'Concussion' Director Defends NFL Drama, Admits Roger Goodell Scene Was Cut
"I can tell you my concern for the NFL and the studio's concern for the NFL was less than zero," says writer-director Peter Landesman.
As Sony kicks off its campaign for the Will Smith starrer Concussion, the studio is facing criticism for going soft on the National Football League.
That narrative, which was introduced by a New York Times article that ran Tuesday — a day after the first trailer debuted — relied heavily on email exchanges that paint the studio as fearful of the NFL’s reaction to the film and are publicly available thanks to last year’s hack.
"These emails were taken out of context in a year-plus creative process that’s a constant negotiation," the film’s writer-director, Peter Landesman, tells The Hollywood Reporter. "I can tell you my concern for the NFL and the studio’s concern for the NFL was less than zero."
In fact, the studio and filmmakers are taking such issue with the idea that the film was altered in an effort to appease the powerful NFL that Sony released a statement Wednesday morning refuting the charge.
"Today's New York Times article and headline, written by individuals who have not seen the film, contains many misleading inferences," a Sony Pictures spokesperson said. "As will become immediately clear to anyone actually seeing the movie, nothing with regard to this important story has been 'softened' to placate anyone."
Though the film won’t debut for another three-plus months, Concussion is already generating the type of news coverage reserved for finished films with hard-news angles like Zero Dark Thirty or a Michael Moore documentary, landing coverage on the morning and evening news shows as well as in hundreds of online and print outlets this week. Though few have seen the film, it is clear from the trailer that Concussion casts the NFL in a negative light as an organization that has hidden the truth and ignored the safety of its players.
Landesman does acknowledge that scenes were cut from the film, including one that portrayed NFL officials and commissioner Roger Goodell in a potentially explosive conversation.
“I had a scene in the movie that took place in a room that I wasn’t in, [depicting] a conversation that took place between people that I didn’t talk to,” Landesman says. "I knew that scene took place and that conversation took place, but I didn’t hear it myself. I knew about it because I talked to someone who was in that room. I wanted to be responsible and careful, and I didn’t want to be defamatory. So, we took that out. And by the way, the movie doesn’t need it because the movie is so strong."
Ironically, the NFL finds itself on the same page as Sony, refuting the idea that it applied any pressure and thus was mollified. An NFL insider says the league never asked for a meeting with Landesman or the studio during the development of the project, and it was Landesman who reached out to NFL communications chief Paul Hicks for a meeting in September 2014. Hicks asked to see a script before any conversation would take place, which is a fairly standard request for an organization being portrayed in a film. Landesman balked, and the meeting never happened. Both sides say there was no contact thereafter.
But now as the film’s marketing campaign begins to roll out, both camps are being cautious and strategic, with every move analyzed by the press. Sony made an early decision to first screen the film for sports journalists rather than Hollywood, though it will be launching an aggressive awards-season campaign. Sources say the studio screened the film for 10 reporters and editors at Sports Illustrated last month, which resulted in the trailer's being release in an unusual fashion: embedded in a tweet from SI writer Peter King.
"We’re so confident in this film and the story we’re telling that we thought it would be fascinating to [break the trailer with] the very institution at the beating heart of professional sports — in particular the NFL," Landesman added. "It was a very specific strategic choice."
Meanwhile, the NFL has offered only one brief statement on the film’s trailer: "We are encouraged by the ongoing focus on the critical issue of player health and safety," said Jeff Miller, NFL senior vp health and safety policy. "We have no higher priority. We all know more about this issue than we did 10 or 20 years ago. As we continue to learn more, we apply those learnings to make our game and players safer."
On Wednesday afternoon, Miller added, "We have had no involvement in the film.”
The big question now is whether Sony will launch the trailer during any of next week’s games (the season kicks off Sept. 10 when the Pittsburgh Steelers take on the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots on NBC). The NFL is unaware of any ad buys by Sony during its games and would not try to stop it, says the insider. Sony didn’t answer questions regarding its upcoming ad buys. Though Landesman says he was extremely involved in the marketing campaign, he isn’t privy to specific information about when and where the trailer will roll out on TV, though he stresses that there will be "nothing apologetic about our campaign."
“Everyone who has seen this film says the same thing: 'Not only did they not pull any punches, but the opposite is true,'" Landesman says. "The moment anyone sees this film knows that [us going easy on the NFL is] nonsense. That story goes away."