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Interview: Maclain and Chapman Way talk Battered Bastards and the meaning of being Portland Mavericks

Summer is without a doubt the best time of the year. And for lot of people, summer means kicking back and enjoying a baseball game, or at least indulging in baseball-related entertainment.

It is therefore with picture-perfect timing that Netflix Canada is showcasing The Battered Bastards of Baseball, a documentary co-directed by young filmmakers Maclain and Chapman Way, this Friday, July 11th. The film is a chronicle of the independent minor-league Portland Mavericks of the 1970s, screening exclusively on Netflix after receiving a glowing reception at Sundance, Tribeca, and the LA Film Fest.

Baseball fans will be instantly enthralled by this captivating and quirky documentary. But fear not, non-fans. This documentary is as much about second chances, pursuing dreams, and family, as it is about baseball. Co-director Maclain Way, on the phone from Portland, appropriately enough, continues this thread:

“(The film) is (at its heart) a family story…it was a story about my grandfather, and my grandfather was interesting to me”.

That grandfather is Bing Russell, owner of the Mavericks, an accomplished actor, and the patriarch of a family that includes Chapman and Maclain Way, baseball player Matt Franco, and Bing’s son, actor Kurt Russell, who played briefly for the team. Maclain says of his late grandfather that: “Bing had a great background in acting and he brought a kind of showmanship to baseball, and he did kind of turn the games into a show. They were characters that the fans learned to love”. The link between sport and entertainment is made explicitly clear.

Maclain is quick to give credit to his brother Chapman for providing the inspiration for this film: “It started with Chapman. He actually found a photo of the 1975 Portland Mavericks. It was totally different than other team photos…guys have their jerseys on backwards, they’re drinking beer, there’s a dog in the photo”.

Chapman, communicating by phone from Portland also emphatically praises upon his sibling, saying that, “The cool thing about working with your brother is you can argue like very intensely, and know that you’ll both show up to work the next day, and it will only make the film better”.

Indeed, while the brothers were co-directors, they each forged a unique path to get to this point, and, as such, each was able to find his own Way.

Chapman provided insight as to why the process worked so smoothly, revealing that “Mac was a history major at UCLA and had written his research paper in college on documentary film. I had gone to film school, and studied cinematography and editing”.

“So (he) was kind of a great person to team up with, because I was able to handle a lot of the technical elements, like cameras, editing, and interviews and Mac was able to do a lot of amazing archival research”.

Maclain explained the division of labour as such: “I handled a lot of the research with photos, and I conducted the interviews, and helped clear up a lot of the story, and Chapman went to film school, he shot the interviews, and edited the entire thing”.

But there is actually a Third Way. Brother Brocker contributed extensively to the project, in part, due to a lack of available funding. Says Maclain, “(Brocker) did all the music, and every single note in the documentary is original music. The music is a big character in the film. We joke around that it’s kind of like a baseball musical”.

About this ‘baseball musical’, (and the music really is a stand-out), Chapman reveals that “It’s definitely a different experience when you are watching at home, and watching on your laptop…To be on a platform like Netflix that is going to give (our) documentary the opportunity to be seen by a lot of people…hopefully, once it’s available on Netflix, people can watch it many times, and pick up on…a kind of commentary on our sports world today”.

To this end, he provides a hint about the direction of the film, which in its third act takes a very surprising turn. Younger brother is more skeptical as to the direction of professional sports. Maclain, in contrast, sees modern parallels in the lessons of the Battered Bastards of Baseball: “Last year, the Boston Red Sox all grew out beards, and that was really fun to watch”.

Though the spirit of the Portland Mavericks is willing, it is essential that the next generation of filmmakers to lead the Way. Concludes Chapman, “The great thing about being a documentary filmmaker is…to shine a light on things that have been forgotten over time”.