Football league taking to filmmaking field

The National Football League is looking to drive deep into the film biz with its first major foray into feature production.

Country’s preeminent sports league has become directly involved in a movie project for the first time, producing a biopic of one of the game’s most storied figures, Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi. The NFL will produce “Lombardi” with Andrew Hauptman’s Andell Entertainment (“Lions for Lambs”) and Chris Olsen.

Financing for “Lombardi” hasn’t been finalized as it’s still undecided whether the NFL will put up any coin for the production. But Hauptman noted the NFL’s involvement will enable access to such key sites as the Packers’ Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisc., along with extensive marketing muscle in promoting the pic and the availability of historical footage.

Project, which has been in the works for a year and a half, centers on the iconic coach during the week leading up to the 1967 NFL championship “Ice Bowl” game between the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys. Lombardi left the Packers after the team won the game and the Super Bowl two weeks later. He died at age 57 in 1970.

“Having the NFL as a producer gives this project authenticity,” he added.

Lombardi won five NFL titles in nine years of coaching the Packers. Hauptman told Daily Variety that the pic will focus heavily on the impact of Lombardi’s leadership and motivational skills.

“He had an enormous effect on everyone who met him — at a time when the country was craving leadership,” Hauptman added.

The NFL’s previously been involved in telepics and features through licensing, fact-checking, supplying and filming game action and marketing in a wide variety of projects such as “Brian’s Song,” “Jerry Maguire” and “Invincible.” But the “Lombardi” project represents a milestone for the league in that the NFL’s been involved since its inception, according to Charles Coplin, the league’s VP of programming.

Coplin said the NFL may come on as a producer on other features as part of the league’s evolution into such areas as operating its own TV channel (the NFL Network) and producing its own halftime shows at the Super Bowl. “We have such a legacy with so much rich content that we’d be foolish not to explore opportunities for other films,” he added.

“Lombardi,” Coplin said, was particularly attractive on several levels. “He’s an icon of popular culture who’s well known among older NFL fans, but the story’s also a great way for us to educate the younger fans,” he said.

Script by David Murray is based partly on “Instant Replay,” the bestselling memoir by team member Jerry Kramer and Dick Schaap about the season. Both Kramer and Vince Lombardi Jr. have given their blessing to the project and will act as consultants.

Lombardi has long been a part of the NFL’s carefully crafted image; the award given to the winner of the Super Bowl is the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

Hauptman hopes production can launch this winter in a best-case scenario. “If not, we’ll have to wait until the following winter, since we really do need to shoot this with 12-foot snowbanks,” he added.

Besides “Lions for Lambs,” Hauptman’s credits include “Millions,” directed by Danny Boyle, and “State of Play,” based on the BBC miniseries and starring Brad Pitt.

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