The Austin Chronicle

Sixty-Minute Man

Kyle Smith explores friendships taking hard hits in real time in 'Turkey Bowl'

By Joe O'Connell, March 11, 2011, Screens

Kyle Smith and his pal Morgan Beck drove a decommissioned police cruiser off a ramp, crashed it into a concrete wall, and then sat dumbfounded as the car went up in flames. It was all in pursuit of the short-lived 2009 ABC game show Crash Course and the crazy adventures friends dive into together. The episode never aired, but the duo's antics won the cash prize. Like any right-thinking American, Smith spent the money making a low-budget film.

Smith's film is Turkey Bowl, which involves a different sort of collision – friends crashing into one another both literally and metaphorically one hot summer day for a semi-friendly pick-up football game in the park. The hourlong film follows real time and is a very realistic chronicle of a football game, yet it isn't a football movie. Smith says the film's real-time focus "allows you to experience a continuity of emotion that emphasizes character over plot." And that's exactly where Turkey Bowl excels.

The overly intense guy rubs up against the guy with extreme self-doubts. The lazy natural athlete smokes cigarettes between plays. The pretty blonde plays with a confidence that somewhat rattles the guys. Like jazz players riffing off of one another at closing time, the friends crash into one another and create cinematic music that is compelling even to those normally bored by football. Most of the actors, including Beck, are Smith's real-life friends. "I am lucky to have talented friends, and, because they are my friends, I find them interesting. And because they are my friends, they were willing to work for free," he says. "They also had pre-existing relationships that made working together more comfortable and the performances stronger."

The 10-day shoot took place in a Los Angeles park during brutal heat in August 2010. "This meant nobody was visiting the park during the day and there wasn't a cloud in the sky, which worked well for matching the real-time movie," Smith said. "We also shot in story order, which was wonderful to help everyone – me included – keep track of where each character was and what the feeling of the game was." The football plays were scripted, with dialogue sometimes prewritten but often improvised. "I've always loved movies that felt like they were unpredictable because they had a large, dynamic cast – Robert Altman [films] being an obvious example – and it was fun to try and predict how these different personalities would interact."

Throwing a wrench into the friendships is the arrival of two strangers, one African-American and the other Latino, whom the more-established – and uniformly white – friends must figure out how to integrate within the group. "I wanted them to be minorities because this happened in a pick-up game I was in. I and a bunch of other white guys would play every Wednesday, and one week we picked up two high school kids, one African-American and the other Latino," Smith says. "The African-American looked extremely athletic. When we picked teams for the first time, you could see the captains not knowing what to do. He is a stranger, so they should just pick their friends, but they also want him to feel welcome. Also, he looks like he'd be really good and help your chances of winning. Feeling uncertain about a new person can be awkward enough; having them be a different race can complicate that, too. A lot of people talk about how race can disappear in sports, and while I think that is a convenient aphorism, it also holds some truth."

Smith's goal with the film was to show how people communicate through competition. "We all compete differently," he says. "There's also the social element of the game, which goes from intense physical exertion to short walks back to the huddle filled with awkward conversation. I told the cast during shooting that the movie was about 'hanging out,' enjoying this brief hour that they were sharing. I think that's the most simple reward of friendship."

Turkey Bowl

Emerging Visions, World Premiere

Saturday, March 12, 11:15am, Alamo Ritz 1

Tuesday, March 15, noon, State

Friday, March 18, 7pm, Alamo Ritz 2

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