Take a sneak peek behind scenes of ‘Draft Day’
BEREA, Ohio — I now share something in common with Brandon Weeden and Bernie Kosar.
I was cut in Cleveland.
OK, this isn’t technically true. I actually was whacked during the editing process of "Draft Day "in a Hollywood studio far away from Browns headquarters.
But I’m allowed some creative license — just like the producers of an upcoming movie that fictionally chronicles what the Browns would do with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft.
I was one of four media members invited on-set last May for what was pitched as a cameo role and a behind-the-scenes chance to report about the film. Mike Florio (ProFootballTalk.com), Jeff Darlington (NFL Network), Seth Wickersham (ESPN) and I were even given our own trailer, where we got into the mood for this endeavor by repeatedly watching the unofficial Cleveland tourism and "Factory of Sadness" videos on youtube.
Real-life misery has enshrouded the Browns ever since the franchise returned to play in 1999. The club has reached the playoffs only once, burnt through 20 different starting quarterbacks and lost 11 or more games for six consecutive seasons.
The dysfunction reached a peak this offseason. Browns owner Jimmy Haslem — who is under federal investigation for a fuel-rebate scam run by his Pilot Flying J Travel Centers — fired front-office executives Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi less than two years into the job after that duo had fired head coach Rob Chudzinski after his inaugural season.
Suffice to say, Browns fans should hope life imitates art in the future with "Draft Day."
The movie follows the efforts of Browns general manager Sonny Weaver Jr. (played by actor Kevin Costner) to acquire the draft’s No. 1 overall pick and begin the turnaround of his downtrodden franchise. Such maneuverings are intertwined with subplots involving Weaver’s romantic and family life designed to give "Draft Day" a more widespread appeal than gridiron junkies.
"We’re trying to run a fine line where we don’t dumb it down but, on the other hand, we don’t lose the audience," Costner told our "Hack Pack" of journalists between filming scenes at the Browns’ indoor practice facility.
"There are some things that seem a little bit over-simple in our script. Maybe if we can give it more locker-room/guy talk. I’ll try to step that up a little bit. But we don’t go so deep that we’re going to lose somebody."
Costner said his starring turn in other sports films like "Bull Durham," "Field of Dreams" and "Tin Cup" helped him prepare for the Sonny Weaver role. So did his passion for the NFL. Costner joked that when he sees replays of games on NFL Network he often remarks, "I saw all those games live, too. That’s when you know (you’re a fan).
"I used to have all the pictures up on my wall (as a kid). I even built a silly canoe when I had all these Sports Illustrated things and tried to fiberglass them on. It looked so horrible and didn’t work."
Jennifer Garner, who plays the role of Costner’s love interest and Browns "capologist," also was as passionate about football. Garner said she never missed attending her junior high and high school games and even played in a fantasy league before her personal and professional lives became too hectic.
I asked whether her actor/husband Ben Affleck was jealous that she’s appearing in an NFL-themed movie.
"I’m sure he could have done an NFL movie if he wanted to," Garner defensively deadpanned before breaking into a laugh. "He’s doing fine. He was like, ‘I was talking with Tom the other day.’ You know, Brady. He’s alright."
Neither Affleck nor Brady makes appearances in "Draft Day" but Houston Texans running back Arian Foster has a supporting role. There also are plenty of NFL-themed cameos from Kosar to Jim Brown to even NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, whose part was filmed during the 2013 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
I thought I would get my shot as well. My "star" turn was Costner handing me a Bud Light aluminum bottle at a draft-night party before he strode to the stage. I then joined the crowd of "woofing" Browns fans as Costner, Foster, Denis Leary, Chadwick Boseman and Frank Langella took an on-stage bow celebrating the dawn of a new era in Cleveland.
Upon returning home, I cleared trophy space for the Oscar that would surely be coming. I told my real-life agent Maury Gostfrand to vet any future acting roles pitched to me and make sure my Starbucks venti latte would be awaiting me on set.
And then I was thrown to the Dawgs.
"Draft Day" producer Ali Bell called with the bad news in January. The entire scene was yanked from the film.
While disappointed, there was plenty I got out of the trip. Lionsgate is flying me first-class to the April 7 premiere in Los Angeles as a generous conciliation gift. I still may appear in the "extras" session when the Draft Day DVD is released.
I had lots of laughs with Florio, Darlington, Wickersham and media relations maven Chip Namias. I was impressed by the friendliness of the cast and crew, especially the surprisingly gregarious Costner. I saw first-hand just how much detail goes into just one day of shooting, let alone an entire movie.
And when the final NFL preseason roster moves are made in late August, I’ll have even more sympathy for those who didn’t make the cut.
Draft Day makes its nationwide theatrical debut April 11. For more information, visit http://www.draftdaythemovie.com.