Going for the Cup: Interview With Screenwriter Angelo Pizzo

As his follow-up to Hoosiers and Rudy, screenwriter and producer Angelo Pizzo returns to the familiar ground of Midwestern life and dreams of sporting achievement with The Game of Their Lives, a chronicle of the United States World Cup team that defeated top-seeded England in 1950.

“The appeal of the 1950s for me is that it’s the last era that allowed true regionalism,” Pizzo told me by phone from Los Angeles. “Before TV homogenized the nation, you could have an enclave like the Hill with its close, special bonds.”

The film details how five players from the Hill neighborhood in St. Louis (St. Louis being a hotbed of American amateur soccer, both then and now) joined six polished Eastern players to form the U.S. World Cup team. “I am not a soccer fan, so I approached the project purely from the story. Would I go to see this on the screen? The story appealed to my Italian heritage, and to my understanding of our country as a nation of immigrants. Here are these men of different backgrounds thrown together.”

Central to the film for Pizzo is the theme of teamwork. “The whole is greater than just the parts. These men together, working for a common purpose, were better than the talent of a few [English superstars]. In fact, when we got to Brazil to film the final game, our team of actors and players from the U.S. played together so much better than the Brazilian all-star team we assembled to portray the English, we had to ask our guys to back off a bit to make a game of it.”

Authenticity was important to the filmmakers, so they filmed on location in St. Louis and Brazil. The players’ background and stories were harder to capture. “We had the rights to the book, which is more a socio-cultural analysis of the Hill, and a detailed history of the game of soccer in the U.S. at the time.” So, in constructing the story, he “stayed close to the spirit, if not the letter.”

Pizzo faced a similar challenge in writing the script for Hoosiers. “Conflict is the essence of drama, and there was too little dramatic tension” in the story of the small-town team. There, Pizzo created a few new characters to “drive the plot,” while remaining true to the essence of the story.

The scene from the film of which Pizzo is most proud comes as the U.S. team receives their uniforms shortly before their first game. “It puts the film and the game in context. These men are just a few years removed from life and death service for their country, and here they are putting on their country’s uniform again.” Pizzo said they worked hard to convey the emotional impact of the moment with a minimum of sentimentality—or, in his words, “As little B.S. as possible.”

As a producer, Pizzo was impressed with the “exciting support” he and the production received from the local film community and ordinary people in St. Louis. “I love shooting on location in the Midwest. People here don’t view productions as an intrusion, but an honor, an opportunity. There’s so much more energy here than on the jaded West Coast.”

A native of Bloomington, Ind., and an Indiana University graduate, Pizzo was recently in his home state to lobby for film production tax credits. “It’s mind-boggling that more states don’t have credits, or that they fail to use them. Louisiana implemented tax credits for local film production and saw out-of-state investment in their film industry go from $10 million a year to $370 million,” far exceeding the cost to the state in credits. Like Indiana, in the face of a budget crunch, Missouri is considering curtailing its film production tax credits.

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