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Like Mike...Jenkins?

How hard is it to write a kids movie?

Like many of you, we here at TDS have been part of the stay-at-home movement. For the past month and half, I have been working from home with my wife, our dog, and our two children.

(Side Note- My oldest child stepped on an over-sized Lego that she was asked to pick up earlier. As she hopped in the air grabbing her foot, I experienced the ultimate in Dad-enfreude).

One of the joys of being home, beyond some extra family time and not having to put on pants, has been a reintroduction to children’s movies. And by reintroduction, I mean:

A Clockwork Olaf

While watching the second direct to video Cinderella sequel (is nothing sacred?), I began to long for the kids movies of yesteryear. Particularly sports films.

Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez flashed across my mind. He was playing catch with Henry Rowengartner (Rosenbagger? Gardenhoser?) while Billy Heywood offered pointers. In the distance Becky “The Icebox” (problematic) O’Shea raced go-karts against the fat kid from Heavyweights. And Gordon Bombay is somewhere hitting on all the children’s mothers. I may or may not have taken a Benadryl… Regardless! I was soon snapped out of my nostalgia trip by a tweet.

A new “sports” movie for children following the time-tested trope of: Kid finds magical item and turns into a star/hero/.

Like Mike followed the same basic premise, as did popular children’s book series The Monday Night Football Club which was adapted into the Disney Channel series The Jersey. In the non-sports world, recent DC film Shazam! comes to mind along with its premise cousins Big and 13 Going On 30 .

When I look back at all these movies I think, how hard could that be to write? You have the outline in place just change a few of the details and Shazam! *wink* You’re ready to go. How hard could it be? I mean Tommy Wiseau wrote a movie. Kinda.

However, since I am not a professional, I thought I should get some help. I will contract a writing partner and also reach out to the TDS crew. Now that may sound like too many cooks in the kitchen, but did you know the 1994 Flinstones had 35 DIFFERENT WRITERS WORK ON IT? Helping me construct this Franken-movie will be my brother, Zach Varnadore

Zach owns a film/photography company and *Nathan Fielder Voice* graduated from one of Florida’s top film schools with really good grades.

And now the only rule. Since this is a USF site, this movie must involve USF athletics. Without further ado:

We have the main idea of the “movie” we are going to create. A kid finds a magical USF-related object that turns him into a star football player. He somehow gets on the team and helps USF have a magical season. Somewhat derivative, but hey that’s modern movies for ya. To help us fill in some of the blanks we will answer a few questions.

Question 1: Who is our protagonist?

Seth: So I’m thinking the kid needs to be in the 10-13 year old age range. Conception during the oft referenced 2007 season seems the way to go, right? This would allow the film to be set in the present day.

Zach: That sounds good. Was there an “Auburn baby” phenomenon in the USF community in 2008?

Seth: There very well may have been…So what about the kid’s family? Does he have a family? Maybe Mom/Dad is gone and was a big USF fan? Feels like you gotta go Disney style with one parent or no parents. Cliche is the name of the game in this genre.

Zach: Well the cliché would be orphan or single mom.

Seth: I’d lean single mom here. It worked in Rookie of the Year, Little Big League, and Air Bud. It also worked for Junior Floyd in Little Giants, and Charlie Conway in Mighty Ducks.

Zach: On the other hand, the foster home route has worked for Angels in the Outfield, Like Mike, and Annie.

Seth: Annie? I don’t think that’s a sports movie.

Zach: Hey, you watch that movie and do two things for me: 1) Try not to cry and B) Tell me that there isn’t some type of gymnastics happening during “It’s a hard knock life”. A kid does a backflip off a light fixture and sticks the landing like Kerri Strug in ’96.

Seth: That’s fair… Anyways, what’s your vote? Single parent or orphanage/foster home? Disney style?

Zach: If we want to go true Disney style, that usually includes a dead parent.

Seth: Let’s go single mom.

Zach: Fine, but the dad needs to be dead. Disney Style!

Seth: What is wrong with you?

Zach: I went to film school.

Seth: Ahh…Ok, so we have the family portion down. One kid,single mom. I think we go with the dad was big USF fan right?

Zach: “He looked at his father’s old jersey. They spent many Saturdays cheering for their hometown Bulls. The face of his father that was stuck in his memory was a green and gold painted face. He would always say ‘You gotta support the team’. This fandom was his only real inheritance. The common love they shared. The bond of a father and son”

Artist’s rendering of the Father

Seth: … So, yes he was a big fan?

