No Gatorade: Celebrating New York City's Pick-up Basketball Scene

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Bobbito Garcia and Kevin Couliau played ball and talked to players across New York's five boroughs to make Doin' It in the Park, a forthcoming feature documentary about playground basketball. Pouring their own passion for the game into the project, they sought out players of all levels, pro and amateur, young and old, to weigh in on the history and ethos of the sport. The two filmmakers talk about the making of the documentary and share an excerpt from the film below. Fittingly, the clip is called "No Gatorade." 

The Atlantic: What was the genesis of this project?

Bobbito Garcia: I had an idea for a doc on New York City outdoor ball back in the '90s, but never put it into action until I saw Kevin Couliau's Heart & Soul of New York City video in early 2010. I instantly knew he was the right person to bring along for the journey! The advantage we had as filmmakers was that we both played ball, so we could show up to any court and instantly earn the trust of the local players, and get them to be at ease on camera.

Kevin Couliau: Growing up in France in the 90’s, our only access to U.S. basketball was through magazines or television. So documentaries like Soul in the Hole or Hoop Dreams made me realize that I wanted to document basketball. In 2004, I travelled to New York for the first time, I met Bobbito and he introduced me to New York’s street ball scene. Since then we’ve been collaborating on several projects over the years. Early 2010, He asked me to work with him on a documentary about the game of 21, which developed as a wider project about pick-up basketball, and eventually became Doin’ It in the Park.

How did you go about collecting various stories, and shaping them into a film?

Garcia: I'm 45 years old and have spent my entire life playing in various outdoor tournaments, pick-up games, etc. I also was the former editor in chief of Bounce Magazine, which exclusively covered playground activity. So my network was pretty extensive. Everyone we approached to be interviewed or filmed was super receptive. The film was really a collective effort by the entire community of New York ballplayers. As far as it being shaped into a film, major credit is due to editor David Couliau (Kevin's brother) and executive producer Thibaut de Longeville (director of Just for Kicks), who also acted as a storyline consultant. Between the four of us, we were able to create a film that could be enjoyed by viewers whether they were b-ball addicts, avid documentary followers or regular moviegoers.

 



Couliau: We have spent two consecutive summers riding our bicycles within the five boroughs of New York City with a basketball, a boom pole and video equipment in our backpacks. Completely Do It Yourself. We ended up visiting 180 basketball courts, played on most of them, but most importantly, we have interviewed 60 players and community activists who had a lot to share. Building a storyline from all those great quotes was the most difficult part. It’s such a rich culture, that you want to tell every single story. We spent time working on the structure of the movie to create something which we hope will be informative and entertaining at the same time.

Did anything surprise you in the course of shooting the documentary?

Garcia: If you ask most people over 35 years old, they'll say that pick-up in the city has died down, but we discovered quite the contrary, and were lucky enough to catch it all on film. There are more people playing ball in New York City courts in 2012 than 30, 40 years ago, and they are mostly under the age of 21! Some play after midnight when the general public can't see them. Some play on garbage cans and fire escape ladders. They are out there, and it's a beautifully vibrant culture.

Couliau: Navigating throughout New York City, we played in many housing projects where the basketball court acts as a social space, helping many people to stay away from trouble. In those places, we had surprising moments with kids. As soon I started filming, they would gather around me to play with the camera, and were very interested in the shooting process. If Bobbito and I were playing one-on-one, with the DSLR camera on a tripod, they would comment on our games and talk in front of the lens while recording.

What do you want viewers to take away from the film?

Garcia: Pick-up basketball is unequivocally the essence of the sport, and what inventor Dr. James Naismith most intended the game to be when he invented it in 1891. We hope the film inspires people of all ages to participate at their local court, whether that's in Accra, Ghana, or The Pit in Washington Heights, Manhattan.

Couliau: Playground basketball is not a different sport than the one being played in big or small arenas, they are intrinsically linked. From a social standpoint, you’re more likely to build lifelong and true friendships on the basketball court than playing video games at home.

What's next for you?

Garcia: Hopefully getting this film a commercial release! We still do not have a U.S. distributor and would love to have it in theaters and available on DVD, VOD, etc, worldwide this Fall. In the meantime, we're doing free screenings for the community in New York, Los Angeles, Europe and Africa to help give back to the people who helped inspire the film, and create a buzz in the process.

Couliau: We just finished the film and are really looking forward to sharing it with the world. Hopefully we can find the appropriate channels to help this film reach its various audiences on international scale.

We have two main objectives with this film: from a message standpoint, we want to engage people of all ages and all backgrounds to play basketball outdoors, and experience the game the way it was originally designed by its inventor. Beyond basketball, we really want to celebrate the uniqueness of the cultural, social and human experience you acquire from being active outdoors in the inner city, whether you’re playing basketball, skateboarding, breakdancing or writing graffiti. There’s nothing like it.

From a creative standpoint, we’d love to be recognized as interesting filmmakers, and hopefully create more projects in that vein in the future, if there is an interest in it. That will be for the people to decide once the film is officially released. Stay tuned!

For more information about the film, visit its website, Facebook page, and Twitter page

Via Laughing Squid

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Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg is the executive producer for video at The AtlanticMore

Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg joined The Atlantic in 2011 to launch its video channel and, in 2013, create its in-house video production department. She leads the development and production of original documentaries, interviews, and other video content for The Atlantic. Previously, she worked as a producer at Al Gore’s Current TV and as a content strategist and documentary producer in San Francisco. She studied filmmaking and digital media at Harvard University.
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