What TJ Martin wishes he'd said onstage at the Oscars
An interview with TJ Martin, a Western Washington University grad who co-directed a sports documentary on a shoestring, went on (shockingly) to win an Oscar and then (more shockingly) dropped an expletive on national TV. "Undefeated" opens in Seattle Friday.
Seattle Times movie critic
'Undefeated'Opens Friday at the Varsity Theatre, 4329 University Way N.E., Seattle; 206-781-5755 or www.landmarktheatres.com
TJ Martin will be present for a Q&A after the 7 p.m. Friday screening.
"Undefeated" is rated PG-13 for some language. For Seattle Times movie critic Moira Macdonald's 3.5-star review, pick up a copy of Friday's MovieTimes or go Thursday evening to www.seattletimes.com/movies.
TJ Martin's Oscar is in his Los Angeles living room, on top of a Stanley Kubrick coffee-table book. "It just kind of hangs out, looking for a home," said Martin in a telephone interview last week, a month after his film "Undefeated" (directed with Dan Lindsay) won the Academy Award for best documentary. "It's by far the most valuable thing that I have in my apartment."
Martin, a 32-year-old Seattle native and graduate of Roosevelt High School and Western Washington University, is still astonished every time he looks at the statuette — and isn't at all accustomed to being called an "Oscar-winning filmmaker." He was introduced recently on an Internet show with that phrase — "and I'm like, looking behind me — 'Who else is here? An Oscar winner? Awesome!' It just doesn't really register."
"Undefeated" opens in Seattle Friday at the Varsity, with Martin present for a Q&A after the 7 p.m. show. The film follows a high-school football team in North Memphis through 2009-2010, profiling three players and their volunteer coach as they weather the surprisingly emotional ups and downs of the season. Martin and Lindsay shot more than 500 hours of footage, with the resulting film premiering at South by Southwest in the spring of 2011. Picked up for distribution by The Weinstein Company, it's had a run of remarkable success: a screening at the prestigious Toronto International Film Festival in the fall, named to the Academy shortlist for documentaries late in the year, announced as a nominee in January — and then a winner at the ceremony on Feb. 26.
Martin remembers sitting in his seat during the Oscar ceremony as his category was announced, feeling uncannily calm and certain that his name would not be read by presenters Gwyneth Paltrow and Robert Downey Jr. "And then they called 'Undefeated,' and it just didn't register with me. I slowly got up, and it clicked when I saw Dan bound past me and run to the stage — this is really happening."
Though Martin, Lindsay and producer Rick Middlemas had prepared a rough version of a speech, on the Academy's suggestion, things didn't quite go as expected. "We knew basically what we wanted to say," said Martin, "but once you're up there, what you thought was the script totally goes out the window. What you can't prepare for is the amount of adrenaline rushing through your body." And what he hadn't planned for was a four-letter word, bursting out in the excitement of the moment, as he exuberantly expressed a wish that all the nominated documentary filmmakers could be up on the podium with them, sharing the award — that would be "(bleeping) wonderful," he said.
Martin, who apologized for the outburst in interviews immediately backstage, said the utterance was entirely unintended.
"No one plans on saying that," he said. "It wasn't the classiest thing in the world, but it was legitimate excitement. If I had it to do over again, of course I wouldn't say it." He was dismayed that his language "kind of derailed" the moment — producers, perhaps worried that he'd swear some more, begin playing music to usher them off quickly afterward.
"I think they played us out a little earlier than normal," Martin said, explaining that he and Lindsay were "saving the best for last" in their speech. "We didn't get an opportunity to basically dedicate the award to the community of North Memphis, and specifically to (players) Chavis, Money, O.C. and (coach) Bill. We wanted to say, none of the success of this film would have happened without your trust. We wanted to dedicate the award to them." Though they used the backstage "thank-you cam" to acknowledge the people in the film, it was, Martin said, "a little bittersweet for us."
Since the Oscars, Martin has returned to his alma mater, Western, for a screening of the film and to talk to classes.
"It was so nice to come home and be welcomed by such a warm community of people who supported me over the years," he said. And he's been taking "a ton of meetings" about upcoming projects, with possibilities being considered in the documentary, feature film and television realm.
The Oscar "brings you into a space where you go into a meeting and people are genuinely listening to us," he said. Though he's appreciative and thrilled by the opportunities presented to him, he's ready for fewer meetings and more filming. (His next step is not yet decided, but he says he's closely considering two documentary ideas and a television project.)
"You get tired of talking about making things," he said. "I'm ready to make something again."
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org