Stephen Palgon on “Fantasyland”: “I was instantly intrigued…”

19th, 2010
Section >> Fantasyland

Director Stephen Palgon’s “Fantasyland” is the story of a season on baseball’s lunatic fringe, a window on a world where marriages and jobs often run a distant second to fantasy baseball, and where competitors will make trades during childbirth, sex, and funerals.

Director: Stephen Palgon
Writer: Stephen Palgon
Executive Producers: Jeanne Allgood, Doug Bernheim, Christopher C. Chen, Douglas Hansen, Jared P. Morell, McG, Stephen Palgon
Producers: John Limotte, James D. Stern
Co-producer: Gentry Kirby
Editor: Mike Long
Music: Doug Bernheim

“Fantasyland” is debuting today on SnagFilms and the full film is available to view for free. This interview with Palgon is part of a new series of SnagFilm filmmaker profiles that will be featured weekly on indieWIRE.

Palgon on how “Fantasyland” came about and how he approached making the film…

During the summer of 2007, I read an article about the book Fantasyland by Sam Walker and I was instantly intrigued and thought that there was a terrific concept for a documentary. I reached out to Sam and he led me to John Limotte and Doug Bernheim, who were the current rights holders for the book. We met and discussed my ideas and while they were interested in it we did not move forward then. My luck broke during an unlucky time in the industry when the writers strike was going on. Companies were then looking for unscripted material and this provided the opening for “Fantasyland.” John, Doug and I got together again and began talking about how we could move forward with the project. From there the other producing partners, Wonderland Sound and Vision and Endgame Entertainment came on board.

Once we had the initial funding to move forward our task was to find our “Sam Walker.” We needed to find the fantasy fanatic that was going to compete against the experts in Tout Wars. It did not take long to find that person. Jed Latkin was the first person we met in the audition process and it was crystal clear that he was a very unique character who would stir things up in Tout Wars and would also ignite passionate feelings from our audience. From there we headed into the season and the adventure began.

My desire with “Fantasyland” always was to explore the characters of this world, to look not at the numbers, but rather the people who play the game and the stories that surround them within this billion dollar industry. Inspired by docs like “King of Kong,” “Wordplay” and “Spellbound,” I felt that there was a great opportunity here to explore a world that had not been touched in documentary film.

Also, what we wanted to do, as Sam did with his book was to tell this fish out of water story about our main character Jed Latkin and how his being thrust in with the sharks of Tout Wars would affect his already intense obsession with fantasy sports. Following Jed around as he essentially attempted to play fantasy sports for real by talking to the Major League Baseball players on his team, urging them to play better, providing them with team jerseys, as well as breaking the news that they had been traded, allowed us to take the major inactive aspects of fantasy baseball (watching games on television and looking at stats on your computer) into an active pursuit and a much more compelling process.

Palgon talks about the project’s challenges and how he feels audiences will take to “Fantasyland.”

I think that we had a few challenges with “Fantasyland.” One of them of course was how to get Jed to be able to talk with his players. It wasn’t often easy to get Major League Baseball teams to buy into the concept of having Jed come on the field and talk to the players on his fantasy team. Another challenge was our main character, Jed Latkin. Jed was an amazing find for our film and a terrific character for us to follow, but he definitely lives on the extreme edge of Fantasyland. As Jed says “I try to fit life and work into fantasy baseball.” It is his his top priority. The challenge was that because Jed was so extreme he would do and say things that might turn off our audience and with Jed being the main character who we wanted to audience to ideally root for, we needed to make sure that they did not tune him out and abandoned his journey. The process of making this work came largely in the editing process and deciding what moments would allow Jed’s unique character traits shine but also not overtake the film.

Fantasyland is a wild and wacky place. The world of fantasy sports is filled with unique characters who have funny stories to tell. It’s my hope that the audience can watch the film and laugh at Jed, cringe from some of the things he does, lift their jaws up from the ground when he almost misses the birth of his twins due to fantasy baseball and much more. Ron Shandler, who is the founder of Tout Wars (the league featured in the film) and Jed’s main competitor throughout the season, recently said that he believes that this film will actually be good for the wives or girlfriends of fantasy players to watch because they will see Jed and realize that their husbands obsessions are minor league compared to his and for this they will be grateful.

Talking inspiration for the film and what’s coming next…

Prior to making the film, I did watch several documentaries that helped guide me during the process. As I mentioned, “King of Kong,” “Spellbound” and “WordPlay” were very helpful storytelling resources for me. When I watched those documentaries, “King of Kong” and “Spellbound” in particular, I was focusing on how they were telling the stories of these competitions from multiple angles and getting the audience invested in the competitors. “WordPlay” actually served as the inspiration for the “Stories From Fantasyland” section in our film. In “WordPlay” there was the overall crossword competition and then all of these side stories that opened up the world, we tried to do something similar with “Fantasyland.”

I am currently developing a new documentary concept that deals with the upcoming star-studded free agent season in the NBA. I am looking at it somewhat as a “Roger and Me” for sports. I am hoping to find funding for the film so that we can begin shooting in May or early June.

Source: indiewire