ESPN 30 for 30: Trojan War
I had the pleasure of attending an early screening of ESPN’s 30 for 30: Trojan War, complete with a Q&A session with Aaron Rashaan Thomas (Director and USC Cinematic Arts Alumnus), Keyshawn Johnson (Executive Producer and former USC wide receiver), and Mario Diaz (Producer). USC’s School of Cinematic Arts hosted the event at the Ray Stark Family Theatre and it was moderated by SCA Professor Ted Braun. The 77 minute film is packed with great stuff and interesting perspectives.
This won’t follow my typical movie review format since it has to do with USC Football. Besides, it’s a documentary—everything the film covers has already happened. However, I will respect your right to be spoiler-free. Consider the following a fair warning:
SPOILER. Like the sum total of a UCLA football season. They exist, peak, and celebrate upsetting USC. Whoops, too harsh? I’m half kidding.
This time, the team that played the role of spoiler was the University of Texas Longhorns—well…not quite. They actually got a national championship while simultaneously ending USC’s 34 game winning streak. That’s where it starts out. It touches on this before rewinding back to set the stage.
There’s been speculation on the accuracy of Trojan War’s portrayal ever since it was announced. After more information came out, there was a lot of controversy over a…controversey. The line many Trojan fans took issue with was, “As it would be later discovered, though, the program was committing sins…” Sins! People almost rioted over this mere mention in the description. Sure, there’s a possibility that it would mislead or whatever, but it’s a description. Don’t boycott the film over some misguided attempt at staying true to principles. In the end, the film sold a solid narrative that could even be construed as a Trojan lean.
The crew procured interviews from a multitude of big names and those directly impacted by the program during that time period. Names include rapper and USC fan Snoop Dogg (of course), former Texas head coach Mack Brown, Pete Carroll, LenDale White, Matt Leinart, a smattering of former players from Texas and USC, and even Lance Armstrong.
The focus is mainly on the trio of White, Bush, and Leinart during the first few seasons of Pete Carroll’s tenure at USC. It touches briefly on the events before Carroll’s arrival and the aftermath of his dynastic run.
The documentary was told through the narration by Michael B. Jordan and included a quirky screenplay-styled overlay. Segments were marked by the quotes read by producer Larry Turman. These parts were probably the most jarring. There was so much excitement and strong story-telling that Turman’s book quotes almost seemed like an interruption. They were using Turman as a connector to bring it all back to Hollywood. I’m not trying to hate on the guy, but those parts were much slower compared to the rest of the film.
To be fair, the rest of film was jam packed to the point of exploding. Mario Diaz said that they had 30 terabytes of footage split across three hard drives. Keep in mind, this stuff was before all the HD 1080p or 4k crap. We’re talking low-resolution 480p stuff from the early 2000s. They estimated it to be about 500-600 minutes worth of footage. In order to cut it down to the desired 77 minutes (and toss in vital interviews), a lot of material had to be left out.
They could not afford to include bits about the post-2005 parts of the dynasty or the NCAA and their impending case with Todd McNair. Diaz says that they actually had content regarding the NCAA, but those parts made it “feel like a different movie.” Perhaps they are hinting at a part II? Or they’ll simply throw it on the DVD bonus content and call it a day. Don’t call me out for wild speculation years from now if they don’t do a second part. I presented a balanced view here. Speaking of balance…
Keyshawn Johnson and Aaron Rashaan Thomas both agreed that it was difficult to steer away from bias. The duo were both Trojan, through and through, which is probably why they sought out NYU alum Mario Diaz to balance them out. They included a lot of peoples’ opinions and didn’t comment on them overtly, but you could tell they were steering you one way or the other.
Lastly, they were unfortunately unable to get an interview with Bush. Keyshawn addressed this in a satisfying way. During the Q&A session, he said that he tried up to very end to have Bush put his stamp on it. However, Bush preferred not to relive the pain that ultimately strained his family relations and got him permanently disbarred him from the USC campus.
What I find amusing/amazing about it all: the outcome of the games shown in the film have long since been decided, yet the filmmakers recreated the scene and atmosphere. You could almost feel the tension and collective holding of breath from the audience. If you are a Trojan fan, I highly recommend it.
Most of the occurrences in the film happened a little over a decade ago—short enough that many still remember living through those moments. It’s interesting coming from my perspective. I know a fair bit about what went down and how it was viewed at the time and I have the unique opportunity of comparing it to its film representation. I get to see how a piece of history is framed and the ways it will affect those with no knowledge about the subject matter.
Future college football fans, Trojans, and perhaps random kids forced to watch this documentary by a parent would have their perspective shaped by this interpretation. Decades or even a CENTURIESSSSSS from now, when those with memories of the Pete Carroll dynasty have passed, this would be referred to as near truth. I doubt there will be historians trying to dig up college football documents and interview footage in order to try and “debunk” it. It would be an understatement to say that I am satisfied with the product they put forth. Maybe it’s just propaganda…but in 100 years, nobody will know.
Trojan War will air Tuesday, October 13 at 6pm PT on ESPN.