Movie Magic in India:
Behind the Scenes of MILLION DOLLAR ARM
By Evy Baehr, Executive Managing Editor
Movieguide® had the opportunity to do an interview with Mark Ciardi who produced MILLION DOLLAR ARM. Mark, along with his partner Gordon Gray, has produced some morally uplifting, inspirational movies that have received Movieguide® Awards. MILLION DOLLAR ARM is about a sports agent named JB Bernstein who conducts a competition in India to find the next best pitcher. This is JB’s last hope in being successful. Otherwise, he looses everything.
Take a look at what Ciardi has to say about the production:
Movieguide®: I’ve read or heard that you have gotten great reaction from those audience screenings.
Mark Ciardi: Yes, the chairman of the company said it was the highest scoring movie he’s ever been involved with that’s either Warner Bros. or Disney, so it was beyond a compliment, and the great thing is just seeing how the movie plays in front of audiences. It’s been really something for us so we’re very, very proud.
Movieguide®: How did you guys come across that whole ordeal, the million dollar arm, that competition? How did you come across that?
Ciardi: I know JB Bernstein personally. I knew him before I was in the movie business, so, I then actually met him in 2007. I’d seen him down at a Super Bowl party, and I ran into him, and he told me he was going to India to do a reality show to find a pitcher. I kinda looked at him cross-eyed and was like “yeah, alright, good luck,” and didn’t think much of it, and then about a year and half later, he’s in my office, and he got these kids signed, and so when we looked at the story, we really thought this could make a fantastic movie. It was still evolving. . . and the more and more we looked, the more we thought it could make a great movie.
Movieguide®: One of the other aspects that I love about the movie is it shows the American Dream, but it also shows the work you have to put towards reaching that goal.
Ciardi: JB had to find this idea, you know, and go against these big companies. That big idea to go to India was the first step, and then he had to execute it, and everything that went along with [it]. We went over there to shoot. We kinda followed his footsteps, and. . . when we shot everything that he went through, we went through a lot of as well, and we really felt like we got a taste of this story and how difficult it was and watching him struggle over there. It’s that fish out of water when he goes there and when the boys come here, you know, that’s what’s great, it’s the whole fish out of water story, and the really great thing is to watch what JB learned from these boys. So, it was a lot of fun watching that transformation happen.
Movieguide®: It’s an interesting portrayal of the different cultures. It’s interesting how their family has to get used to that, letting them go.
Ciardi: Yeah, that was such an emotional scene, really, when. . . JB knew that he had a responsibility to these kids, it took a while for him to figure that out, but you know, and I think towards the end of the movie, when he does make this change, he understands it, it finally clicks, and then it has such big impact on him, and he wanted to the boys to have fun and to enjoy themselves and not be thought of as a business commodity. It’s all about family, and how JB finally found his family, and ultimately led to his real biological family, to his wife and now to his new child.
Movieguide®: He learns how to care for other people, which is really sweet.
Ciardi: It happened. He’d be the first person to say that he gives the boys all the credit for that.
Movieguide®: The movie is about taking risks. Have you had periods of time that you’ve had to take huge risks in your life?
Ciardi: Oh, always, always. I mean, every job I’ve done, it’s been kind of long odds against it, you know. I’ve been lucky enough to play baseball, play professionally. So. . . you always take those risks and go for it, even in the film business. We kind of started at a later age, my partner and I, Gordon Gray, and worked out of our garage, but you just can’t think of not doing something. You have to think of succeeding. So, that’s how we’ve always looked at things, and the odds can get a lot more in your favor if you believe in yourself.
Movieguide®: Tell me how you guys pick your movies, because you’ve done some movies that Movieguide® has given awards to?
Ciardi: That’s a nice compliment. We take a lot of care in developing screenplays, and really ones that appeal to us. I think the first thing you have to do is what you love, what kind of movies you love, and what inspires you. We try to find great films, great stories really, and then try to execute them. Whether they’re famous stories like SECRETARIAT and MIRACLE, or ones that are not well known like ROOKIE or INVINCIBLE or MILLION DOLLAR ARM, they’re still great underdog stories and still stories that people and the whole family can go and see and watch.
Movieguide®: There’s elements of faith in most of these stories, but is there a reason you guys kind of leave that in or put that in?
Ciardi: I think in all our stories, we love that emotional center, I think if you don’t find that, then you don’t have a movie, and you’ve got to be hit, by the end of that movie by something, it’s not all about what happens on the field, in fact, usually that takes a backseat to the characters, and how you feel when the movie ends. It’s all stuff that inspires us, and we just hope that we can kinda do the same for the audience.
Movieguide®: Jon Hamm was a great choice for the lead character. How was it working with him and coming to this decision to use him?
Ciardi: He was top of our list, and we attached him relatively early to the project, which Disney usually never does, I mean that’s how committed they were to him. He’s become a good friend, he’s just a great guy. You could ask around anybody who’s worked with him, or knows him, he’s just a terrific guy. We became friends, and he just did such a good job on this movie. He just kinda got the character. He’s a sports fan, a guy’s guy, and I think his portrayal was fantastic.
Movieguide®: Finding the boys, that was probably a big ordeal too?
Ciardi: We saw so many kids when we went over with the director to cast, and we just felt like we nailed it. Madhur had been the older brother in SLUMDOG, so they’ve been in some really fantastic films. We’re just lucky to get them. When we put them all together, all three of our guys, they just fit so well. We were really, really excited and felt like we had our cast.
Movieguide®: You and your partner Gordon have stayed in the family film realm, I see that you have a ton of stuff coming up.
Ciardi: Yeah, we do, these are the kind of films we love making. We have one with Kevin Costner that’s come out unbelievably well as well, so we’re really happy that we can continue these movies and can inspire audiences. That gives us a lot of pleasure.
Movieguide®: Tell me what your greatest hope for MILLION DOLLAR ARM would be, for audiences and their reaction towards it.
Ciardi: They’re gonna get inspired. It’s an emotional film. It’ll make them laugh. It has a little of everything. I think they’re going to walk away really remembering this film and that’s the greatest thing, it’s the compliments we get on people sitting down and – an hour and half, two hours – watching a film and being entertained and having a movie stay with you. Having them really love it, and [if] it’s something they can show their whole family and again, it’s the greatest compliment we could have.
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