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Q&A: Bill Predmore on the Reign FC documentary

Without much pre-release hype beyond a short trailer on their website, Seattle Reign FC have released a twenty-two minute video produced by Levy Films shot over the course of the week leading up to their final home game of the 2013 season against Portland Thorns FC.

The short film is the best inside look yet at active players in America and the NWSL; with topics ranging from the rough start the team had in the season, to inspirations for playing pro ball, to love lives and relationships with siblings. It’s also the story of a collection of players that bought into the team, the system, and their coach. Not just bought in, but bought in one-hundred percent, despite the 0-9-1 start to the season.

[More: Hope Solo: A different environment in Seattle]

Some might consider the film complete propaganda. It is, to an extent. But this is a rare glimpse behind the curtain, even if it is only a snapshot of the final week at Starfire as the Reign prepared to play Portland Thorns FC at home. The film is tightly edited, players can still be guarded at times, but it shows a team that came out on the other side of a nasty losing streak; a superstar learning to love the game again; the reasons players will step onto the field for a NWSL minimum contract.

Bill Predmore, owner of Seattle Reign FC, spoke with The Equalizer on the eve of the release of the short film.

The Equalizer: Getting into the movie, was this a project you really wanted to do? Was it a decision you and Laura [Harvey] made together, or did someone external come in and say, ‘hey, we really want to make a movie about this team, will you give us the access to do it?’

Bill Predmore: In general, Laura and I end up talking about most things to some extent. Sometimes it’s a deeper conversation, sometimes it’s pretty superficial. In this instance, I think we were both excited about trying to tell a story about the team. We both felt like we didn’t really give fans this great opportunity to connect with the players.

We were a new club in a city that’s really dominated by the Sounders. We didn’t have a way to allow fans to get emotionally attached or get to know the players, to emotionally invest themselves. We felt a film would be a good way to tell that story.

Scott Levy has shot a bunch of stuff for the Sounders; we’d seen that on numerous occasions. His stuff is really beautiful and he has a really unique take on shooting soccer. I can’t remember if we had gone to him or if he had approached us, but we sat down with him and talked about what we wanted to do. And we decided to jump in together on it.

EQZ: The film gets into some personal moments from the players in the one-on-one interviews. The players bought into that? There are some very honest moments in it, especially from Hope Solo and Keelin Winters. Was there any reluctance on their front to really go for it?

Predmore: We sat down and spoke with everybody before. I wanted to make sure the players were comfortable with it. They’re talking about some super personal stuff, probably as personal as it gets. We wouldn’t ask them to do those things unless they were really comfortable with it.

We really didn’t have any resistance to participating. I think we gave everyone fair warning. Scott [Levy] did the interviews as well, and he just has a really special way of drawing out honest answers from people. It’s just a conversation, and trust is quickly built.

A still image from the closing moment of the Seattle Reign FC film.

EQZ: On that Solo and Winters front, the two of them talk about their relationships a lot in a way we don’t usually see on film. Hope talks about believing in love again, and then Keelin has a very honest look at her coming out to her parents, and I found that pairing to be really interesting.

Predmore: We felt that was an aspect of who [Winters] is. If you want to get to know Keelin, that’s something about what makes her her, and that’s what makes it relevant to put in the film. We didn’t want anything to be a single issue defining people. I think in particular, Keelin’s answers are complex and nuanced. There were so many things rolling around in there, if you try to put yourself in her head, what it must have been like to go through that for her–I liked the way she told that story.

For me, seeing that story on camera for the first time, I just felt this deeper connection with Keelin. Which again, was what we were trying to get. Not just for me to feel that, but for anybody that watches it to get that deeper connection.

EQZ: At one point in the film, Megan Rapinoe says that the team is professionally run, but also “human-based.” Was that a conscious decision, to run the team in that fashion and to build these relationships with the core of the team?

Predmore: Having never run another team, I don’t really know what’s the right way or the wrong way to do it. I think Laura and I, philosophically, are on the same page in terms of how we want to run something. Again, if that’s a good way or a bad way, I don’t know, it’s just the way we’ve decided to do things and time will tell if that’s smart or not so much.

We are respectful of the players, and again, not having much to compare to, but I’d like to think it’s a pretty open environment for the players to exist in. We felt like one of the advantages we could bring in terms of trying to attract players to the club was to have it be the best environment for the best players to play in.

We’ve worked hard on figuring out what the players would want. In part, we ask them, but we’re trying to imagine what would be that ideal environment for players. We might get some things right, we might get some things wrong, but we are trying to create something special and unique.

EQZ: I talked to you the morning after the team had been announced, and you were in London for the Olympics. And now here we are, a few days out from the Winter Olympics kicking off. So from Summer to Winter, how has it been as a team owner in a brand new women’s soccer league?

Predmore: I suppose it’s been different than I expected. Last season was more challenging on multiple fronts, emotionally more than anything than what I expected. I took those losses pretty personally. We had a lot of them, so there were some tough moments there.

At the end, despite the record on the field, we did a lot of good work to build this foundation for the future. And that’s really what we were focused on; it wasn’t about what happens this season or next season, it’s looking at things over the course of a decade. As long as I feel like we’re making forward progress and we’re putting the right pieces in place to have it be something that’s stable and sustainable, ultimately I feel pretty good about it.

All the work we did last season put us in a really good position for the off-season we’ve had, which I feel very good about. There were a number of initiatives we had to deal with, on and off the field. I think Laura, to her credit, has executed that plan really flawlessly. On paper, at least, we’ve put together a really great squad. We’ll have to see what the results are on the field.

EQZ: Not exactly a serious question, but one I couldn’t help thinking about as I watched. The first chunk of the film, Rapinoe’s in the donkey shirt. Do you know what she did to earn that honor? [The donkey shirt is the sartorial version of the walk of shame.]

Predmore: I honestly don’t know why she had it on. Everybody–well, I don’t know if everybody–that donkey shirt got passed around a lot. That was really Laura, she brought that to the club. The very first practice that we had, bam, she brought that out. It was a different shirt, it went through three or four iterations. It got a little stinky and ripped up. But I’ll ask Laura what Megan ended up in it for.

I think she is one of the few players who wears that with pride. I’m not sure it bothered her at all.

EQZ: Would you ever consider doing something like this again? A documentary to follow the team this year?

Predmore: I’d like to see how people react to this one. I’m super happy with it. Hopefully people watch it and take something away from it that’s positive. So if we get a good reaction, yeah. Honestly, I’d love to see a longer form. We shot hours of stuff; there was something like ten hours of footage, most of which will never be released. I’d love to do something, and it probably won’t be this season, where we document a whole season.

All of that footage was shot in that last week in the build-up to the Portland game. It was really a snapshot of a moment in time. I think it would be really interesting to see how a team evolves over the course of a season, you know, players like Kim Little or Bev Goebel coming in, and players like Hope and Pinoe coming back. Just seeing what the course of that evolution is going to be like, over the course of a season.

I think it’s a more complicated story, but probably a more interesting one. I almost wish we had done it last year, because in so many ways it was such a brutally hard season for everybody. In another way though, and hopefully it comes out in the film, it was really kind of an inspiring season for everybody as well.

I think it really speaks to the character of the team that they didn’t fall apart, there wasn’t any sniping or whatever would go on when things don’t go your way. I wish we had documented the whole thing, because I think there was something pretty unique there.

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