Old MCN Blogs
David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

'We'll Let Them Do Whatever': 'Murderball' Director Rubin Discusses Mangold's Fictional Adaptation


The quadriplegic rugby documentary Murderball, which I cherish and regard as the best documentary of 2005, was back in the news this week as director James Mangold was linked to the development of a narrative adaptation. I could not quite make head or tails of any of this until I caught up Thursday with Murderball co-director Henry-Alex Rubin, an old friend, colleague and disciple of Mangold’s from their days studying film at Columbia University in the mid 1990s.
“I would say that Dana (Adam Shapiro, Murderball‘s other co-director) and I are pretty hopeful that it’s going work as a complement to the movie rather than be a replacement for it,” said Rubin, who served as Mangold’s second unit director on Cop Land and Girl, Interrupted. “That’s one of the reasons we both decided to go with Jim, because he seemed excited to make something that would work alongside it as a companion piece.”
While TMZ reported last week that Mangold had acquired the life rights to Murderball subjects Mark Zupan (above), Joe Soares and Chris Igoe–out of whose truck Zupan was flung in the accident that paralyzed him–Rubin was reluctant to detail any story hints or specifics before Mangold had even written the script.
“I think Dana and I both agreed that we would stay out of it and let James do whatever he wanted,” he told me. “Dana and I put him in touch with Mark Zupan, and they met, and they get along. And we’ll let them do whatever. I wouldn’t be surprised if Mangold at some point asked us our opinion, but I think the only way to really feel OK about doing something is just to give it to someone else completely. We made our film, and it represents the truth to the best of our knowledge emotionally and chronologically onscreen. Now Mangold is following a diferent process, which is trying to get the truth of the emotions that preexisted, which is going to be challenge, but which Dana and I had nothing to do with, because we weren’t there. It’s really all about Chris Igoe and Zupan, and hopefully they’ll all be collaborating.”
Rubin, who attended this year’s IFP Market as a Documentary Completion Award juror, is presently casting his upcoming film Bridgewater, a blend of doumentary-style and fiction storytelling about a group of friends returned from a tour in the Iraq War. Rubin cites another chief influence, Flight 93 and Bloody Sunday director Paul Greengrass, as an influence this time around, but he reserved his strongest praise for Mangold.
“I’ve always been sort of obsessed with ways of capturing reality and truth and putting it on film, and Jim has continuously opened my mind as to how to tell a story well,” Rubin said. “I’ve mostly been at the mercy of reality making documentaries for 10 years, but on the side, I was always working on his films. I got a window into a world of fiction that I wouldn’t have necessarily gotten otherwise. Dana and I tried hard to make Murderball look and feel like a fiction film, and it was because of Jim that I even knew how to put together shot lists and storyboards. He’s influenced me tremendously.”

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“I always thought that once I had lived in Chicago for a while, it would be interesting to do a portrait of the city – but to do it at a significant time. Figuring out when would be the ideal time to do that was the trick. So when this election came around, coupled with the Laquan McDonald trial, it seemed like the ideal time to do the story. Having lived in Chicagoland for thirty-five-plus years and done a number of films here, I’ve always been struck by the vibrancy of the city and its toughness. Its tenderness too. I’ve always been interested in the people at the center of all the stories. This is a different film in that regard, because we’re not following a couple of individuals over the course of the project in the way that a lot of the films I’ve done have, but I still feel like people’s voices and aspirations and hopes are at the center of this series.

It wasn’t easy. We started back in July 2018, it was actually on the Fourth of July – that was our first shoot. It’s like most documentaries in that the further you go along the more involved and obsessed you get, and you just start shooting more and more and more. We threw ourselves into this crazy year in Chicago. We got up every day and tried to figure out if we should be out shooting or not, and what it is we should shoot. We were trying to balance following this massive political story of the mayor’s race and these significant moments like the Laquan McDonald trial with taking the pulse of people in the city that we encounter along the way and getting a sense of their lives and what it means to live here. By election day, Zak Piper, our producer, had something like six cameras out in the field. You could double-check that, it might have been seven. We had this organized team effort to hit all the candidates as they were voting, if they hadn’t already voted. We hit tons of polling places, were at the Board of Elections and then were at the parties for the candidates that we had been able to follow closely. Then of course, we were trying to make sure we were at the parties of the candidates who made it to the runoff. So, yeah, it was kind of a monster.”
~ Steve James On City So Real

“I really want to see The Irishman. I’ve heard it’s big brother Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece. But I really can’t find the time. The promotion schedule is so tight, there’s no opportunity to see a three and a half-hour movie. But I really want to see it. In 2017, right before Okja’s New York premiere, I had the chance to go to Scorsese’s office, which is in the DGA building. There’s a lovely screening room there, too, with film prints that he’s collected. I talked to him for about an hour. There’s no movie he hasn’t seen, even Korean films. We talked about what he’s seen and his past work. It was a glorious day. I’ve loved his work since I was in college. Who doesn’t? Anyone involved with movies must feel the same way.”
~ Bong Joon-ho