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Turning Actors into Players

Thanks to ReelSports Solutions, filmgoers don't cringe when they see a Hollywood celeb attempt a pass

Mark Ellis and Rob Miller have sharpened Bernie Mac's hitting skills for Mr. 3000, trained actors to skate and skaters to act in Miracle and helped coach Cuba Gooding Jr. to an Oscar-winning portrayal of a wide receiver in Jerry Maguire. This fall two 40-year-old former college football teammates have been in prison--a movie set prison--preparing Adam Sandler to play a seasoned con--quarterback in the remake of The Longest Yard.

It's a long way from the playing fields of Guilford College in North Carolina to Hollywood, but Ellis and Miller have made it to the bigs. Through ReelSports Solutions, the company they founded in 2001, they've become major players in Hollywood. Their job: to bring authenticity and realism to sports movies.

In 1992 Ellis, a former all-conference receiver at Guilford, was working toward a degree in history at South Carolina after failed tryouts with the CFL and the Atlanta Falcons, and Miller was a strength coach at Georgia Tech when they were asked to help cast and train local players for the James Caan football movie The Program. Ellis went on to such films as The Replacements and Any Given Sunday, and eventually he and Miller, who had worked for the Atlanta Olympic committee and on NBC's Sydney coverage, realized that their expertise in athletics and film production could be valuable. Says Miller, "As cool as my job at the Olympics was, I thought Mark's was even better."

ReelSports is a one-stop shop for producers making sports movies. The company consults on scripts, helps cast films and commercials, choreographs action and even designs specific plays for sports sequences. You've seen ReelSports' handiwork in Dennis Quaid's believable performance on the mound in The Rookie and in the bone-crunching game sequences of ESPN's Playmakers and The Junction Boys. Current projects include Coach Carter, a basketball film with Samuel L. Jackson, and the CBS baseball drama Clubhouse.

Mark Ciardi, a former Milwaukee Brewers pitcher who's now a partner at Mayhem Pictures, hired ReelSports for The Rookie and Miracle. Says Ciardi, "Besides their skills in working with lead actors, their network of coaching specialists and their ability to find competent athletes who can hit their marks, what sets ReelSports apart was their developing a playbook that helped propel the story and character development."

Former Princeton football standout Dean Cain worked with ReelSports to hone his role as a third baseman in Clubhouse. "Through film breakdown and hitting exercises they retooled my swing," says Cain. "I wasn't using all my power potential. I wasn't getting proper hip and leg drive."

Ellis notes that ReelSports' company credo is, You won't believe the tears in the locker room if you don't believe the catch in the end zone. Actors and athletes who've worked with ReelSports are believers. "It makes me sick to see stuff on camera that's not right," says Cain. "It takes you right out of the show. These guys protect the sanctity of the sport being portrayed." ■

Hollywood Scouting Report

Mark Ellis and Rob Miller of ReelSports give the lowdown on the actors they've worked with

Cuba Gooding Jr.(Jerry Maguire, Radio) Very coachable. Trained hard and caught the ball well in traffic. Won the Academy Award--enough said!

Adam Sandler (The Waterboy, The Longest Yard) His poise and athletic ability make him a formidable quarterback. He's also a hell of a basketball player. His one-on-one scene with Michael Irvin will be memorable.

LL Cool J (Any Given Sunday) Big, strong and athletic--the kind of guy who would have a real nose for the end zone.

Jamie Foxx (Any Given Sunday) He comes from a sports background--his father was a coach. Jamie's got great feet and a good arm. Maybe the best we've ever worked with outside the pocket. His improvisational skills clearly extend beyond his stand-up routines.

Keanu Reeves (The Replacements, Hardball) First one to practice, last one to leave. Keanu's hockey background [he played in high school] has given him a fiery, competitive nature.

Dean Cain (Clubhouse) Amazing athlete. Competitive. Very coachable. He didn't hesitate to dive in the dirt through multiple takes at practice to make a backhand catch at third base look real on-screen.

Brian J. White (Mr. 3000) Brian's got all the athletic tools. A former NFL player and the son of former Celtic Jo Jo White--he has tremendous bat speed and the power to hit it out of the park every time.

Nelly (The Longest Yard) The total package--run, catch, throw. And he's a driven competitor. If you get first pick, take Nelly.

COLOR PHOTO

ROBERT BECK

GOT GAME?

Ellis is helping Nelly (left) and Sandler (inset) refine their football skills.

COLOR PHOTO

TRACY BENNETT (INSET)

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