Marc Levin, Director and Ben Selkow, Karl Hollandt, and R. Binky Brown, Co-Producers● Profile
"All the clichés have a lot of truth about learning the game of life and the need for discipline, sacrifice, teamwork, drive, focus … it’s sad that both in public and now parochial schools, budget cuts are impacting sports and arts and all the things that make life worth living." Marc Levin
Prayer for a Perfect Season is a gripping account of the 2010-11 boys’ basketball season at St. Patrick High School, located in a hardscrabble neighborhood of Elizabeth, NJ. The film captures the intersection of two forces – the soaring media interest in the big game, and the decline of Catholic school programs – while illuminating the real-life issues players and coaches confront during the season.
Coached by Kevin Boyle, the St. Patrick Celtics’ 2010-11 team was loaded with talent and plagued by distractions. Star player Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (now a freshman at the University of Kentucky) was one of the nation’s top performers, and his elite skills had cast him in an unrelenting spotlight since grade school. When Kidd-Gilchrist was just two and a half years old, his father was murdered, and he also lost his surrogate father at the beginning of his senior year of high school. Complementing Kidd-Gilchrist, senior shooting guard Derrick Gordon (ticketed for Western Kentucky University) had to face his twin brother’s incarceration for aggravated assault.
Prayer for a Perfect Season follows the roller-coaster ride of a team on the brink of history, at a school on the verge of becoming insolvent, where the journey to the top of the polls is inspiring, but the future is filled with uncertainty.
This film debuts Tuesday, October 25th (9:00-10:30 p.m. ET/PT), exclusively on HBO.
Marc Levin (Director/Executive Producer/Writer)
Marc Levin brings narrative and vérité techniques together in his independent films, episodic television and documentaries. His Brick City TV series won the 2010 Peabody award and was nominated for an Emmy for Exceptional Merit in Nonfiction Filmmaking. His dramatic feature film, Slam, which won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and the Camera D'Or at Cannes in 1998, received international recognition. Marc has won numerous Emmy awards, two duPont Columbia awards, the prestigious Peabody Award, a NAACP Image award and a CableACE award. His credits include: the forthcoming HBO’s Hard Times: Lost on Long Island; HBO’s Schmatta: From Rags to Riches to Rags; PBS’s Godfathers and Sons as part of The Blues series; ten films for HBO’s America Undercover; and Showtime’s Street Time series. Levin also served as executive producer for numerous other productions.
Ben Selkow (Producer)
A documentary producer and director, Selkow's past credits include DreamWorks Television and Discovery Channel’s Rising: Rebuilding Ground Zero, and The Carrier, which premiered at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival in the World Documentary Competition, the 2011 IDA Docuweek’s Showcase and Zurich International Film Festival. He was the director and producer of the Sundance Channel feature documentary A Summer in the Cage. Currently, Ben is directing and producing a feature-length documentary about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) entitled Buried Above Ground. He is also a Fellow at The Carter Center’s Mental Health Journalism Program.
Karl Hollandt (Producer)
Karl was the coordinating producer for the Peabody Award-winning documentary Sundance Channel series Brick City. Karl has also worked on two Marc Levin and Daphne Pinkerson’s HBO documentaries, Schmatta: From Rags to Riches to Rags, which premiered at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival, and Hard Times: Lost on Long Island, premiering at the 2011 Hamptons Film Festival.
Interview with Marc Levin, Director, by Steffie Kinglake
t21: What inspired you to make Prayer for the Perfect Season?
ML: I always wanted to do a non-fiction Friday Night Lights of urban basketball. I also wanted to shine a spotlight on Jersey ball. I grew up in Jersey and played high school ball there, so in a way it was like coming full circle.
t21: What was the biggest obstacle in making it?
ML: The biggest obstacle was getting permission from the school, the families, the NJSIAA, the NCAA … endless hoops to jump through to be able to follow a bunch of teenagers on their road to growing up. But we had a great filmmaking team, so with over a year of earning trust, traveling with the St. Pat’s team, filming the players and coaches’ home lives, practices, locker rooms and games, we gathered 250 hours of footage. You work through these obstacles.
t21: How did you first identify and connect with the St. Patrick Celtics’ 2010-11 team?
ML: While working on the Brick City series in Newark, I got to know Father Ed, the headmaster of Saint Benedict's. The more we talked the more I realized there was a fascinating world to be explored in the so called “Bermuda Triangle” – the 3 small Catholic high schools – St. Benedict in Newark, St. Patrick in Elizabeth (where I grew up), St. Anthony in Jersey City. Father Ed was the one who suggested I meet with Coach Kevin Boyle and I followed his advice.
t21: What do you want viewers to take away from the film?
ML: A heartfelt belief that these kids are winners and are going to continue to be leaders and winners in life. I sometimes joke that this is my Disney film. These kids are the real thing, yet they defy many familiar stereotypes. They are sensitive, thoughtful, respectful, hardworking, humble and yet full of energy, humor, and intelligence. They truly care for each other and believe in the team concept.
t21: What are some of the dynamics special to high school basketball not seen at the college or pro-level?
ML: They are teammates for real – friends for years and coming of age all together. As Bob Hurley Sr. says at the opening of the film about Magic Johnson – with all Magic’s accomplishments he still puts the high school state championship at the top. Nothing compares with sharing your formative years with your close friends and teammates – as you move up the food chain it becomes more and more about business and money and the brotherhood and love of the game is diluted.
t21: Why are high school sports important? Are many high school sports in jeopardy from recent or projected school budget cuts?
ML: High school sports probably kept me in school. I can’t imagine high school without them. All the clichés have a lot of truth about learning the game of life and the need for discipline, sacrifice, teamwork, drive, focus … it’s sad that both in public and now parochial schools budget cuts are impacting sports and arts and all the things that make life worth living. These Catholic schools like Saint Patrick have really been heroic in helping working class families send their kids to a safe school that helps their children get into college. It’s one of the things that the Catholic Church should be rightfully proud of. Meanwhile, over 1000 Catholic high schools have closed in the last 10 years.
t21: Did you play high school sports? If so, what are some of the highlights you remember?
ML: Yes, I was the co-captain of my Columbia High School basketball team in Maplewood/South Orange, NJ. It’s all a fog now – maybe that’s why I wanted to make the film – to try and get some of it back before I’m benched for life. What stays with me besides the intense competitive drive and deep friendships is the thrill of starting on Varsity as a sophomore. I felt I had made it to the big time.
t21: What is your favorite thing about basketball?
ML: It is a sport that showcases the greatest athletes in the world. It requires real balance between individual and team skills and at its best has the creative and improvisational inspiration of dance and jazz. That’s what’s great about doc filmmaking – it’s all about collaborating with a small mobile team, much like basketball. I could have never made this film without the fantastic producers Karl Hollandt, Ben Selkow, Robin “Binky” Brown and the gifted editor James Lestor, the multi-talented DP Dan Levin and the brilliant composer Khari Mateen.
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