Too Deep Zone: Leaf!

by Mike Tanier

The Bryn Mawr Film Institute, located in the wealthy suburbs just west of Philadelphia, holds Open Screen Mondays each month. The mini-festivals at the historic theatre are an important destination for independent filmmakers and local cinemaphiles. Directors screen short trailers or clips of their films-in-progress, then engage the audience in question-and-answer sessions.

In November, Tim Carr arrived at BMFI with a brief trailer for a most unusual film. The trailer began with a shot of a football player running across the field. Then, backlit by a cloud-dappled sky, a quarterback throws a long pass. Title cards tell the story: "In 1998, he signed a contract worth 31.25 million dollars. He became the first rookie quarterback since 1983 to win his first two starts."

The scene switches to black and white. The quarterback is alone on the bench. His uniform number 16 can now clearly be seen. He stands, rips off his helmet, and throws it to the ground in disgust. A close-up shows the helmet rolling on the turf. Another title card: "'He's a nightmare you can't even imagine,' -- former teammate Rodney Harrison."

In color again, the camera zooms behind the quarterback as he gazes out at the autumn sky. The name on the jersey fills the screen: Leaf.

Carr knew that football fans would be immediately familiar with the film's subject: Ryan Leaf, one of the greatest busts in NFL history. But he was gambling with the independent film crowd. After the trailer, several audience members asked questions about his film: Leaf: An Almost True Story. A Russian viewer with no knowledge of Leaf or American football in general found the trailer fascinating. "I knew then that it might have an audience among the indie crowd," Carr said of his latest labor of love.

Carr knew that he could move forward. Leaf: An Almost True Story is coming in 2007.

An Unconventional Sports Story

Carr, a 30-yea- old Delaware native, has been acting in movies and television for over a decade. He has appeared on Law and Order, Oz, Ed, and One Life to Live, and in movies like Man on the Moon and Rounders. He has a small role in Rocky Balboa, playing one of Rocky Junior's friends.

With substantial roles hard to come by, Carr began to focus his efforts on writing, producing, and directing. His first production, a romantic comedy called The Wrong Fortune Cookie, was released in 2002. He then co-produced and starred in 13th Grade, a coming-of-age comedy that features Carr as a high school senior forced attend an extra year of school and Dustin Diamond (a.k.a. Screech) as a Hollywood superstar forced to complete his education.

Carr returned to the director's chair with A Deeper Shade of Soul, a comedy in which all of the characters are speaking in rhyme but Carr's main character. "It's a story where everyone is on a completely different planet," Carr says of the film, which was received a limited release in 2006. "The main character is trying to blend, but the more he tries, the worse it works out."

After finishing A Deeper Shade of Soul, Carr wanted to tackle a sports-themed project. "I was looking for something unconventional, a story that hadn't been done before," said Carr. He considered a list of very unconventional sports personalities: Maurice Clarett, Jeff George, soccer star George Best, Billy Ripken (the working title for the Ripken film would have been F*** Face), before settling on Leaf. "There have been a lot of sports inspirationals like Rudy. Has there been a cautionary tale yet? Is there a flip side?"

After doing some research, Carr was convinced that Leaf would make a compelling film subject. The trick would be convincing skeptics in both the football community and the indie film crowd. "Not many football films make the festival circuit," Carr explained, which is why he was so encouraged by his reception at Bryn Mawr. As for football fans, the key was to frame his controversial subject properly. "This is a guy who put himself in a pickle and spent his whole career getting out of it."

Carr plans to paint Leaf as a deeply flawed but ultimately sympathetic character. That will require all of his skills as a writer, director, and actor.

Beer Dumping, Locker Room Shouting … and Humanizing

In the weeks leading up to the 1998 draft, media attention focused almost exclusively on two players: Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf. Manning, the four-year college starter with NFL bloodlines and a rep as a leader on the field and a boy scout off it, was the likely top pick. Leaf, an exceptional athlete who took the college football world by storm in his final season at Washington State, was the dark horse candidate to supplant him. After months of speculation, the Colts took Manning with the first pick in the draft. The Chargers selected Leaf with the second pick.

