May 22, 2014

Catholic movie producer makes his pitch with 'Million Dollar Arm'

By Carl Kozlowski *

Mark Ciardi is no stranger to challenges, having worked his way up to the major leagues, albeit for a brief stint back in 1987. This past weekend, he faced another one in a completely different career field when the movie he produced, “Million Dollar Arm,” had to open against the biggest monster movie of summer, “Godzilla.”

The movie opened decently with $10.5 million, but received an A in audience surveys, which should help it stick around a while on word of mouth. As noted in my review last Friday, it’s a solid and engaging film that is smart enough for adults and clean enough for kids to see as well, continuing a strong track record for Ciardi in his association with Disney.

In fact, he’s had seven solid hits so far in his career, many of them inspirational sports dramas like “Arm,” including “Miracle” (the story of the 1980 US Olympic hockey team’s miracle win over the Soviets team) and “Invincible” (the story of a Philadelphia garbage man who became a player for the Eagles). He recently spoke with CNA about why he feels that sports dramas are great films, about foul language in movies (his have none or almost none), and his abiding Catholic faith.

CNA: How did you get involved with the “Million Dollar Arm”?

CIARDI: “We’re always obviously looking for great stories, we’ve done a lot of sports films with Disney. I knew JB [JB Bernstein, the real-life sports agent the movie is about] before I was in the film business and I ran into him in 2007 at a Super Bowl party and he said he was headed to India to find a pitcher for a reality show. I thought he was crazy and a year and a half later he told me he got the boys signed and I saw the transition he went through and I quickly realized we had something really special.”

CNA: How did you make the transition from baseball to movies?

CIARDI: When I played baseball I moved to LA and spent off-seasons here and met people in the film business. My partner Gordon Gray wanted to get into the film business. We looked at each other and said why don’t we produce movies? We worked out of a garage and decided this was something we wanted to try. That was in ’98. Basically I didn’t know any better. Our first film was “The Rookie” and that was shot in 2001 and came out in 2002.

CNA: Are these sports films all true?

CIARDI: They’re all true stories. This is our fifth sports film and they’ve been inspirational true stories. We have one with Kevin Costner coming in the fall. We’ve done some family comedies and other films, but these six we have are all true stories.

CNA: How much was your own baseball expertise relied upon for the film?

CIARDI: I certainly have a say in things but we hire really great people. I look at everybody and chime in but I think it helps to have a background in sports. We had to teach these actors how to pitch, a case of life imitating art. We had to get them to be able to throw and be believable.

CNA: What’s the magic of sports stories in film?

CIARDI: Some are good, some are not as good, but really it starts with hiring a really great screenwriter. It all comes down to the script but you hit a number of other benchmarks. That is a big part of having a successful movies.

CNA: How did you set the tone so well, where it’s for families but adults can watch it on their own too and really enjoy it?  This was written by Tom McCarthy, who also wrote “Win Win,” a terrific father-son story that was marred by too much pointless cussing and earned an R when it really was a family movie and could have been PG.

CIARDI: “Win Win” was my favorite movie that year. But you’re right there was no real need for the language. Our partnership is with Disney and there’s no real need for language. You see the adult couple drinking, having a kiss and it’s not a G rated movie. Kids will like that it feels like an adult movie that they can enjoy. It’s a perfect partner because it’s important to them and important to us. Families have that Disney seal of approval and they appreciate it. Also, I’m a proud Catholic and would never want to offend my grandma’s standards.

Carl Kozlowski has been a professional film critic and essayist for the past five years at Pasadena Weekly, in addition to the Christian movie site, the conservative pop culture site Breitbart.coms Big Hollywood, the Christian pop culture magazine Relevant and New City newspaper in Chicago. He also writes in-depth celebrity interviews for and The Progressive. He is owner of the podcasting site, which was named one of the Frontier Fifty in 2013 as one of the 50 best talk-radio outlets in the nation by and will be relaunching it in January 2014 after a five-month sabbatical. He lives in Los Angeles.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.


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