Friday, August 13, 2010

Founding Father

Q&A: Joel Silver [SI . 01.24.06]
Hollywood uber-producer Joel Silver (Lethal Weapon & The Matrix movies) is one of the founders of Ultimate Frisbee.

SI: Where will the sentence: "He was one the founders of ultimate frisbee" appear in your obituary?

Silver: Years ago I read an obit on Donald Duncan of Duncan Yo-Yo's. At the very end of the story it said he also invented the parking meter. I thought that was interesting and as much a significant thing as his Yo-Yo. I'm a filmmaker and I'm proud of the movies I've made. But in the background of my life I was also very involved in the creation of the sport.

SI: In the fall of 1968, at the end of a student council session at Columbia High School in Maplewood, New Jersey, you made an historic resolution, correct?

Silver: I raised my hand and said, "I move that we form a committee to investigate the possibility of introducing Frisbee into the high school curriculum." Everybody laughed. Then somebody said, "OK, on that item, we'll vote for it." And everybody's hand went up. Out of this committee, we ended up making the rules of the game. My [late] friend Buzzy Hellring Jr. wrote the rules. My other friend, Jon Hines, who lives in Russia and works for a big law firm in Moscow, reviewed the notes. Out of that came the first set of rules. At the end of 1968, there was an ultimate game between the high school paper and the student council. That was all in 1968-69, which was my junior year of high school. During the summer of 1969 they put in a parking lot by the school which was lit at night and we ended playing on the parking lot.

SI: How much of this was a revolution against the jocks?

Silver: There was a polarized world in my high school. This was 1970 in South Orange, N.J., which had an upscale school. A guy in the area had written an article in the local paper that said one out of two students at Columbia High was doing drugs. It was a very controversial thing in the community. The Vietnam War was still happening and there was a lot of different groups that were thriving in the school. We just felt that the game could cross over all the groups. I didn't do drugs. A lot of my friends did. But it wasn't like a "Let's get stoned and play frisbee' thing." It was just a way all of these groups could get together and play.

SI: How often does the game come up in your daily life?

Silver: Whenever I would do junkets for a movie, invariably, some journalist would ask me about it because [they saw a story about it] on the Internet. That's why I eventually put in my bio.

SI: You played Frisbee Football at a camp in Mount Hermon, Mass., in the summer of 1967. You were 15. Why did the game stick with you?

Silver: I've thought about that frequently. I always had the ability to throw a frisbee pretty well. I don't why. I swam a little bit in high school but I wasn't a jock. ... I never really was that passionate about playing sports. But when I was at this Mt. Herman school, I did have the ability to throw the frisbee. So when this sport evolved, it was fun because I was good at it. That's probably what got me excited.

SI: There are now an estimated 100,000 frisbee players in more than 40 countries, and a book chronicling the history of the game was just released. Stunning, right?

Silver: You ever see the movie Dreamer? I'm not saying I'm Dakota Fanning. I didn't know the horse would win. But I did feel that it was a cool enough thing. There was a guy, David Leiwant, who was a younger member of our team. I told him once, "See that, David, some day they'll be playing the game all over the world." He said, "Yeah, right". But I really thought it would. It was a kind of anti-establishment game and sport. When we started it at Columbia High School it was a joke. It was a very kind of Mad Magazine quality to it when it started out. We took the security guard at the school and made him our manager. I didn't take it as seriously as people take it today. People are passionate about playing it.

SI: Who have you worked with that would be a good Ultimate player?

Silver: I've never really thought about it like that. Think about an action movie. Most of those guys are the real deal. We were making the Matrix and Larry Wachowski always said to me, "I want Keanu Reeves, Carrie Ann Moss and Hugo Weaving all to know martial arts." I kept saying, "Larry, you want to paint your house, you don't hire an actor and make believe he's a painter. You hire a f------ painter. So let's get stunt guys who can do this." He said, "No, no no. People want to see these people do the stuff themselves". So they trained for five months before the first movie. Anyone of those guys would be an awesome ultimate player. They were incredibly athletic, and they were in incredibly good shape. So would Kristen Bell, who is on my show, Veronica Mars.

SI: When is the last time you actually played Ultimate?

Silver: Many, many years ago. But I have a 4-year-old son. We play every now and then. He's getting better, but he's only 4. He's just starting to throw. It's one of the things we do together. But I don't play the game that much.

SI: Where will Ultimate be 50 years from now?

Silver: Well, I don't think you'll be watching Monday Night Frisbee. It was never in the establishment or the mainstream. But the fact that people are acknowledging it as such, well, I'm really happy people like the game and enjoy playing it.


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