By Michael Neelsen
Back in 2011 when I was deep in editing for my documentary Last Day at Lambeau, I realized the movie didn’t work and I was mere weeks away from film festival submission deadlines.
The movie was about the relationship between sports fans and their heroes through the prism of Brett Favre’s separation from the Green Bay Packers. Through the telling of that story, I was hoping to reveal something about the human condition and what it means to devote yourself to an activity that you have zero control over.
At that time, the movie opened with a 5-minute or so history of Brett Favre’s time in Green Bay and establishing why he meant so much to the state of Wisconsin. But when I screened the film to trusted colleagues and friends, it just didn’t feel like the opening was strong enough.
To a certain extent, who cares why Favre meant what he meant to Wisconsin? All that mattered (from a storytelling perspective) was that Wisconsin loved him. That’s it. Every member of the audience had had an idol at some time in their lives and they could easily recognize themselves in that concept. The facts that he threw so many touchdowns or started so many consecutive games weren’t as compelling as the relationship itself.
But my movie was still missing a human touch. A soul. A voice the audience could connect with.
I had not wanted to include myself in the film. Not because I was shy (I’m not) or because I’m not good enough (I am), but because I felt it would be distracting. I thought it would come across as me forcing my way into a story I wasn’t a part of. This was about fans and their team, not about me making the movie.
But what I was failing to see in that moment was that I was the fan. By attaching my own personal experiences growing up in a Packers fan household, going to Packers training camp and idolizing my heroes, that was a more specific and more human way to approach the film’s soul than any list of dates on a timeline.
So I read my own voiceover and I spoke in the first person. I made sure the audience knew that I was a fan, and as such, I was a part of this story, and by extension so were all of them. Whether you were a fan of the Packers, Yankees, Longhorns, Muhammad Ali or Barack Obama, you could identify to the concept of being passionate about something.
And that opened my film to a much wider audience than it ever would’ve had.
Don’t be afraid to be a central figure in your story. It is your story, after all.