The art of the game …
Johnny Braz has married his love of sports with his love of filmmaking, and the combination couldn’t be better. We caught up with Braz just a few days before the premier of his latest labor of love, Play It Again. The film chronicles the events of the Dunmore-Mid Valley girls’ basketball rivalry and their historic face-off in the 2011 State Eastern Final played at the CYC . It’s based on the work of local sportswriter for the Times-Tribune, Marty Myers, and features guest narration by former Lackawanna League star Amber Jacobs. The premier of the film will take place on March 22, the anniversary of the game, in the same venue where girls’ basketball history was made — at the CYC. Describing his creative process as that of a “mad scientist” (a good one, of course) Braz spent much of the past year editing the footage he collected and working with music and sound master Ken Moden to bring the film to completion. A huge proponent of PBS, Braz credits the documentaries he viewed on WVIA-TV 44 as the reason he became an independent filmmaker. Meet Clarks Green’s Johnny Braz …
You left the area in 1984 after high school, went to New York for 10 years and then lived in Los Angeles for 15 years. What brought you back to the area?
In all that time, I never lost touch with the area. I came home every year around the holidays for about a month, so even when I was gone, I wasn’t really gone. My family is here. And I think I knew at some point I’d be back. I wanted to go to L.A. and learn filmmaking by watching great people do it, and then take what I learned, come back here and bring film back to Scranton.
How did you break into the business?
My friend was shooting a movie in Mexico and he said, “Come down. You can hang out at the resort and hang out with the crew, sleep on the beach, whatever you want to do.” One day I was sitting on a lounge chair, and somebody shakes my arm. He said, “I’m with the film crew. Will you please come to our room? We heard you know a little bit about cameras.” So I went up and we talked a little and they taught me how to use the Aeroflex movie cameras, and then they broke the news to me that their loader and their first assistant weren’t going to be able to make it. They decided I was going to be their loader and their first assistant. I ended up taking the job, and instead of being there for five days chilling out and drinking margaritas, I was running through the jungles and beaches of Mexico as a loader for 35 days straight.
These people were total strangers?
Yes, these were guys I never met before. They were Hollywood camera guys, so they were part of the crew. My friend had invited me to the movie shoot and I was there as his guest. He must have told them to talk to me. So I took the job having never done it before, and nothing was ruined. That was back in the days we shot film, too, so there was a lot of loading and you could easily screw up hundreds of thousands of dollars of work just by a little bit of exposure. My friend said to me after that, “I will hire you for every job that I get from now on.” Two months later I was working on a documentary with Clint Eastwood.
What was that first film about?
The Monterey Jazz Festival. Clint Eastwood was producing a small homage to the festival, which is one of his favorite things in the world.
What kind of films influenced you growing up?
NFL films and Channel 44 (WVIA) — sports documentaries.
So you’ve got an interest in sports and the arts.
I played baseball in high school. That’s what people really knew me for originally. The Scranton Times covered me extensively, and I came out of the area and people said, “What happened? You were supposed to be the next Johnny Bench.” But I left sports to pursue filmmaking when I was in New York. People thought of it as a bad thing when I left baseball, but that’s a great thing to do in your youth. I was saying “I’m going on to live the rest of my life” while everyone was saying “What a shame, he quit.” But I never processed it that way.
You must still love baseball. Look at your shirt.
Yeah, I’m still a Yankees fan and I still play baseball in the summer. I still stay in touch with my athletic side, which is why I love doing sports documentaries.
Tell us about Play It Again.
Marty Myers is reporting. His perspective on things is always interesting, so I knew about the whole thing from him and the Times-Tribune. Mid Valley and Dunmore (rival schools) were on this collision course. For them to play in the Eastern Final, there was almost zero chance of that happening, but it all came together. So there’s a great story leading up (to the game) and then it happened. They had the game at the CYC and the place was sold out … newspaper (reporters) were going crazy, players were getting interviewed by the media, and I decided to walk over there with my camera because I knew one of the players. I was just going to get a couple shots for her and her dad. I walked in and the place was completely packed an hour before the game and I got the chills. I knew this was going to be something special. So I shot it for posterity. I shot every play, the whole game, the crowd and then I went home and watched it and cried my eyes out. I knew I had to make it into a film. So I called Marty (Myers) and Joby (Fawcett) and the coaches, Ben O’Brien from Dunmore and Bob Doughton from Mid Valley and the two star girls on the teams and I said, “Meet me at the CYC next week and we’ll do interviews while this is fresh in everybody’s mind.” And they were all game.
What audience are you speaking to with this film?
Initially you might think just the hardcore sports fans, but there are also the communities of Dunmore and Mid Valley and all the students in those schools. Then there’s the wider aspect of the fact that this film was more than a sporting event. It transcended sports; it brought the community together and really that’s appealing to everyone — even if you’re not a sports fan.
Play It Again will make its world premier on Thursday, March 22, at 7:30 p.m., at the CYC in Scranton. The event is free and open to the public, however, a voluntary donation (in any amount) will be accepted with all proceeds benefiting the Boys & Girls Club of Scranton.