REVIEW: The Church of Baseball: The Making of Bull Durham: Home Runs, Bad Calls, Crazy Fights, Big Swings, and a Hit by Ron Shelton
From the award-winning screenwriter and director of cult classic Bull Durham, the extremely entertaining behind-the-scenes story of the making of the film, and an insightful primer on the art and business of moviemaking.
Bull Durham, the breakthrough 1988 film about a minor league baseball team, is widely revered as the best sports movie of all time. But back in 1987, Ron Shelton was a first-time director and no one was willing to finance a movie about baseball—especially a story set in the minors. The jury was still out on Kevin Costner’s leading-man potential, while Susan Sarandon was already a has-been. There were doubts. But something miraculous happened, and The Church of Baseball attempts to capture why.
From organizing a baseball camp for the actors and rewriting key scenes while on set, to dealing with a short production schedule and overcoming the challenge of filming the sport, Shelton brings to life the making of this beloved American movie. Shelton explains the rarely revealed ins and outs of moviemaking, from a film’s inception and financing, screenwriting, casting, the nuts and bolts of directing, the postproduction process, and even through its release. But this is also a book about baseball and its singular romance in the world of sports. Shelton spent six years in the minor leagues before making this film, and his experiences resonate throughout this book.
Full of wry humor and insight, The Church of Baseball tells the remarkable story behind an iconic film.
I’ve been eagerly awaiting Ron Shelton’s book “The Church of Baseball: The Making of Bull Durham: Home Runs, Bad Calls, Crazy Fights, Big Swings, and a Hit” which is about his youth and years playing minor league baseball which then led to him writing the screenplay for and then directing the movie “Bull Durham.”
At first I wondered why his early years had anything to do with this but indeed they did. That’s when he discovered movies in a roundabout way, played baseball and fell in love with the sport along with going to college and majoring in literature. Then came the years toiling away in the minors (and as you read this, you can see where some of the iconic scenes in the movie came from).
Working in Hollywood gave him some experience in 2nd unit stuff and a bit of editing but the script was written in the hope of finding a studio that would agree to make it. That almost didn’t happen. He also almost lost Kevin Costner as the lead man, had to fight for Tim Robbins, and needed Susan Sarandon to dazzle the studio heads into switching her to be on The List of actresses Shelton could cast.
The filming took place back when the city was not what it is today with big corporations coming there, the downtown being refurbished, and housing prices going sky high. Creative filmmaking was needed to get the right locations, local talent filled in more cheaply than hiring from LA, money had to be moved around in the budget, the cast and extras had to not shiver in the coolness of October shooting when it was supposed to look as if it was June, and Shelton endlessly reworked a major scene to finally get it to work. Editing slights of hand got a needed reshoot of one scene and test audiences finally got it across that a scene beloved by everyone had to go.
Now 35 years later, the movie has cemented its place as one of the great sports movies even though not a lot of actual playing is shown.
The book is educational without being pedantic, funny without being only for laughs, fairly honest as Shelton admits his faults but doesn’t name every name (though I’d really love to know who some of the uncast actors are he’s talking about). Even though I don’t love baseball (and I don’t), I enjoyed it a lot. B