The rest is history. Leaf did indeed win his first two starts of the 1998 season, but that had more to do with the Chargers defense than with Leaf's abilities as a quarterback. In his third game, Leaf completed just one of 15 pass attempts, and he led the Chargers on a 1-5 stretch before getting benched. He was injured for all of the 1999 season, then played poorly for the 1-15 Chargers before getting released.

Leaf's on-field problems were more than matched by his off-field issues. He fought with teammates, screamed at fans, and dumped pitchers of beer on reporters. He played golf when he was supposed to be recovering from injuries. There were indications before he reached the NFL that Leaf was immature and hard to deal with -- he once threw a football at a reporter who criticized his Washington State team, and he isn't even included on his high school's Wall of Fame. But nothing prepared the Chargers for the circus Leaf created. After the Chargers gave up on him, Leaf began a long sojourn around the NFL, his reputation following him to stops in Tampa Bay, Dallas, and Seattle.

As Carr began his script, he discovered that he had plenty of Leaf antics to reenact. The locker room tirade at San Diego journalist Jay Posner will be recreated frame for frame, with Carr playing Leaf (Posner recently agreed to participate in the film). "I will be dumping a beer on someone's head," Carr says of a notorious incident at a Washington bar, where Leaf, in town for a charity function, took umbrage at a college reporter's questions. Carr is also recreating an alleged incident in which Junior Seau tricked the rookie Leaf into buying an expensive dinner for the Chargers' veterans. Leaf refused to pay, so Seau (so the story goes) ignored Leaf's red practice jersey and sacked him the next day in practice, standing over the millionaire rookie and taunting, "Will you pay now?"

But individual scenes don't make a coherent movie. Carr had to frame a narrative. He opted to use the mock-umentary storytelling style popularized in films like A Mighty Wind and Best in Show. Staged reenactments and scripted scenes will be interspersed with interviews of sportswriters and football players like Hugh Douglas, who faced Leaf on the field in 1998 and 2001. Carr has also cast actors to play hardcore football fans whose memories of Leaf represent "the conscience of each team's fans." Keith Bullard, who earned favorable reviews in the 2003 comedy The Negro Zone, plays the San Diego fan. Deena Martin (Simone from Dazed and Confused, Christy from Swingers) plays the Tampa Bay fan. I appear as one of the sportswriters. "I'm telling the story through the eyes of sportswriters and sports fans and folks," Carr says of the unique narrative approach.

Carr separated Leaf's story into chapters, one for each stop on his NFL journey. The Chargers and Cowboys chapters are the longest, but Carr uses Leaf's brief stops in Tampa and Seattle to humanize his subject as a fading prospect desperate to make amends. Carr called the Seahawks chapter of his story the hardest five pages he ever wrote (Leaf never played a down for the Seahawks), but he feels that it's an important part of the tale. "The Seahawks chapter is very internal," he explains. "It shows that while he didn't come full circle, he was trying. And people were starting to stick their necks out for him." Still, most of the action focuses on Leaf's tumultuous tenure in San Diego.

Becoming Leaf

Carr spent the fall shooting his trailer and doing much of the primary casting. Aside from Leaf himself (played by Carr), the most recognizable face in the Leaf saga is Junior Seau, the future Hall of Fame linebacker who was the Chargers' undisputed leader in the late 1990s. Carr tapped Eric "The Smoke" Moran, a professional wrestler and star of The Black Ninja, to play the NFL legend. Moran will portray Seau in reenactments and in scripted "interviews." "I did a lot of homework studying Junior's interviews and mannerisms so I could do the man justice," Moran explained.

Football fans will recognize other characters in the movie; actors have been cast as Bobby Beathard, Jerry Jones, Mike Holmgren, and others. Carr is still searching for an actor to portray Rodney Harrison and recite the "nightmare" line. Carr also plans to cast a Peyton Manning. "Manning isn't a big player in the story, but I definitely want his presence to be felt. It's hard to mention one without the other. It's like heads and tails."