Zach: YES. Sorry for trying inject some pathos.

Seth: Final background question. What does the mom do? She needs an occupation that keeps her busy so she doesn’t notice her son’s shenanigans. Possibly something with odd hours.

Zach: *Mugatu voice* Nursing is so hot right now. But seriously, a nurse would fit the criteria. They work crazy hours and it’s also a noble profession that would endear the audience to the mother.

Seth: There you go.

Our Main Character

We have our main character. A young boy living with his mother after the death of his father, who was a huge USF fan. The son clings to his fandom because it reminds him of all the good times he used to have with his father. The mother is a nurse who often works at odd hours. The mother may also work small jobs here and there to earn extra money. With school and her odd working hours, the protagonist is able to avoid the entanglements of adult supervision. For the purposes of a more effective transformation, our protagonist will be a smaller, bookish type kid.

Question 2: Who is the sidekick? Every one of these movies has some type of friend/sidekick.

Seth: Our protagonist is a middle to low middle-class, bookish type kid with a single mom. I think we go for almost the opposite as a friend.

Zach: Yeah, let’s have the friend be a rich, athletic type. This will be somewhat counter-cliché, the rich athlete being friends with the lower middle-class nerd. However, we can counter the counter cliché with the tried and true cliché of rich parents not caring about their kids.

Seth: Thus, leaving more room for unsupervised shenanigans.

Zach: Exactly.

Seth: I like it. Also, with this background the friend will likely be the “alpha” of the friendship. Then when the transformation happens, he gets put into the protagonist’s shadow for the first time ever.

Zach: And there we have a natural conflict. It’s a classic part of these films. A friend of the protagonist gets jealous and they have a small falling out.

Seth: We have the rich jock who will be in conflict with our protagonist. How do we make him endearing?

Zach: You start the movie with our protagonist being bullied on the last day of school. His friend comes to his aid and saves him. Insert dialogue about how it’s the 100th times he saved his skin and boom, you’re endeared.

The best friend

Now we have the best friend. Our protagonist and his best friend have kind of an opposites attract thing going on. The two bonded over their love of sports. While our main character wants to be an athlete, he hasn’t quite grown into his body yet. His friend hit puberty early and is a star athlete. The transformation will lead to quite the role reversal.

Question 3: What magical USF object do they find? What gives the kid his talent/Powers?

Seth: I’m not to sure on this one.

Zach: Yeah, me neither.

Seth: I’ve got nothing... Jason Pierre-Paul’s finger tips?

Zach: … *stares with mouth agape*

Seth: No, you’re right. Too much for a kids movie. Well I’m not the biggest USF history expert at this site so let’s bring in some suggestions from the TDS Crew.

Jamie DeVriend: He finds a stash of George Selvie’s Honey Buns (they’re so pumped up with preservatives that they’re still fresh) and he eats one before every game.

Ken DeCelles: He finds the old prototype robobull tucked away in the basement of the Marshall center. The smoke from its nostrils surrounds the kid and gives him superhuman powers.

Will Kennedy: He finds a jersey with “The Team” on the back, unleashing the unknown power that USF would’ve had that season.

Robert Steeg: THE TEAM

Seth: Ok, well everybody else is being drowned out by Steeg chanting “The Team” over and over again, so we might be on our own from here. There is also the simple option of something like I don’t know, Quinton Flowers’ shoes.

Zach: So which one should we use?

Seth: All of them?

Question 4: Where does he find the magical item?

Seth: You said earlier that it was the last day of school. I say the friend’s parents, who are big donors to the university, have arranged a tour of the football facilities for the two boys as an end of school year present. The kids are picked up at school by the family’s driver and taken to the facility where they go on their tour.

Zach: And when they arrive they are greeted by a genial older man who is their tour guide. This guy is giving off heavy Angels in the Outfield Christopher Lloyd vibes.

Seth: As they take the tour, he’s asking them trivia questions about USF teams of the past. The boys nail every question. He’s so impressed that he says he’s taking them on a secret part of the tour.

Zach: Sounds creepy.

Seth: It’s not creepy.

Zach: It sounds quite creepy.

Seth: It won’t be creepy. It will be well lit.

Zach: Fine

Seth: The guide takes him into a WELL LIT area that is filled with old equipment. He tells some stories about the pieces in there but something in the back catches the boys’ eyes.

