Division III: Football’s Finest is the story of the Pulham University Bluecocks, a struggling football program at a tiny liberal arts college. After the unexpected death of their coach, the university hires convicted felon Rick Vice (Andy Dick) to coach the team and hopefully generate some much-needed media attention, but no one could have expected the chaos that ensues as Vice begins to incorporate his unique brand of leadership, resulting in plenty of hilarious and profane mishaps that make Division III: Football’s Finest one of the most outrageous sports movies to come along in years.
The film was written and directed by Marshall Cook, who also stars in the film as Mitch DePrima, a bench-ridden quarterback who continually finds himself at odds with Coach Vice as he struggles to find his place on the team. We recently had an opportunity to speak with Cook via telephone about his experiences making the film and working with the “uninsurable” Andy Dick.
First things first, Marshall, I watched the film with a couple of our writers and my girlfriend, and we laughed our asses off. I understand that the film originally started out as a short, and then evolved into this. Can you talk a little about that?
Yeah, sure. The film was actually a whole different animal in the beginning. I think I started writing a couple of scenes out of college, and I think it was called Fourth Quarter, or some sort of football pun. The short film was actually made to kind of explore some of the characters I was writing and give kind of a visual aid to the script I was writing. It wasn’t exactly based off the short – the short was just kind of made while I was writing it, to accompany the script when I passed it out.
From there, I cut the short down into a one-minute trailer, just because everyone has the shortest attention spans here, so you’ve gotta show them exactly what it is in like a minute-and-a-half, especially when you don’t have a movie under your belt and they don’t know anything about you. So that’s why I made the short.
Is there any chance of releasing the short online?
The short is on YouTube. I actually tried to take it off. (laughs)
You know, when you’re so close to something, and it’s been that long, you just start to see everything wrong with it, and you can’t enjoy it. And I think my alma mater, Occidental College, they had a problem with the short because it was shot on their campus and they had issues with the content. We’ve actually not had a very good relationship lately, I think because of that short.
I can understand that.
You said that you started writing the film right out of college. How many of the characters or scenes in the film were based on your own personal experiences, or on people that you knew?
I think quite a bit. It’s not just college experience, it’s football experience. Over the course of ten years, you meet a lot of different characters and have a lot of situations that are relatable to anybody in any sport. Obviously, there are some things that are completely manufactured, like the whole food fight scene, for example. That’s just something that Andy and I kinda came up with that we thought would be pretty funny. My first college pass actually was a 30-yard touchdown on a broken play, and I did get yelled at for throwing it, because it was dangerous, so that’s a very real scene.
Obviously, for comedy I heightened it to the point that the coach is a centimeter from my face, screaming at me, and the other coach pulls a knife out, so it’s a bit exaggerated. But they’re all kind of rooted in something relatable or something that happened, and I just have to figure out a way to make that entertaining. That’s the number one goal of a comedy, you just want to make it entertaining and funny, and not get too melodramatic about football.
Absolutely. We have plenty of those films already.
Yeah, like when they say “football, it’s a war out there.” It’s not a war, come on. It’s a sport, a game. (laughs)
Talk to me about Andy Dick’s involvement, how did that come about?
I wrote the movie for him. I’d worked on a couple of other projects with him. He directed a movie called Danny Roane: First Time Director. I think we shot that in 2005 or 2006, and I was the producer on that, and he acted in a couple of short films of mine. In getting to know him, I just knew that he would be perfect for this role, and I feel like I was the only person who knew. (laughs)
Any time I would pitch it, financiers and producers would be like “Andy Dick can’t play the coach” or “Andy Dick can’t be the lead,” because they think of him as the gay office nerd from his TV career. It was definitely a hard sell, because you’ve got a first-time director, and you’ve got an uninsurable actor, pretty much. (laughs)
It was very hard to get made. People were saying “look, we wanna make the movie, but maybe Andy can play the principal, or the president of the school, or the assistant coach,” or some sort of side character. And I said “no, Andy has to be the coach because he’s the only one that can do it.” And I still feel that way, I’m glad I stuck to my guns. Maybe I could’ve made the movie for more money, but then I’d have a movie that was a couple million dollars to make, starring Rob Schneider, and it would just be different.
It wouldn’t be the project you wanted.
Yeah. Nothing against Rob Schneider. But this role was written for Andy.
While we’re on the subject of Andy – how much of his onscreen antics were scripted, and how much did you guys come up with on the fly?
I’d say more was scripted than not. Between myself as a writer, and Paul Henderson and Andy Dick, we all threw out ideas in the script-writing process, or we’d get on the phone and improvise scenes and see where they went. So a lot of the improv happened during the writing process. Like the bicycle stuff, that was very scripted, it just says “Vice gets off his bike and unnecessarily throws it into the bushes” or something. So a lot of the physical stuff was very scripted, but then Andy would be on set and someone else would be doing a scene… he’s just always thinking “what can I do to be funnier, what can I do to make this better?”
