“Underdogs” opens today at Tinseltown in Jackson Township, where it will run for two weeks.
For five weeks last summer, a high-school football movie titled “Underdogs” was shot at locations all over Stark County.
Now, local audiences will have their chance to see the finished product. “Underdogs” opens today at Tinseltown in Jackson Township, where it will run for two weeks.
Directed by Doug Dearth, a 1984 Lake High School graduate, “Underdogs” centers on two rival high-school quarterbacks vying for the affections of a new girl in town. It is also about the redemption of a failing high-school team, through the efforts of an inspiring new coach.
A parallel “Underdogs” storyline about the local economy involves the two quarterbacks’ fathers. And of course, there’s a climactic football game.
“I’m really proud of it,” said actor Logan Huffman, 23, who plays quarterback Bobby, the film’s young hero. “I loved when we saw it at the Cleveland film festival with a bunch of kids from the (Stark County) high schools.
“Doug did an amazing job,” Huffman continued. “Today, the real movies with heart are made with cheap money by people who care.”
Dearth said, “I wanted to make a good film for families, but I didn’t want to talk down to kids. I wanted it to have an indie look and music that would really appeal to a younger audience. On that level and a story level, the film really came together.”
Actor Charlie Carver, 25, who plays the privileged, cocky quarterback, John, said he was impressed by the visual beauty of “Underdogs.”
“Looking at it, you’d never have guessed how low-budget it was,” Carver said. “They got the effect of a family film, really intimate and personal and not glammed-up, but that looked kind of hip.”
For actress Maddie Hasson, 18, watching “Underdogs” “made me very nostalgic,” she said. “Canton was such a sweet place to go and visit over the summer. Logan and Charlie are both so wonderful.”
She also praised the film’s director. “What’s so good about Doug is he gets such a close relationship with everyone in the cast and crew, so everyone really trusts him,” she said. “He’s so sweet and gentle, but at the same time he knows what he wants.”
Amusingly for two guys playing high-school football stars, neither Huffman nor Carver were remotely adept at football. They trained with experienced players before and after arriving in Canton for the “Underdogs” shoot.
“I tried out for football in middle school, but I got cut out because I cried too much. At least that’s what the coach said,” recalled Huffman. During filming, “I wanted to get tackled, but insurance wouldn’t allow me. I kept saying, ‘How am I going to feel how these guys feel if I haven’t been hit by this freight train of football players?’ ”
Carver said he “struggled with confidence about being able to play a state-champion quarterback because I’d never played football before.” Training with quarterbacks, “it was a joy getting to learn a new skill set and just go for it.”
The biggest challenge for Dearth in making “Underdogs” came after shooting was completed. “It took five weeks to film and 20 weeks to edit,” he said. “And 40 percent of that was working on the football scenes, to try to make it feel real for the audience and make sure it served the story.”
There were multiple all-night shoots at the St. Thomas Aquinas and Central Catholic high school football fields. “We would show up at 10 and stay till 6,” Dearth said. “We shot so many different games all at once. The players had to keep changing uniforms, and we had to keep track of what the (local extras) in the stands were wearing.”
WHBC sportscaster Sam Borquin has a small but key role in “Underdogs,” whether providing game commentary or tracking the Aquinas and Hoover teams in scenes shot at the radio station. “Sam did a great job. He’s a natural on camera,” Dearth said. “You take a risk when you cast real people who haven’t been on film before.”
While fictitious, “Underdogs” uses the names of two actual local football teams, the St. Thomas Aquinas Knights and Hoover Vikings.
“Everybody wanted to be involved unless their school was losing the big games. I remember sitting down (unsuccessfully) with the Massillon Tigers,” said Dearth. “To me, that’s funny. That IS high school football in Ohio.”
The director said he and Huffman are planning to hang out at Tinseltown on Sunday to say hello to people attending “Underdogs.”