This piece by Dan Wiersema of The Free Beer Movement.
In late February United States National Team and Vancouver Whitecaps defender Jay DeMerit tweeted out to his followers that “Rise and Shine: The Jay Demerit Story” was not up for one of this year’s Oscars. He ended his statement with the hash tag “coming to a theater near you”. If you follow DeMerit on Twitter, or know anything about him, there are very few things that he does or says off the field that one should take serious. It appeared as though his announcement was just a well-timed joke.
Fast forward two weeks and a trailer for “Rise and Shine” pops up on the Internet. It quickly makes the rounds across various soccer blogs, websites, and media outlets (including this one) and by the end of the day has been pulled off of YouTube. Soccer fans were left wondering if this was the real deal or some sort of mockumentary.
Enter Nick Lewis to clear up the confusion. Lewis is the co-director and co-producer, along with a friend, Ranko Tutulugdzija, of this mystery film.
“Rise and Shine” is, in fact, a real movie and it is just as advertised, “The Jay DeMerit Story.” The documentary’s mission, as Lewis put it, was to “recreate his path” and follow DeMerit’s unbelievable rags to riches American soccer story.
The film’s own story began about six or seven months before the 2010 World Cup. Tutulugdzija, who has played soccer with DeMerit in college at the University of Illinois at Chicago, approached his former teammate with the idea to tell his tale.
“We had a passion, we wrote a script, and Jay said ‘This is great,’” Lewis said. “He’s very interested in hearing what others had to say (about him) along the way.”
Setting aside their day jobs, Lewis and Tutulugdzija, an attorney and an acupuncturist, respectively, set off on a journey to track down many of the people in DeMerit’s past; an American soccer, “This Is Your Life.”
They were joined by a fresh-out-of-college 24-year old director of photography Zach Salsman, who they found on the Internet. In another twist, Lewis and Tutulugdzija were originally only going to write and pitch the script, but after their original director bailed on them, they were now at the helm
Lewis wanted to emphasize, “We could not have made this without (Zach).”
The three trekked off to interview and film Jay’s story from Green Bay, Wisconsin, a small Midwest (American) football town, to Chicago to throughout Europe and to the English Premier League and, finally, to the U.S. National Team.
Along the way the filmmakers were able to get great interviews with some of the lives that Jay’s story has touched along the way; from the family he stayed with during his trial days to his Watford coaches to USMNT coach Bob Bradley and teammates Tim Howard and Carlos Bocanegra. Some of the most interesting parts of the film are these moments when these people open up about how unique and inspiring a tale Jay has woven.
Lewis said the whole project took about a year and landed the crew on three continents.
“There’s a story within a story about how this film was made,” Lewis said.
He continued, “In a lot of ways it was just like Jay’s story.”
Lewis, Tutulugdzija, and Salsman have made this movie completely from their own money. At this point they’re sitting on a nearly finished project. According to Tutulugdzija the film was recently honored with the “Rising Star” award at the Canadian International Film Festival.
The film is set to be screened for DeMerit’s family, friends, and teammates in Vancouver on April 4th at the District319 Theater.
“It will be a community celebration of soccer and Vancouver,” Tutulugdzija said in an e-mail to TSG.
At this point, unfortunately, the film is limited to the private screening on April 4th and the film festival circuit until its makers can find more financial and distributional support.
Lewis indicated that the movie, which includes footage of DeMerit’s time at Watford and with the USMNT, would have to pay extremely expensive rights fees to FIFA and the Premier League for it to see a large audience. Just a minute of World Cup footage, according to Lewis, runs upwards of $50,000.
If the movie had a distributor, someone to take on these fees and help get it to mainstream audiences, Lewis believes it would “do well worldwide.”
“We tried to capture the game and how powerful it is,” Lewis said. “But it’s not just about soccer. It’s a universal theme.”
“A lot of people know who Jay is, but they don’t know his story,” he continued.
DeMerit’s story took him from Wisconsin to Watford, with soccer panhandling stops all across Europe, before his dream of playing professional soccer was realized. In 2003 DeMerit set off for Europe with $1,800 and barely a hope; only armed with perseverance. With friend Kieren Keane the two of them showed up on the door steps of clubs all across the continent looking for a tryout. Starting in the ninth-tier of English soccer for Southall both DeMerit and Keane moved to seventh division Northwood where, in a pre-season match, Jay impressed the coaching staff of Watford, a team in the English Championship.
By 2007 he was the captain of Watford in the EPL and by 2010 starting in the World Cup for the United States. Following the World Cup DeMerit signed with the Major League Soccer expansion side, Vancouver Whitecaps, and last week was named its captain before the opening of the 2011 season.
Right now, though, the film version of his fairytale sits at a crossroads. Few who would or could be captivated by this story will see it if the makers can’t get over their distribution and rights roadblocks.
DeMerit’s dream hinged on the hopes of getting noticed and proving he could play top flight soccer. His story’s tellers now hope their project follows a parallel path: get noticed, prove the film’s value, and show it off on the world’s stage.
For more information and information on how to donate to help finish the project visit: Jay DeMerit Story.com
TSG has an advance and will have a review up later this week.