Movieguide® Award-Winning Producer Mark Ciardi On Why He ‘Loves’ Sports Stories

Movieguide® Award-Winning Producer Mark Ciardi On Why He ‘Loves’ Sports Stories

By Movieguide® Staff

Producer Mark Ciardi has made a name for himself in the inspirational sports drama. The producer is behind some of the most popular movies in the genre, including INVINCIBLE, THE ROOKIE, SECRETARIAT, and MCFARLAND USA, among many more. 

“With the sports films, I never started out thinking that I wanted to do sports films,” he said. “I’d set up a couple of thrillers and a couple of books, and then, at the end of 1999, I was reading a story in Sports Illustrated about this teacher in West Texas that was 35 years old, he was in Triple-A, and it told the story of THE ROOKIE.”

“That one turned out really, really well, and had Dennis Quaid,” he added. “I got pitched MIRACLE after that, so we set that up. And then, there was INVINCIBLE. We did three, right in a row, and then did a couple of movies with The Rock, and then SECRETARIAT, MILLION DOLLAR ARM, and MCFARLAND, USA.

“Everything comes by me because I’m now known for sports. It’s not everything I do. But I love them. They’re just great stories and great backdrops to tell stories. It should never be about the sports, really. That’s always just in the background. It should be the emotion of the story.”

In 2020, he produced SAFETY, which was selected as Movieguide®’s Best Movie for Families.

A portion of Movieguide®’s review reads:

SAFETY is a heartrending, powerful, triumphant movie streaming on Disney Plus [Disney+]. Ray has a full football scholarship to Clemson, a football powerhouse in the NCAA. He’s also extremely bright. At first, Ray is overwhelmed by taking too many course credits as well as the football training. Then, when their mother is forced to go to rehab after being caught with some drugs, Ray decides to hide his little brother at Clemson. When this is discovered the football coach tries to help Ray, but an NCAA official intervenes.

SAFETY is an extremely powerful movie about a brother’s love for his little brother. It’s peppered with references to prayer and the school chaplain’s kindness. The ending includes a Christian song about the help God always provides. The passion and love of Ray’s teammates and his coaches are heartwarming, as is the love of Ray’s romantic interest. The movie’s jeopardy is intense, since viewers will think the little brother is going to be discovered or taken away from Ray at any instant. Like many sports dramas, SAFETY is a great movie for families to watch together.

Ciardi said he held onto the rights to make a movie about Ray McElrathbey’s story for 14 years before making SAFETY. 

“As a producer, you get paid when you make a movie, so you’ve gotta hang in there,” Ciardi told Collider. “It’s funny, I’ve got three movies from 2006/2007 that are all getting made and are at different junctures right now. You can’t give up. If you have a script you love, to me, it’s about timing. Eventually, the timing could work out. It didn’t matter that 14 years have happened before the movie.

“In some ways, it was better to have waited,” he added. “Now, Ray is a 34-year-old young man and has matured. If it would have happened at the time that he was still in college, it probably would have been a little too overwhelming. There’s something nice about having a little bit of time in between stories. The music from 15 years ago is great. It’s as timely now as it was then. The social issues are perfectly timed for what’s going on right now.”

Ciardi returned to the football field again with his movie AMERICAN UNDERDOG with Kingdom Story Co. The Kurt Warner biopic is nominated for multiple Movieguide® Awards this year, including Best Movie for Families, the Epiphany Prize®, and the Grace Prize® for star Zachary Levi. 

“I do I have a lot of Teddy Bears® on my mantle, and that puts an imprint of how these movies are received out there,” Ciardi told Movieguide®. “I’m really proud of the films because they’re family films that I still get great compliments on today from people. A lot of them that I’ve made for Disney now sit on this Disney+ plus platform. It’s great, because Disney+ rebirth of being able to watch a movie at the touch of a button, and I love the movies that I’ve done there.”

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