Carr will use high school and college football players as extras during the football action sequences. "It will be indie, but it won't be hokey," Carr said of the on-field scenes. "It won't be me against a pee-wee squad." Carr doesn't have the budget to shoot a movie that looks like Any Given Sunday or Friday Night Lights, so he'll compensate with black-and-white footage and tight camera angles which "make the hits look a lot harder." The football scenes won't be straight-from-the-playbook incidents from Leaf's career, but they'll effectively illustrate Leaf's on-field struggles.

Carr spent four months lifting weights to look more convincing as an NFL player. He also worked with current and former college coaches on proper stance, posture, and throwing mechanics, taking 50 or 60 snaps per day so he looks like a real quarterback. Carr is also preparing for another aspect of a quarterback's life: taking sacks. The last day of football filming will be "sack day;" Carr will get hit over and over again in various jerseys, with the footage edited in to appropriate times in the movie. Sack day comes last, according to Carr, because "if I break a rib, I'm not going to get up the next day for filming." One of the people sacking Carr will be Moran. "This is the third film where I had to physically harm my co-star," Moran said. "I am going to handle Tim in stunt fashion. He won't feel a thing."

The finished product should include action, humor, and more than a little pathos. It may even include Leaf. Carr contacted Leaf (now a college coach) about the project. While Leaf is understandably wary of the national media, he didn't immediately denounce the project, and he left open the possibility of future conversations and even a cameo. "I was bracing to get cursed out," admits Carr, who stressed to Leaf that while the movie would show all his foibles, it wouldn't be a hatchet job.

A Story to Share

Looking back at Carr's body of work, it's easy to see what attracted him to Leaf. Like the character in A Deeper Shade of Soul, Leaf spent much of his career trying to blend in. But the more he tried, the worse it worked out.

Carr has gotten a lot of encouragement for his project, both from the indie film crowd and from fans in San Diego. He has also gotten his share of hate mail. "People write and tell me that Leaf's a bum, I'm a bum, and why am I doing a movie on this bum?" Carr said. But like any good director, Carr is empathetic toward his subject. "He brought it upon himself, but I kind of feel for this guy."

Carr began shooting scenes with Moran in early December. He will be shooting through February. He hopes to have a rough cut available to screen for a select audience before the NFL draft. "He'll live forever in draft week," Carr said of Leaf, explaining his rush to assemble even a rough version of the film. The announcement that Robert DeNiro has added a sports category to the Tribeca Film Festival has further hastened Carr's efforts. Once the film is finished, Carr will work the festival circuit. But he feels that Leaf: An Almost True Story has the kind of broad box office to attract a major distributor.

"Sports fans love to share stories," Carr said. "This is my chance to share a story with everyone." It's a strange story, a cautionary tale of an NFL misfit, a reviled character whose career is long over when it should be entering its peak. But if Ed Wood is suitable movie fodder, why not Leaf? He was, for a few years, a nightmare like we couldn't imagine, but Carr is banking on Leaf's story as a curious tale that football fans and cinema buffs would love to relive.

Check out the film trailer for Leaf: An Almost True Story here or follow the progress of the film at this website.


62 comments, Last at 25 Apr 2008, 4:46pm

2 Re: Too Deep Zone: Leaf!

i hope he throws jim jones "ballin'" in the soundtrack

3 Re: Too Deep Zone: Leaf!

As a diehard Charger fan who watched Leaf and followed his antics in San Diego, I can't decide whether I want to see a movie like this or not.

I'm fencin' it for now ;)

4 Re: Too Deep Zone: Leaf!

Carr spent four months lifting weights to look more convincing as an NFL player. He also worked with current and former college coaches on proper stance, posture, and throwing mechanics, taking 50 or 60 snaps per day so he looks like a real quarterback.

What's the point, he's playing Ryan Leaf!

