learn from it. The guy who’s a nice guy doesn’t really need a second chance. And from the standpoint of the audience, you have to give the man a chance for redemption.

GS: I hear that. Once he was given the second chance he was a great guy, but for the first time through… I had no sympathy for him.

DH: Yeah, his life was pretty cool but he just didn’t see it that way. So hopefully it came off as introspective. It’s sort of like Ebeneezer Scrooge — you wouldn’t feel the same thing for Scrooge at the end if he wasn’t a cantankerous SOB in the beginning. So it’s a fine line. You want to make a likable main character, but you also have to take him on a journey to get him to that place.

GS: I couldn’t agree more with the Scrooge comment. While watching the film, it struck me as “A Christmas Carol” with football.

DH: I hadn’t thought of it like that, but you’re right. I was inspired by “It’s a Wonderful Life”, I’m a huge Frank Capra fan. I wanted to explore the theme that people don’t appreciate the world around them. You’re familiar with the movie business, so you know that it’s a lot of running around and we don’t always stop to appreciate what’s going on and how great it is to be in the business.

GS: Yeah. In high school, what “clique” were you a part of?

DH: You know, I was in GG, a kind of gifted and talented. It’s actually more like special ed for smart kids. (laughs) I was in AP classes, so I was the youngest kid in many classes and was probably the butt of some jokes. I did grow physically so by the time I was a junior or senior I was probably seen as pretty cool. I wouldn’t say I was ever Mr. Popularity. What it enabled me to do as a writer, I think, was be empathetic to the “outsider” and see the world as an observer. The guys who are the star quarterback become the accountants — they don’t become the writers.

GS: I hear that. And your focus on the outsiders rather than the football players is what I think makes the movie unique. As Scott Murphy matures, the important part isn’t even winning the football game anymore, but the friends he makes. You still have the classic underdog Cinderella story, but it’s not actually the focus.

DH: Yeah, that’s the thing. It was his realization that if he changes his past he wouldn’t have everything he has. You have to learn to appreciate your life for what it is and not what you hoped it would be. I wrote a book version of this story, and I get e-mails about once a week from people who read the book and are at a certain point in their life that they get. All I wanted from the book was for a guy on a business trip to read it on a plane, get home, and then hug his kids and wife a little tighter. And appreciate what he had — his car and house, or whatever.

GS: The movie took such a turn from what I expected a football film should be…

DH: Well, I always saw it as a love story first and a football story second. Football is very visual, very visceral, and you put a football player on the poster and it becomes a football movie. I hope peopel can see past that.

GS: I think you succeeded.

DH: Thank you, man. Hey, by the way, are you a Wisconsin fan?

GS: You know, I’m really not. And I know I’m in the minority around here because the Badgers are huge.

DH: They’re going to be really good this year. My brother went to Purdue, and he doesn’t watch football either. But the Badgers are going to be really good this year, so I’m sure you’ll be hearing more about that. Especially with Penn State and Ohio State out.

GS: Yeah. Thanks for your time, Don!

DH: No, man, thank you.

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