Zach: It’s glowing like the interior of the suitcase in Pulp Fiction.

Seth: The glow is emanating from a pair of worn cleats.

The Magic Item

Zach: The old man sees them eyeing the cleats. “I see you boys have noticed my prized possession. Those are the cleats Quntion Flowers wore against Syracuse in 2015. He threw for …” “259 yards and ran for 55 more, scoring 3 TDs” the boys say in near unison, eyes transfixed on the pair of shoes. The old man replies, “ And that’s when the magic began”.

Seth: Then the old man asks if they want them and they look at each other. They say yes and the best friend says our main character should have the shoes, because Flowers was his dad’s favorite player (cue emotional music). They leave the tour and the friend’s driver drops our protagonist off at home later that evening.

Seth: The boy heads up to his room excitedly. He puts the cleats on his dresser and just stares at them.

Question 5: How does the magic work?

Seth: I think we go with the Like Mike mixed with a little Shazam!. What do you think?

Zach: I agree

Seth: Not being satisfied with merely staring at the cleats, our protagonist decides to put them on. As soon as he puts them on, he starts to feel strange.

Zach: And he’s transported to a strange place. He finds himself at the top of a staircase flanked by Assyrian Winged Bulls. Something beckons him down the stairs. His legs move him forward without conscious thought.

This place is real

Seth: He walks through a stone tunnel and comes out on the other side. He begins to hear what sounds like chanting, but he can’t make out the words. As he emerges, he sees a gigantic statue with the head of the RoboBull. Smoke is emanating from its nostrils. He sees hooded figures in the shadows and now he finally understands what they are chanting.

The main chamber of the Templo Del Toro


Seth: Our protagonist continues his forward march. He looks ahead and sees the shoes. The same shoes the tour guide gave him earlier. Except this time they are in the mouth of a skull and the base of the giant statue. As he steps towards the shoes, he inhales the smoke coming from the RoboBull. Oddly, it doesn’t make him feel sick.

Zach: No, in fact the smoke makes him feel stronger somehow. As he searches his mind for an explanation, a booming voice interrupts his thought. “Part one of the ritual is complete. The boy has inhaled the vapor of victory”. Our protagonist turns towards the voice and sees something shocking. It appears to be the tour guide from earlier.

Seth: Only now he is dressed much differently. He has a wears a green robe and a horn headpiece. On his garment in stitched “ The Team” and the number 20, like the sample jersey shown in 2014. He holds something mysterious in his hand.

Bulla Man

Zach: Timeout. Did that George Selvie any nicknames?

Seth: *Googles* The Bricklayer?

Zach: Ok, Time In. The man with the horns atop his head addresses our protagonist and the shadowy crowd, who stopped chanting when first spoke. “ To prove worthy of the Feet of Flowers, you must complete the ritual.” The boy looks confused, “The Feet of Flowers? You already gave me his shoes. The man replies “ There is magic in those shoes that you cannot summon without completing the ritual. Only then will you have the true Feet of Flowers”.

Seth: The boy says “ Ok, fine. What is the ritual?”

Zach: The man holds his right hand high displaying a large honey bun to the assembled. “You have inhaled the vapor of victory, now you must consume the Bun of the Bricklayer”. The boy grabs the honey bun and eats it. The man speaks again “ For your final task, you must do something that many here have never been able to achieve. You must grab your victory out of the jaws of defeat”. The man motions over to the skull which houses the shoes inside its open mouth.

Seth: The boy walks over and nonchalantly grabs the shoes. The crowd begins chanting “THE TEAM” again.

Zach: And then suddenly they are all gone. It’s the boy and the tour guide. The man looks to the boy as says, “To activate the power of these shoes you must do two things. First, you must be wearing them. Without the shoes on, you will have no power. And second, you must speak the words”.

Seth: The boy looks up, “I have to say Bull Strong?” The man quickly replies,“No, that’s dumb.” The boy retorts “United from Start 2 Finish?”The man replies “ Much better, but still not quite right. The words that will unlock the magic are ‘Amarri Jackson did not push off’”.

Zach: As soon as the words leave the man’s lips the boy is surrounded by blackness. He then wakes up in his bed. It’s morning. The shoes aren’t on his feet, but still on the dresser. Was it all a dream?

Seth: For clarity, no. No it was not.

Question 6: Where does he first use the magic and what does it do?