5 Re: Too Deep Zone: Leaf!

He should try to get Mel Kiper to be in the film.

Is anyone working on a Cade McNown movie?

6 Re: Too Deep Zone: Leaf!

I realize it's petty, but I don't like the title. Has a very "indie" feel to it.

7 Re: Too Deep Zone: Leaf!

There is only one man to play Peyton. That man is Wil Wheaton.

8 Re: Too Deep Zone: Leaf!

exdeadguy: Oh hell yeah. Though he'd need like 8" heels.

9 Re: Too Deep Zone: Leaf!

Will this movie make Leaf rich again?? I'm sure he has to get some of the profits since it's based on him.

10 Re: Too Deep Zone: Leaf!

"There is only one man to play Peyton. That man is Wil Wheaton."

Holy crap, you're right. I bet Wheaton can halfway drawl.

11 Re: Too Deep Zone: Leaf!

I'm I the only one who sees the humor in this? A guy named Carr taking 50-60 sacks in a day?

12 Re: Too Deep Zone: Leaf!

Re: 9,

I'm pretty sure that's not the case, especially since he's a public figure.

And this movie is likely to, like most actual indy movies, make no one rich.

14 Re: Too Deep Zone: Leaf!

Carr will get hit over and over again in various jerseys,

Heh. Yeah. Texans home jersey, Texans away jersey, Texans alternate jersey...

16 Re: Too Deep Zone: Leaf!

If this guy's looking to cast a Peyton Manning for the movie, why doesn't he give a shot at trying to get the real thing? If his commercial resume is any indication, Peyton and/or his agent won't say no to anything.

of course, he'd have to pay him somehow, but it's worth throwing feelers out...

17 Re: Too Deep Zone: Leaf!

...that's right in my back yard. I'll be at the Film Institute for this. Awesome.

18 Re: Too Deep Zone: Leaf!

Will this movie make Leaf rich again?? I’m sure he has to get some of the profits since it’s based on him.

I'm afraid it doesn't work that way since Leaf is a public figure. Now, if he want's to interview Leaf for the movie or show home movies or something, that's another issue. Otherwise, you'd never have a negative bio of a living person.

19 Re: Too Deep Zone: Leaf!

I would see this movie. Or that movie where everyone around him talks in rhyme. Prob not the one w Screech though.

20 Re: Too Deep Zone: Leaf!

I'd Netflix it. Which is to say that it definitely sounds worth watching, but I doubt I would go out of my way to find an indie theater that was showing it. Seems like it has the potential to be pretty good though. I hope it's successful.

22 Re: Too Deep Zone: Leaf!

I call BS. Youtube? Myspace? C'mon now

23 Re: Too Deep Zone: Leaf!

Why doesn't he cast Screech as Leaf? It would be more convincing. And then Junior Seau could stuff him in a would be a memorable scene.

25 Re: Too Deep Zone: Leaf!

Oh my, if it's on youtube, then it MUST be real! lol

26 Re: Too Deep Zone: Leaf!

Re 16 - I was thinking the same thing. If Peyton can play a high school kid in that commercial he does for Sony (?) at age 31, he certainly could play a younger version of himself.

27 Re: Too Deep Zone: Leaf!

As another Charger fan who suffered through the Leaf years... I absolutely must see this!

28 Re: Too Deep Zone: Leaf!

This actually sounds like it might be a pretty damn good book. I mean a true account, not a fictionalized one. Kind of a "Season on the Brink"-ey type insidery story.

When that book came out, Knight was furious, but he shouldn't have been -- while it did show his warts, it was actually a pretty balanced look overall, and in some ways made the reader feel more sympathetic to him.

