Director Thomas Carter Talks New Film and the Importance of Teamwork


Thomas Carter is an accomplished director whose works have always been of high quality and filled with heart. While Carter isn’t necessarily a household name, Thomas Carter’s works have been loved and respected for the better part of four decades, especially by fans of sports focused entertainment. He was James Hayward on the cult classic television series "The White Shadow", directed the 90s dance hit Save the Last Dance, and more recently directed the Samuel L. Jackson starrer Coach Carter. Now the director, who sat down with us for this exclusive interview, steps behind the camera again for what he hopes will be his most successful film ever.

“'The White Shadow' was a seminal experience for me. Not only was I acting on a weekly basis in a dramatic series but it’s also where I got my start as a director. It was really the moment where things began to shift and my career started to move from acting to directing,” said Carter. “Since then, with few exceptions, I’ve really embarked on a directing career. Overall, it’s been satisfying. Yes, there’s many things I would like to do. I’ve gotten to do a lot of television, a lot of pilots, and a few films as well. That’s been good for me.”

Though Carter’s acumen has afforded him the ability to direct works from a myriad of different subject matters, his roots on a television show about a high school basketball team, coupled with his success on Coach Carter, may lead some to believe he’s a one trick pony who only works on sports films. But Thomas told The Shadow League he simply wants to do good movies with great messages.

“My connection to sports films is an unintended coincidence. Even though I’m a sports fan, it’s something I didn’t set out to do. These stories came to me and they were great stories, and I was really interested in them. These two movies, Coach Carter and When the Game Stands Tall, have in common that they both sort of have a positive message for young people. Uplifting stories with some exciting sports scenes thrown in. I think so many kids are interested in sports, both male and female, but it certainly seems to me that so many people share in common the thrill of athletic competition. It’s a pretty universal impulse. When you have team sports and you have people who have to work together, as is the case in When the Game Stands Tall, is ‘what is your obligation outside of yourself? What is your obligation to the team?’”

Though few directors like to admit it, every film has a message that it would like to impart to the viewer. For When the Game Stands Tall, one of the primary messages is about teamwork.

“In our movie I think there’s a larger extension where coach Bob Ladouceur and his other coaches imparted to this kids is ‘what is your obligation to the community, to your family, and to society?’ So, they really try to elevate that sense of personal responsibility and personal accountability. But it begins with a team.  Each person and each team member have to make a commitment to what they’re going to do in practice, what they’re going to do in training, what they’re going to do in the game.” 

“Then, accept the personal responsibility and the personal accountability for achieving that. So, their mission is to build the young male character and to create responsible adults. That’s the mission that Bob Ladouceur and the coaches at De LaSalle are on. Ladouceur will tell you that winning is just a result of them applying these other principles. They work on a philosophical level and a physical level.” 

There are all sorts of handy little phrases used to describe the need for teamwork in the greater society. However, society as a whole seems to be getting more and more selfish as the years go by. That’s why films such as When the Game Stands Tall will always be relevant and needed by the general public.

“I think different people will take different things away from the film. I think in the film there’s this sense that there’s something greater than yourself in a narcissistic society. That may transfer to your family and your community. There’s also a tremendous focus on accountability and a person being responsible for his part in whatever team he’s on, and this goes beyond a football team.  It could be your team in your business, your community, and your country.  We try to focus on a willingness to give everything you have to service that.”

When the Game Stands Tall stars Jim Caviezel, Alexander Ludwig, Michael Chiklis and Laura Dern and opens in theaters nationwide on August 22.

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