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Discovering a Legend: A Conversation with Chris Perkel for FOREMAN

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Cast as America’s Villain in the famed Rumble in the Jungle against Muhammad Ali, George Foreman lost one of the greatest fights in sports history. Immediately after the defeat, “Big George” fell into a spiral that made him abandon boxing and spend 10 years becoming an ordained minister following a near death experience. 20 years later on and into his 40’s, Foreman began an improbable climb back to the summit of world boxing becoming the heroic figure he’d always been destined to be, and writing one of the greatest underdog stories ever told.

In our interview, The Fan Carpet’s Marc Jason Ali spoke with Chris Perkel ahead of the release of the documentary; FOREMAN. He tells us how he got into the industry, working with Cameron Crowe and how George has reacted to the documentary…



Was there a defining moment for you to get into the industry?

Oh a defining moment. I think there’s been a handful of breaks, I guess you could call them, and I’ve had a number along the way and, you know, you got to work hard and you’ve got to get lucky, and I feel like I’ve had a couple like getting into USC really helped, you know, that really helped, just because the pros and cons of going to a graduate film programme and a lot of times the people who profit the most are the ones who often have other ways of penetrating the system, of like finding a way into the business, either they grew up around it or they just have a different or more developed skill set that enabled them to find their way in, but if you don’t you have to find those access points and that’s really hard to do when you’re out in the cold, and going to a graduate programme really helps, that’s my experience.

But then along the way you know, I know what I wanted to do for a long time and I certainly had ambitions as a young man and I think as far as three real breaks that really helped I would say; getting out of film school, one of the first places I ended up working was for Morgan Neville who ended up winning an Academy Award years late for 20 Feet from Stardom and so having an opportunity to work with someone who was really good really helped because it immediately got me inside an ecosystem of high end documentary work, which was really really fortuitous, and then you know, I think the biggest break that came thereafter was getting hired to edit Pearl Jam 20 for Cameron Crowe, I was a big fan of the band, I was the right age; I’d grown up around it and it was just a really big project and a project I really wanted, you know I wanted to do it, I felt like I was the right guy for it, and really set my sights, my design, on figuring out a way to get that gig and did and that was a big break for me, because it was a really high profile project and it’s a bigger project for me and again working with an extraordinary accomplished film-maker, and then the last thing was getting this Clive Davis project recently was a really big break, you know these are the (can’t make out) events that sort of, you know, push you up on the ladder when you think about it, and I thought Pearl Jam was a jump for me and then having this opportunity to direct the Clive Davis project, Clive Davis: Soundtrack of Our Lives, was a really big break for me, I’m really appreciative of the fact that Scott Free, the production company took a chance on a younger maybe slightly greener, (in that capacity?) film-maker than I’m sure some of the other people they where considering and yeah it’s meant a lot.

Hopefully it’s established me as more viable doc director, you know, which is where I wanted to be.


Brilliant. Yeah sounds great, especially in working with Cameron Crowe, I mean that’s good for anyone, he’s very well respected in the industry isn’t he?

Yeah absolutely, I mean he’s an Academy Award winner and has written and directed some of the biggest films of their genres, I mean Jerry Maguire or Almost Famous, Fast Times at Ridgemont High which he didn’t direct but wrote, they’re classics and he’s a musicians film-maker, you know, he loves, loves music and comes at all these things from the point of view of a music lover and just having the opportunity to work with him was tremendous and you know every time you work with a really accomplished guy or someone whose got a really well developed sort of skill set and approach, you know you learn something new obviously.

In a lot of ways his direction was very tonal you know, I remember him saying early on in that project that he wanted to feel like the fans raided the Pearl Jam vault, you know, and we knew early that this was a project that was really for the fans first and foremost, obviously you want to attract the wider audience, but it needed to have the sensibility of a fan, it was really about the relationship between the band and the fans which is essential to their story, and you know, the way he thought about these things was different and I really appreciated having the opportunity to work with him.


Wonderful. So switching gears to the Foreman documentary, where you a big fan of the legendary George Foreman before embarking upon it?

Yeah I was a big sports fan, I had edited ESPN’s 30 for 30 that was also about a figure in the boxing world who was called the “Real Rocky” which was about Chuck Wepner which is funny because I edited that one and we deal with the “Rumble in the Jungle” in that film as well because Ali ended up fighting Wepner after he beat Foreman in the “Rumble in the Jungle” because he was kind of looking for an easy fight and of course the story there goes that Wepner gave him a much better fight than he anticipated and became the inspiration for Rocky. So yeah I was a Foreman fan and also just a sports fan in general, I just loved really great sports stories, you know there’s a reason why they make such great films, they’re just inherently so dramatic and the conflict is so concrete and they’re so inspiring and they’re always about men.

Boxing in particular, is about people trying to fight for their lives both figuratively and literally, and I was a big fan going in, but I learned a tonne and I’m of the age where I remember his comeback, I remember the Comeback George and then I remember obviously George the Grill Guy, everybody knows George the Grill guy and younger fans only know George the Grill Guy, I was of an age where I remember the comeback.

I knew from my father that George had been perceived as really mean guy in the 70s, but I hadn’t really seen any of that stuff.

My father was a big fan and he would tell me about the earlier incarnations of George and what a tough guy he was and how dramatically different he was as a personality and as a fighter and his physical physique as well, it all sort of changed and transformed before the comeback, but I hadn’t really seen or experienced any of that, I knew of it, but once I started researching and digging into the film you know and started doing the research to try and pitch the film really, you know, I got really excited and became really, really sort of enthusiastic and passionate about the project because it became very clear to me just how dramatic that transformation was and almost sort of shocking to me that story had really yet to be told.