For example, the clipboard run, where he’s just breaking clipboards on everybody’s head, that was all Andy on the set, sending a P.A. out, like “we need a clipboard budget, we need you to get more clipboards.” All of a sudden I come back and I see like thirty clipboards in front me and he’s like “yeah, I’m gonna be breaking these over people’s heads.” And I was like “okay.” (laughs)
The thing you’ve gotta do, which I think every director should do, is always be open to change, always be open to other suggestions and ideas. I’m 27 years old working with comedy veterans like Andy Dick, Will Sasso, Adam Carolla, Mo Collins, Bryan Callen – what kind of an a-hole would I be to think that I’m funnier than them? That would take a huge ego to say “no, I know what’s funny, you guys do what I say.” So I think being open to that really helped.
Any chance you kept a record of how many clipboards you went through?
(laughs) No, but I think I’ve got about twenty in my closet. I don’t know why I’m holding onto these.
You wrote the film, you star in the film, you directed, you were executive producer – how difficult was that balancing act?
Out of all the roles, I’d actually say editing was the toughest. I wanted to hire my roommate at the time, who’s a great editor, his name’s John Valerio, but he was busy, I think he had just gotten Parks and Recreation. They paid him real money, and we didn’t have editor money. So I edited the movie on my laptop, hooked to another monitor, and it’s this slow machine, and the screens are too small, and it just took so long, it was such a pain in the butt. And it was such a marathon, we shot so much footage with all the improv and everything, so editing took forever and that was definitely the hardest part.
Acting and directing, that’s also a difficult balancing act. As an actor, you’re a little bit more self-conscious about yourself and your performance, and in my experience most actors, immediately after the take, they’re looking to the director saying “was that take okay?” But as a director, you have to know. You have to be the guy to say “yeah, that was good.” So it was weird to be that guy, while also asking myself “was that okay?” But between the D.P. and my producer, Tyler Hawes, and Andy Dick, if there were ever times that I was in question I would just defer to them and just have a conversation about the scene because I didn’t have enough time to be looking at monitors after every take. So between support and trusting your own instincts and moving as fast as possible, that’s kinda just the way to get it done.
Speaking of the time crunch, what was the shooting schedule like?
Insane. Six-day weeks, and I think principal photography was about 17 or 18 days, six-day weeks for three weeks. I was first to the set, last to leave, and we had a lot of people just working crazy days, it was like trying to sprint a marathon, just running as fast as you can the entire time. We put the movie together, and then we did some pickups later, because we knew we were going to do a pickup with Adam Carolla and Will Sasso once we put the movie together, so they could come and tape to the game that’s already edited, but we added a few more scenes to the pickups because we were losing locations, and because we were just tired. I think the entire movie was shot in about 22 days.
Did you always intend to play Mitch?
Yeah, of course. I want to continue to act and direct, but I don’t always want to act while directing. In pitching this movie and trying to get it sold, any financier’s first priority is “what kind of name cast can you get?” So they were like “oh, you wanna play that role? Well, who are you?” But I would always challenge them and say “if not me, then who?” You know, who would do this movie for very little money and would be worth raising the stock of this movie? And somebody would throw out a name like Justin Long or something, and he’s like 5’8″ or whatever. Sure, he could play a quarterback in college. (laughs)
So I would just kinda challenge people. No major movie star, I think, would do this role, so if that’s the case then I should just do it, because I can do it. We don’t need to get stunt double, I’m basically just playing myself, and why not? I wrote it. (laughs)
We were pleased to see Alison Haislip in the movie. How did that casting come about?
Oh, Alison’s just great. We never had a female lead set up. A lot of these roles I kinda handed out to friends, but I really didn’t know Alison before this movie. We auditioned girls, and she won the audition, she was just the right girl between being able to hang with the guys… we just needed a girl that could be in the training center and be around jocks all the time and just kinda be a “guy’s girl.” She had the look and the personality, and it was really about her being the right fit for the part. I wish I had more for her to do, but this movie isn’t a romantic comedy. I love Alison, though, she’s an amazing talent and I hope she does more acting and isn’t always looked at as a host.
Alright, last question: what’s next?
I’ve got a couple of script that I wanna produce, and possibly act in, and a couple of scripts I wanna direct, so right now it’s all about taking meetings and saying “I made this movie for this much money and it was this successful, so give me a little more money to do this movie.” I don’t have a deal lined up with a studio or anything, but I think getting the next one made will be a lot easier, considering the success of this one.
Absolutely. Thanks very much for your time.
Hey man, thank you for watching the movie with friends, I think that’s one of the best ways to watch it. I always fear people watching it on their laptop, alone.
This is the kind of movie that’s much more enjoyable with a group of people.
Yeah, Image Entertainment, our distributor, they sent us on a college tour for about a month in October. It was me, Andy, and a documentary crew, and we hit up a dozen different schools, I think we had about 25 different showings. Just watching it in a theater, with an audience, was such an amazing experience.
Of course. Thanks again, we really appreciate it.
Division III: Football’s Finest is currently available on Blu-Ray and DVD.