SSTN Interviews Award-Winning Sports Filmmaker George Roy
SSTN: Today we are here with award-winning filmmaker George Roy of Jersey Line Films. George has produced and directed numerous outstanding baseball films for HBO, including the When It Was A Game series, The Curse of the Bambino, Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, and The Shot Heard ‘Round the World. He has also directed numerous sports documentaries for HBO, SHOWTIME, A&E, ESPN and others. George’s work is found on the Jersey Line Films website.
One of Roy’s hobbies is running the @Flagstafffilms twitter page, a cult-site showcasing the world’s most unique historical “home movie” baseball archive. (We often share these as our Tweet of the Day.)
George, it is great to have this discussion with you. Thanks for coming to Start Spreading The News.
My pleasure Paul, thank you for having me.
Please begin by telling us a little about Jersey Line Films.
I started Jersey Line Films in January 2019, continuing a long and varied career in sports television, which started at Major League Baseball Productions in 1983, where my career began as a “Producer” for This Week In Baseball with the great Mel Allen.
How did you get into film making?
I always had an interest in writing, movies, and sports history. I attended Emerson College (Boston) and was fortunate enough (via a former baseball teammate) to land a job as an intern at MLB shortly after graduation. Within a few years, I was co-producing TWIB, and learning the nuances of documentary television and storytelling. After five years, I left MLB along with my longtime business partner and collaborator Steven Stern. Shortly thereafter we created and produced When it was a Game for HBO, and the rest is history.
And great history too. You produce great work.
Among the baseball movies you have created and produced, which topic was your favorite, and why?
It would have to be the When it was a Game trilogy that we produced for HBO.
First, this put us on the map as filmmakers and launched our careers. But more importantly, the impact that the documentary had when it premiered was simply incredible because it was comprised of “never-before-seen-color-home movies” some dating back to the late 1930’s. Older fans, who grew up with black and white newsreels, were immediately transported back to their childhoods, the last time they had seen their heroes in vivid color. Steve and I, along with a small staff, spent over two years tracking down every former major league player hunting for any 8 or 16mm home movies they may have taken during their careers. This was pre-internet/Google, etc, so the search involved lots of phone calls and hardcore private-eye work, like studying obituaries in hopes of tracking down siblings of deceased players. Much to our surprise, we were able to unearth nearly 90 hours of baseball “home movies” which led to the HBO specials. Today we showcase these on the @Flagstafffilms twitter site.
You directed “Babe Ruth” for HBO. Why do you feel he is such a large figure in sports and culture – even today?
Babe Ruth was (and still is) “bigger than life” in so many ways and his mammoth home runs and dynamic personality were so unique, and necessary for the times. He is still as big an historical figure as any single person in our nation’s history because his incredible power, penchant for winning, and dominant persona represent the American ideal.
You have won multiple Emmy and Peabody Awards (among others). It must feel great to know that your hard work has allowed you to reach the pinnacle of your profession.
What is it that sets your work apart from so many others?
I’m not certain it sets it apart as there are so many talented filmmakers, especially these days as the genre is more popular than ever and there are some amazing docs out there.
It is always nice to be recognized by your peers, but the process and the telling of the story has always meant more to me. I am pleased when people respond positively to my films. One hopes that each film makes an impact, makes people think, and challenges popular assumptions. These sorts of reactions are just as gratifying as the awards.
Please tell us about your upcoming projects.
I recently finished a 2-hour BIOGRAPHY for A&E on the former professional wrestler Booker T, which I believe is airing in the fall (subject to change because of Covid).
Booker is an inspirational guy with an incredible story and I enjoyed my first film working with the WWE.
In looking at the history of the Yankees, or baseball in general, what person or event would you like to see a documentary film made about?
I would love, and have “pitched” numerous times, to direct a full length documentary on Satchel Paige. He is as treasured a figure, if not more so, than Babe Ruth and his complete story really needs to be told for everyone to see. (If anyone’s interested, call me!)
In the book and the movie The Natural, the main character wants nothing more than to walk down the street and have people say, “There goes Roy Hobbs, the best there ever was.” Who was the best baseball player you ever saw?
I’d say Willie Mays for sure, although I did not see him play in person until 1968. Having seen Mike Trout’s career, I ‘d say he is as great a player as we have ever had.
Our final question is really just a collection of short answers…
What was your favorite baseball team growing up? NY Mets (was ten in 1969)
Who was your favorite player? Roberto Clemente, Yaz, and then I loved George Brett.
What is your most prized collectible? I am not much of a “collectible” guy, but I love the (real) championship belt I received from the WWE following the Booker T doc.
Who is your favorite musical group or artist? Bruce Springsteen
What is your favorite food (if it is pizza, what is your favorite pizza restaurant)? I love pizza and bagels like any jersey guy, but trying to stay healthy these days, so I’d say fish, veggies etc. Love to grill.
Please share anything else you’d like with our audience:
Thank you for having me. 2020 has been a difficult year. Let’s keep the faith that it gets better and everyone’s voice is heard.
Thank you George. This was such a pleasure. I hope to see you soon in a local pizza parlor to talk more baseball and such!