ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Maybe you’ve been to a football game at The Big House. However, you probably haven’t seen Michigan Stadium in quite this way. “The Big House” had its North American premiere on Saturday afternoon at the 56th Ann Arbor Film Festival.
Seventeen University of Michigan students from the department of Screen Arts and Cultures collaborated to give viewers a behind-the-scenes look at the Michigan Stadium over the course of several home football games. It was set during the landscape of the 2016 Presidential Election.
“This is a unique way to make the film. It’s an editor who reshapes the footage,” said Terri Sarris, a U-M Senior Lecturer who served as a director on the film. “We had 17 people’s footage. We also had them do an annotated script assignment. It was up to every student to sort out the story. Then we voted. Soda has his 10 commandments of his style. It leaves a lot of things open for your interpretation.”
The observational film opens with a scene of a skydiver landing on a the field during a home football game. The crowd cheers! I think it was a great way to kick-off the film. Then, the story begins…
“The Big House” shows viewers the enormous amount of work it takes to put on a football game from the cooks preparing food in the kitchens, to the police officers and security guards checking out the fans as they enter to the emergency personnel setting up their beds before fans need help.
Of course, there are shots of the football games. However, the story isn’t just about sports. One of the memorable scenes is when the male cheerleader looks exhausted after holding up the female cheerleader in the air. It’s also about the tailgating and the fans who show up in wild and wacky outfits.
The student filmmakers also weaved the political climate into the film. There are shots of a Donald Trump float being driven up and down Main Street. In addition, there are people wearing Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders t-shirts and passing out information about their candidates.
Then, there is the aftermath. It takes almost an entire day to clean up all of the trash that is left behind after a game is over. Once that is done, there is a Catholic mass held on Sunday following the game.
I really enjoyed watching “The Big House.” I think it was a well-made film offering unique perspectives that I’ve never seen before. It kept viewers on the edge of their seats throughout.
I had the opportunity to interview four of the 17 U-M students following the North American premiere at the Michigan Theater.
Q: What was the most fun part of working on the film?
“My most fun part was meeting all of my classmates because they are all wonderful people and super inspiring,” said U-M student Sean Moore. “We were all given our own assignments. We went out and edited them by ourselves and then we put them all together. I think the experience of being able to see how many classmates worked, learning from the professors completed changed my filmmaking career and totally inspired me. I’ll never forget it.”
Fellow student Britty Bonine added: “All of the professors were very supportive about what you were interested in and follow it. Having a hands-on experience and being able to take the camera and shoot what you want to shoot. I was particularly interested in the happenings on the field on the sidelines. I was able to be on the field for all of the games which was really an amazing experience. I really enjoyed it.”
Q: How would you describe the film to people who maybe have been to The Big House for football games?
“It’s seeing the Big House in a whole new light,” Bonine explained. “It’s getting to learn a lot of different stories about a lot of different people. Being able to feel the tradition of the Big House and the University of Michigan in a whole new different way. And really being able to feel the magnitude of it and how magical the place is.”
Moore added: “With our film, you get to see 17 perspectives that you’ve never seen before. You get to see places like the kitchen or the Catholic mass afterwards or people out on the streets like selling their wares. But also things you do see normally like stuff on the field in a completely new light, which I think is fascinating.”
Q: With 17 different people shooting, how did you decide what to keep and what to get rid of?
“One of the things that was most important in the process was trying to find the rhythms and the themes that just naturally appear again and again,” said U-M student Vesal Stoakley. “And then finding a way to construct that those themes are communicated and clarified to the audience. I think we did that pretty well. The film has a very strategic structure from the big spectacle of the sky diver in the beginning taking you to the energy of the first game and getting to the second game which is a little more slower. We were able, as a team, to bring a lot of experience and our academic material to making the film.”
Bonine added: “It definitely came down to the editing, as Terri Sarris, our professor and leader for the film, said. Editing is the last writing of the script. Sean edited and Vesal edited as well. We had to cut down the film. We started out originally with a close to 3-hour film. We cut it down to 116 minutes. It was kind of like…what do we feel is most important and what makes it magical?”
Q: A couple weeks ago you were in Berlin. How does it feel to have the premiere here in Ann Arbor?
“I think it’s great to have the film screened in our hometown and see what it means to this community,” Stoakley explained. “Even though we’re the filmmakers of the movie, it’s such a huge thing culturally. There’s so many stories and we couldn’t potentially touch all of them. Spending time with Ann Arborites you get more insight everyday. It’s fantastic, I think.”
Moore added: “Having the film premiere in Berlin as supposed to Ann Arbor, there’s widely different perspectives on the film. An Ann Arborites’ view of the film has the unique local perspective. They recognize the restaurants and The M Den. I think it was a very satisfying experience to sit in the crowd and have them laugh at the times that I wanted them to laugh. It was fun.”
“It was unbelievable to watch it with all of these people who are familiar with this culture already and maybe get new perspectives,” said U-M student Jacob Rich. “Like everybody here, I grew up going to Michigan games. It was very cool.”
Q: Now that the film is out, where do you plan to go from here? Any future projects?
“We applied to a couple of more film festivals,” Bonine added. “I think one of them is in Detroit coming up soon. And then hopefully distribution from there on. Hopefully, making more projects.”
Moore answered: “T-shirts, coasters, mousepads, everything Big House. I want to keep working on documentary projects because this was an irrestible thing to work on. I don’t know if I can ever do anything else after this.”
For more information about “The Big House” movie, visit https://www.kazuhirosoda.com/thebighouse