There was an opportunity to kind of tell that story through two generations eventually who really do not recall that first generation of George and was largely unaware.


What was it about George Foreman that made him the perfect subject for you to explore?

I have a sports documentary background and I’d actually been exploring a project when I became interested in George’s comeback story, just as Angelo had been in Ali’s corner in the Rumble in the Jungle and George’s corner 20 years later when he won the title back I began to construct the story around that.

As we dug in a little deeper and started to include the Foreman family the story just evolved into George’s story, a more concentrated telling that really focused on George, and I was really honoured, flattered and privileged to have the opportunity to tell the definitive George Foreman story which has, surprisingly to me, has not been told.



Yeah it hasn’t. During your research to put together the film was there anything that you found out that you didn’t know that was quite fascinating for yourself?

Yeah, I’m of the generation that really experienced George’s comeback so I remember it well, younger people who really only know him as the grill guy, I guess people my age, my generation, remember the comeback didn’t experience the angrier more ferocious George first hand, my father was a big fan, he told me stories about what George was like back then but I never really experienced it and getting to look at all that footage and all those fights again with fresh eyes was really eye opening, just how wild and overwhelming he was as a fighter at that time.

And then I was also particularly interested in the period after he lost to Ali where George basically had a bunch of public stumbles as he was trying to process that loss and I felt like that was a period of time that had fallen through the cracks of the historical telling you know, Foreman events I felt maybe hadn’t been revisited in a while and to me they where very eye-opening.

Watching this guy, this sort of misunderstood angry confused man, really try to sort himself out in public was almost painful to watch and it’s challenging and the idea, for me, was to reinforce how impressive it was to see him come out the other side such an improved person and such a great man who has the capacity to achieve such great things, greater things.


Absolutely. When making the film and putting it together, was there anything that you had to cut out that you really wish was in there or did it turn out the way that you wanted it?

Honestly there really wasn’t. You always have budgetary concerns and worries about whether we could afford to license this or that, you know particularly boxing, the ownership of particular fights can be challenging and so I went in kind of prepared to be disappointed here and there and truthfully even in some places we had to come up with some creative ways to do a little bit of storytelling at the end of the day we where able to tell the whole story.

I was really interested in communicating, every scene had a pivotal beat and really every fight that we wanted to include we where able to include. So at the end of the day, honestly, I was really sort of surprised and gratified to be able to make exactly the film we set out to make.

And I got to say the Foreman’s where also really helpful in that regard in so much as George Foreman Jr., who was a producer on the project, really helped us find the right voices, people who where close to George, one thing that was important to us was to not, just not have a parade of boxing experts who are speaking academically about George and to really help the film be told by people who where there and knew George on a personal level, even the experts in the film knew George personally like Larry who worked with him, you know there are all the commentators, they’re all the guys who knew him on a personal level and so on that way I also felt like we where really able to tell the complete story

My goal, my hope for the film was to be able to tell a story that was really personal and everyone of the voices in that film felt like they where able to share a perspective that was really intimate and that meant a lot.


Brilliant, okay. Within in your own career is documentaries where you want to stay or do you have aspirations for doing scripted material or other things?

Yeah I do have aspirations of doing scripted stuff. I love documentaries, what’s funny is that it wasn’t my plan originally to work in sort of the non-fiction end of the spectrum, like a lot of people I had dreams of being a sort of writer/director and in some way just sort of stumbled into the documentary world and really found a home there. When I was in graduate school I found myself gravitating to the doc department because I was interested, and I really discovered that I really loved the journalistic element of that kind of story telling and to be able to comment on the world in a more direct way, a little less ego than fiction storytelling where you trying to kind of filter through your own experiences.

So yeah I do have aspirations to doing some non-fiction work again and I’ve done like music videos, short films, and things of that nature over the last few years while I’ve been working primarily in docs, but you know with all that said I’m also very very happy and content to be where I am and feeling very appreciative and privileged to be able to make movies like this.


With the George Foreman story do you see a second part to it? How would you like it to progress and see a second part, that sort of thing?

I don’t think so. I feel really privileged to be able to tell what I think, and what they would say is the definitive Foreman story and so we didn’t really leave anything on the table from my point of view, I mean it’s framed around his comeback but in order to appreciate the Foreman comeback you really need to understand who he was to this first generation and so in that way you know it ends up being a frame that we need to tell the entirety of the story, we where able to spend a tonne of time on the grill for example, but we think the grill is just a giant sort of pay off for all of the work that he did in becoming a public character, beloved figure and a spokesman and champion for all these different kind of products and we watch and we see that entire arc take place, so the grill is a little bit of a pay off.

I know the Foreman family have shown some interest in doing something about the grill more specifically because it was such a phenomenon and it really was, but from my point of view and the story that we wanted to tell, I think we told it.


Obviously you had some input from the family, what has been George’s reaction been to the documentary?

It’s been great, it’s been great, you know, George’s sons really managed the liaison for us so we had a lot more engagement with Jr., so we spent more time interacting with him than George directly, but I know George believes in it and working with the family was important with us.

So that they believe it was honest and provided an opportunity to share their experience, one of the things that I’m really most proud of in the film that had never been done before was having Big George sit and watch the Moore fight and kind of deliver commentary in a fashion if it had been another boxer which was something he had never done before, his sons had never even seen him do before and it was really exciting for everybody, we used as much as we could in the third act of the film it’s really fascinating.

You know, George has a brilliant boxing mind and watching him dissect his own fight was really really illuminating, really exciting and something like that would never have been possible if he was not committed to the project.




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