The Source Magazine sat down with “Draft Day” screenplay writer Rajiv Joseph. He co-wrote the film with Scott Rothman. The film hits theaters this Friday April 11.
When writing and preparing this script, did you listen to and were you inspired by any music, specifically hip-hop?
Absolutely, I love hip-hop. In fact, I wrote a play called “Animals Out Of Paper” and one of the characters was this Indian kid who was really into free-styling. Both Scott and I love hip-hop we grew up in a time during the 90’s and when we were in college, which in my opinion was the hay-day of old-school hip-hop with A Tribe Called Quest, Warren G and The Beastie Boys. We kind of grew up with that kind of music, music I still listen to.
So if I were to log into your Pandora account right now, tell me a few of the artists that would pop up?
Half of My Pandora is Tribe Called Quest, Pharcyde, Warren G and Dr. Dre. That’s the stuff I still go back to and love.
Talk about the writing process for you with this film and how you were able to pull the audience in: both lovers of the sport and moviegoers alike?
Our biggest hope when writing this was that non-football fans would like it. We wanted a story about a man and his personal and professional life colliding on this one day. It’s about a guy who just lost his dad and he’s just discovered that he’s also going to be a dad.
Can you talk about developing the characters for the film and what made you take this really interesting intimate look at what happens on Draft Day and look at it from a really unexpected level?
I think that more than anything professional football is a family sport. You have a lot of coaching legacies and player and ownership legacies from people that own these teams and then pass them down to their kids. And even from a fan base I remember football being the thing that my whole family would sit down on Sundays to watch, we’d watch the Brown’s play and my mom made chili, and it was a real bonding experience so we really wanted to capture that.
You actually grew up a Cleveland Brown’s Fan, wow! Can you talk about the adventure and excitement it must have been sculpting this screenplay about a team very close to your true experiences as a fan?
The film is actually about my team and my city, and that was really great because football means so much to that town and it’s a real thing that binds the community together. The film is all about that, community and family and all of the really important things that I think everybody can get behind. And it’s not just about football or the particulars of the draft.
This is the first football film for Kevin Costner, was he always the person you saw playing the lead? Walk us through what casting was like?
I don’t think we were thinking specifically about Kevin Costner initially, we didn’t really have anybody in mind when writing the script. For Scott and I, this is our first movie that’s been made. We wrote this movie not thinking anybody would make it, We were just two guys in a coffee shop but then when Ivan Reitman took over and he asked us, “well what do you think about Kevin Costner”, were like “Oh my God, yeah!” And it was a quick re-write for him, and it got better and better.
How was it working with Costner for your first film?
Working with him was a dream and he’s such a smart guy, he helped us make the script better.
You’ve had a very All American Dream situation happen to you, which is very inspiring. Were there any first time film roadblocks you could speak about that might help someone who might be embarking on a similar journey?
Yes of course. We always had some sort of “ok we’re taking a couple steps forward” and then some kind of setback or steps back. Before Ivan came on, we’d decided to submit to a Sundance Film Festival writers lab, where you go up for a week and you get these mentors to help you and that’s where we really got motivated to sit down and write the script as a deadline, and because we were on a deadline, which can often times help you, we did that and then had a really great interview with them, so we’re like “yes! We’re going to Sundance this is great,” but then we didn’t get in.
How did you deal with that rejection and what helped you overcome it?
We’d been so confident that we were going to get in, that we’d put aside those dates on the calendar already and blocked off two weeks to be at Sundance, so when we didn’t get in we decided; you know what, we’ll show them. We’re going to come back to my apartment on those days and make the script even better. And that’s what led us to our manager sending it out to LA and Ivan getting it, so really a setback can actually be the best thing for you. It really motivated us. First Paramount took it on, and then they let it go when they weren’t sure that it was going to get made, another setback but when everything came together it actually did work out, things happened pretty efficiently. And we still just can’t believe that it did.
Did you and Scott get to be on set during filming?
Yes, and it was shot in my hometown so to have all of these movie stars there in Cleveland during the most beautiful time of the year when there was the most beautiful weather I mean talk about family and community. You know I’ve heard that making a movie can be a terrible experience, but it was the most wonderful experience and everyone felt apart of this family from the cast and the crew, Ivan, me and Scott and every night after shooting, we were all staying downtown Cleveland and Kevin Costner ended up taking me out to a couple of Indians games, which was amazing to go to a baseball game with Kevin Costner, he’d take us right in the underground to the dug out level right behind home plate, and if he’d have to leave, we’d go up to the radio booth and just be up there drinking beers and eating hotdogs watching the ball game. The other thing is that we were staying down the street from the Casino, which was not a great thing (laughs). It was just fun, like a summer camp. For two months you’re down in Cleveland shooting a movie and having a blast and everyone was great. Then one of the big thrills for us was meeting Sean Combs.
Great casting by the way and the visuals were insane, I loved the split screen effects, it’s really a gorgeous film that you don’t want to take your eyes off of because its shot so cool. Who came up with that idea?
That was Ivan who found and hired these people who could specifically do it because we had written that you would have to have a lot of split screens because there are so many phone calls. Ivan really wanted to find a new way of creating and interaction and I love how that happened. It was one of the cool, stylistic aspects that came out in the making of the movie.
As a female journalist I loved the way Jennifer Garners character was written, She’s so smart and beautiful and she played an important part of the draft as well, beauty and brains as I like to call it. She wasn’t a stereotypical damsel in distress that we often times see in big budget films like this so can you talk about developing the character Allie and where the idea came from?
We have always felt that in this day and age with the presence and popularity of sports, it’s not just a male centric entertainment anymore. Some of the people that I go to see games with and that enjoy watching games with me are women and I think that both women and men are big sports fans; so to default into a sort of normal kind of female role in a football film would be a mistake. We wanted this to feel of the times and we were really interested in Jennifer’s character Allie because in part,” Draft Day” is the Salary Cap so she had an important role to play because it’s her job and a big part of the actually draft. There’s a woman who works for the Brown’s that has that same job so we got a little into her background and we found out what she does on a day to day basis. It was exciting to see that there was this really powerful female character who is apart of this boys club and could stand up to these strong characters. That was a source for allot of the humor of the film, but also for a lot of the heart.
Do you see yourself writing more sports films in the future? And what kind of films will you focus on next after having by many standards an already successful first project?
We would love to write another sports film, I don’t think it’s our only focus but I do think that one of the thrills of making this film was that as football fans we got to go behind the curtain, we shot at the draft and we got to work with Arian Foster and Terry Crews and we’re huge fans of these guys and to be football fans and to have a film made about football, that’s the way to go! The experience has been a real thrill!
What was the most memorable moment you’re walking away with and tell us what you’re working on next?
The fact that it’s about my hometown Cleveland and about my favorite team and whether people love or hate the movie, I know that this film depicts the city of Cleveland in a really beautiful way, so that’s something I’m really proud of. And as far as what we’re working on next, Scott and I have become a team through this and we’re really excited to move on the the next thing. We’re not sure what that’s going to be right now, but we hope it’s going to be something to follow in the footsteps of this great experience.
Also, check out this new featurette that takes a look at the “Draft Day” partnership with the NFL – a first of its kind since most Hollywood productions are forced to use fake team names and players to convey football stories. Fans can rejoice as this film was endorsed by the league to add to its authenticity. Featuring commentary from cast members Chadwick Boseman and NFL Player Arian Foster, this video gives a sneak peek at the film with an NFL lens.
P. Diddy aka Sean Combs is also in the film. Check out this clip below:
-Chasity Saunders (@itsmechasity)