Seth: It’s summer. His friend calls him to hang out and throw around the football. The driver comes to get him and our protagonist brings the cleats. Right?

Zach: Yeah and they start playing and the shoes are a little too big for the kid and he’s tripping all over himself. The friend asks why he’s wearing those when they don’t fit. The boy decides to tell his friend about the dream. He finishes the story “and if I say these certain words the magic will come”. The friend looks at him with anticipation in his eyes “Well what are the words?”

Seth: The kid replies “I can’t remember exactly. But I know it’s something my Dad used to say”. The friend interjects “Is it that Leavitt overworks his team and that’s why they always falter late in the season?” The kid replies “No that’s not it…Oh wait. I’ve got it”. He says the magic phrase and… then what?

Zach: The shoes start sparking and then the kid is turned into 6’5 230 lb beast.

Post Transformation.

Zach: After the friend’s initial shock, we get a montage. The transformed kid is super strong, super-fast, and to quote Uncle Rico, he can throw a football over them mountains. He takes the shoes off and transforms back to his normal self.

Question 7: How does he get on the USF team?

Zach: After taking all summer to learn the intricacies of football and his new powers, our protagonist is going to attend the walk-on tryout and blow everybody’s mind.

Sub 4.3 40, Sub 4 Shuttle, 40 Bench reps Etc..

Seth: The tough part is how does he get into school? This will require a logic leap, but we saw an ancient ritual involving a honey bun earlier so we think the audience is already along for the ride.

Zach: Yeah. I say we go with the friend uses his parent’s donor influence to get his “cousin” admitted.

Seth: Works for me. All online classes too.

Question 8: Who is the antagonist?

Seth: As he starts leading the team to improbable victories, people will start asking about his background. He will have no high school film and no digital footprint.

Zach: How about a journalist that reports for a rival school. He’s so enraged by USF’s success that he tries to find dirt on their new star player.

Seth: I think you go crazy twitter personality. Same motivation though. Like a Jameis1of1 type, but the opposite. This guy could go all out. Make videos, start a podcast, constantly pester reporters. He has a lot of followers, but how many are real?

Artist’s rendering of our villain

Zach: And this guy would get closer and closer to the truth as the season went along. You could even intercut his crazy podcast ranting with a montage of games being won.

Question 9: What is the conflict between the protagonist and his friend?

Seth: Probably just some classic jealousy, right?

Zach: Yeah, mixed in with cockiness on the protagonist’s part. He is bragging on himself to his friend too much and speaking down to him. Couple this with the friend being jealous that he could have taken the shoes for himself and you got yourself a nice little conflict.

Seth: The friend could even take the shoes himself before the big game. He tries to use them, but they don’t work. However, because our protagonist doesn’t have the shoes, he misses a day of practice. He’s then suspended for the first quarter of the big game.

Like this, but one on one

Zach: Our protagonist finds out that his friend took the shoes and confronts him. They both air their grievances, Frank Costanza style, with each other. The protagonist could say something about how the shoes make him feel a connection with his deceased father. The friends apologize to each other and promise to act better (cue emotional music).

Question 10: How does it end?

Seth: Do they win the big game? Does the kid reveal himself to anybody on the team?

Zach: I say they win the big game. Heck, they even win the championship.

Seth: Sure, everybody loves a Robert Kraft.

Zach: A Robert Kraft?

Seth: AKA Happy ending

Zach: Ahh..

Seth: Anyways, would the kid reveal himself to anybody? Maybe the coach after the season?

Zach: Yeah, the protagonist decides he wants to go back to being a kid. So, he’d have to basically retire after the season. Throughout the year he has become close with his coach. The coach has become a pseudo father figure to him. They’ve had some heart to heart talks where the kid tells him about his family life, and his struggles. When he reveals himself, the coach is shocked but understands. The coach will remain close with the kid, maintaining their surrogate father/son relationship.

Seth: Sounds nice and cliché. So what about the shoes?

Zach: As he leaves the coaches office, the kid decides to take them back to the tour guide. But he isn’t there, so he tosses them in a dumpster at the school. However, when he wakes up the next morning, the shoes are on his dresser. He decides to put them on again, and this time they compress to perfectly fit his feet. A little electricity crackles off the laces. The kid looks up, and the camera zooms in on his smiling face. Cut to Black, roll credits.

And there you have it, a USF kids movie. With the potential for the Oscars to have a limited field this year, I say we get this thing into production pronto. Any producers reading?