This documentary could be about anyone stepping back in time to reach for the moon; to know what it would be like to walk down that road not taken (for whatever reason that seemed to make sense at the time). In the larger scheme of things, it will be about, and hopefully shared by, everyone who knows that feeling. It may even do its fair share of inspiring. In this particular case, the designated driver, or guinea pig, will be me, and a long-abandoned love for a sport will be the moon.
I'm originally from Sydney but live in New York, a dual citizen. I've worked as a writer, director, and actor, often in combination, in theater, t.v., and film in Australia, Britain, and Japan as well as the U.S. In relation to the documentary, that includes having made a feature film here, shot on location out of Los Angeles. The subject of the documentary goes a little further back. I'd been active in a number of sports, but I'm constantly reminded of one above all that I walked away from, tennis.
I've used backboards wherever I've lived round the world to have a hit, and people have continually come up to me to make comments. Then one Sunday morning here in Manhattan I was having a hit against a wall at some nearby handball courts. Two boys suddenly appeared at the side of the court, waving excitedly for me to stop. They wanted to know if I was a professional tennis player. A couple of weeks later, while I was alternating forehands and backhands, a woman called to me from four handball courts away, "You're like a machine!"
After getting more comments like those in the next few months, New Yorkers tending to be on the vocal side, I shot this footage of me volleying as part of something else I was doing: YouTube.com/AServeand115Volleys - that headlong kind of video I mentioned. (I don't know that it's particularly in need of shoring up, but just to put it in perspective, I'd been through the worst possible personal tragedy at the time. I can notice the difference physically, not to mention that I'd temporarily lost most of my hair color with grief. It was also after not having played regularly for months, "regularly" itself having been just once a week or every other week. A few years ago I read a comment by tennis legend Bjorn Borg. He said he thought a lot of very good players could become professionals, and that the biggest difference came from the professional playing almost every day.)
Then I took a roundabout, in-the-back-door kind of approach. In keeping with the writer-director-actor in me, I sent the video to a top tennis agent at an international sports management company. I asked if she thought manufacturers might be interested to re-shoot it as a way of marketing their equipment to non-25-year-old players. I got a great response. She said they had all watched it in the tennis division and found it inspiring indeed. She showed it to the major manufacturers' reps at the French Open and Wimbledon. No "immediate traction" came of it, the "significant financial pressure everyone is under" hampering non-traditional advertising, but she was picking back up on it with them again at the U.S. Open. I couldn't have asked for a better reaction.
Having "legs" in tennis is crucial. I've heard one respected tennis commentator, a former player, argue that it's the main reason players are forced to retire, maybe coupled with their drive starting to wane. I used to write articles on nutrition, and I've been a vegetarian since I was 23. A couple of years ago, I went for my first checkup since I was a schoolboy. They said I was like a very healthy 25-year-old. I thought, "Well, that's how I feel," so that's good that it's not an illusion. But that along with everything else started me wondering. People had been urging me to pursue professional tennis when I left high school. How I wish I'd heard that Bjorn Borg comment back when I was fifteen or sixteen. What if? Could I? But, now? It's one of those great, lingering regrets. Have any?
Then a month or so ago, I saw a fascinating graph the New York Times ran. It showed the progress in Olympic records in the 100-meter freestyle. The swimmer who won it in 1896 would still have had around 40 meters to go when the swimmer who won it in 2008 touched the wall. Sounds impossible, doesn't it? I'd also come across another pretty "impossible" piece of information. The World Masters Championship in squash (a demanding game I played a lot in Sydney, less often here in Manhattan) is open to players over 35. I had to get my mind around it when I read that the 2009 winner was an incredible 74 years old!--and he didn't start playing till he was 42. I thought, so much of both those Olympic records and his extraordinary win is trusting that you might actually be able to do what you feel, almost know really, you're capable of. It's both grounded in what's been exceptional before and in self-knowledge.
Because of that underlying dynamic, this documentary will work either way. Succeed or fail, this dramatic a journey and the level of striving will be just as memorable…if I have anything to with it; and I will, on both sides of the camera (if not physically). I know there'll be no wavering in effort whatsoever. Nor could anyone have more of a will to do this impossible thing. And I've been making more time for tennis lately, so if anything I feel a little fitter than when I went for that checkup. I don't underestimate that I'll need it in spades both daily and month after month. Putting together the tennis and documentary teams will provide the framework, but it's equally that you'd be willing to back all this that will give it a structure for me through to the end.
This will also vicariously be on behalf of so many people. Maybe you know you're one of them/us, or maybe you just like a heck of a good underdog story, or being part of an impossible idea that might just end up fooling existing notions. And maybe we can have some fun and a bit of excitement along the way.