- Alaska Jack

29 Re: Too Deep Zone: Leaf!

Hey Gang, this is Tim thanks for the great comments, Mike was right when he mentioned he has great readers who will say exactly what's on their mind! Just to clear a few things up, this is indeed a real flick...I have the sore elbow and shoulder and bruises to prove it! I also own an obscure Ryan Leaf Cowboys jersey for the film. Alaska Jack, it's a GREAT idea writing a book like this, and Mike T may be the man to do it. He has some great info, I didn't even know the Seau "dinner story" until he mentioned it! Witless Chum, Wil Wheaton for Manning is so good I'm almost mad I didn't think of that. Joe, Screech as Leaf is equally as brilliant! If you guys ever want to check out that My Space page and if you have any questions or thoughts, feel free to e-mail them there and I'll answer every single one. I look forward to screening this for all of you, I think we have a fun movie here. Oh and kudos for the David Carr sack comments as well!

30 Re: Too Deep Zone: Leaf!

Peyton's too old to play a 23 year-old version of himself; they should go with Eli. Or, better yet, that guy from the DirectTV commercial.

31 Re: Too Deep Zone: Leaf!

Your spam filter stops alot, but it really ought to stop all the first! posts. Say requiring at least 30 alphanumeric characters (so they can't spam the !) for the first post. Just an idea. A better idea is sending Seau to teach the posters a lesson like he supposedly taught Leaf. They probably won't learn, but it will keep Seau busy post-football.

32 Re: Too Deep Zone: Leaf!

Independent George, do you mean the one with the laser rocket arm?

33 Re: Too Deep Zone: Leaf!


Really, just... wow. Though, anyone that goes through a 50-sack day just for the sake of their movie is alright in my book.

Hey, TimCarr, how would I go about seeing this movie, as I live in Mexico?

34 Re: Too Deep Zone: Leaf!

I look a little bit like Harrison -- how do I audition? Should I send a tape of myself punching a toddler in the throat?

35 Re: Too Deep Zone: Leaf!

As a Texans fan, seeing the phrase, "with Carr playing Leaf" chilled me to my very core.

36 Re: Too Deep Zone: Leaf!

For a nostagic article listing the worst quarterbacks/seasons ever (Leaf included) click on my name. I'd forgotten about a few of them. Sorry MDS for bringing it up but I had forgotten Rusty among the list of DET qualifiers.

37 Re: Too Deep Zone: Leaf!

re: 1

Big whoop. You made the first post.

38 Re: Too Deep Zone: Leaf!

what is it with the comments portion of this site that always has some cunt saying nowt but "first"?

39 Re: Too Deep Zone: Leaf!

read in Borat voice

People who say "First!" in first post is no good. In my country, people like this put in hog pen to clean. They ehh how you say stinky people.

40 Re: Too Deep Zone: Leaf!

re: 32

That guy is pretty cool.

41 Re: Too Deep Zone: Leaf!

It's ironic that Rodney Harrison described Leaf as a nightmare - Harrison was on the same high school team as my brother (Marion Catholic, Chicago Heights, IL), and was quite unpopular. Over the years he has completely refused all requests by their high school to return to talk to the students or team.

44 Re: Too Deep Zone: Leaf!

I'm insanely surprised 38 got past the filter.

46 Re: Too Deep Zone: Leaf!

I think its that developed a way to combat the "first post syndrome." For a comment like Jesse's, the text is changed to "boobies" and the timestamp is changed to 12 hours ahead, so it appears somewhere in the middle of the thread.

47 Re: Too Deep Zone: Leaf!

re: 32

The same guy, sans facial hair, flicks another guy on the ear in an ESPN commercial. I thought that was funny.

48 Re: Too Deep Zone: Leaf!

Leaf and Todd Marinovich would make fantastic books. I'd love to hear all the stories retold (plus the countless ones that never were public knowledge) and it would be fascinating to hear their takes on things. Have they straightened out? Do they acknowledge any fault? Do they blame anybody for how things turned out?

49 Re: Too Deep Zone: Leaf!

It also leads to some degree of hilarity when you're not careful - try to say to someone, for example, "Your first post is funny" and it becomes "Your boobies is funny."

The time stamping only happens if the "first post" post is in fact the first post.

50 Re: Too Deep Zone: Leaf!

I wouldn't mind seeing the Jeff George movie. Who'd play Jason Whitlock?

51 Re: Too Deep Zone: Leaf!

todd marinovich's story could easily fill a book. in fact, i believe SI did a quite lengthy profile of him back in the late 90s. as for the leaf movie, i'm fascinated. definitely going into my queue the second it comes out on dvd.

52 Re: Too Deep Zone: Leaf!

Re: 29,
Exdeadguy thought of it, I just said amen. Good luck on the movie.

53 Re: Too Deep Zone: Leaf!

I know I heard a radio interview on ESPN radio a year or two ago with Ryan Leaf--maybe around football draft time or something. He had just taken the high school coaching job, and the interviewer asked him a LOT of tough "howz it feel to be remebered as the #1 draft bust" questions. I remember distinctly my heart going out to Leaf... he sounded just... beat up by it all, and just trying like heck to make another kind of name for himself besides Drafty McFailure. The interviewer actually THANKED him for being so game to answer such tough questions so honestly. Tim Carr: you might want to try to get ahold of a transcript?

54 Re: Too Deep Zone: Leaf!

I went out w/ #16 a few times, he is a nice young man.

55 Re: Too Deep Zone: Leaf!

#53: I heard the same interview. It was on the Dan Patrick Show. I think it was before this year's draft, sometime in early or mid-April. I had some of the same thoughts you did about the interview. (For the record, he is coaching at a college in Texas, not at a high school.) Dan Patrick thanked him for the interview and invited him to be a guest on his show in the future.

56 Re: Too Deep Zone: Leaf!

Jason Mulgrew,

I'd rather read First! in front of every thread than any more of your comments.

I look a little bit like Harrison — how do I audition? Should I send a tape of myself punching a toddler in the throat?

That's just disrespectful.

57 Re: Too Deep Zone: Leaf!

d - Ryan Leaf is a complete jackass and if he got hit by a semi tomorrow I would be glad. As a huge Chargers fan, I would have to say that Ryan Leaf is the worst thing to ever happen to football. I wish Junior woulda broken his arm in practice.

58 Re: Too Deep Zone: Leaf!

57- That's very kind of you.

Not sure if I'll be able to find a way to see the movie, but it's a good idea and looks like it could be interesting...not sure about having the action scenes done with high school students, but it may work out

59 Re: Too Deep Zone: Leaf!

#55 thanks for the corrections, Marko. As I recall, Dan sounded vaguely awed that Leaf had even agreed to be on the show. I think he honestly felt bad grilling Leaf. For the record, I lived through his Drafty McFailure Years here in SD, and could have throttled him myself at the time. He was clearly Not Ready for Primetime. But do I bear him animosity now, paritcularly since he seems to be figuring it all out? Of course not. That interview really changed my mind about him. I'm sure the movie will continue the trend.

60 Re: Too Deep Zone: Leaf!

Deena Martin (Simone from Dazed and Confused, Christy from Swingers)

Didn't Joey Lauren Adams play Simone in Dazed and Confused? That doesn't sound right.

61 Re: Too Deep Zone: Leaf!

As a big NFL fan, I just recently heard about this movie, and I must say, I am really looking forward to seeing it. It may be similar to watching a train wreck for entertainment, but then again, how often do we get to see real instances of cosmic justice?

To all the Chargers fans out there, it looks like you are about to have a great 2007-2008 season. Be thankful that you didn't get stuck with Eli Manning. I'm a suffering Giants fan. Manning is like Leaf 2.0 without the tantrums (he pouts instead). He totally stinks, and if he had any other name plastered on the back of his jersey, he would've been benched by now. Archie needs to face it -- Tiki was right about his boy.

62 Re: Too Deep Zone: Leaf!

The last comment, about Eli Manning is hilarious. As late as September of 2007, there were fans like "fletch" who thought Eli Manning was the worst quarterback ever. Fastforward a couple of months and he is the MVP of the super bowl. I hope Eli has shut up fans like "fletch" forever. All the Eli-haters should be banned from Giants Stadium.