“Bell Rung: An Alarming Portrait of Professional Football”
Host Dorsey Levens, Hall of Famer, former Green Bay Packer
Our nation’s most popular sport is also its most brutal. The punishment professional football players endure can last far longer than the end of the game or even the end of their careers. Wilmington-based National Productions has undertaken an in-depth examination of concussions, and their impacts on the game and the players in a new documentary “Bell Rung: An Alarming Portrait of Professional Football” (bell rung in athletic speak refers to a player enduring such an impact to the head he only hears ringing noises thereafter).
I spoke with director Zach Herrmann (who also has played for the Wilmington Sea Dawgs for a few years) about the half hour film, which has quickly garnered national attention at USA Today and from the NFL. CNN covered it a few weeks back, talking to the documentary’s main host, Hall of Famer Dorsey Levens, who spoke with current NFL players about the repercussions of head injuries and what is being done in response.
“Bell Rung: An Alarming Portrait of Professional Football” is slated to show locally in coming months. Stay tuned to encore for more details.
encore: What was the inspiration behind making “Bell Rung”?
Zach Herrmann: Creator Nick Basta had the idea of doing the documentary. He was then reunited with his high-school buddy and Green Bay Packer Dorsey Levens. Through their conversations, they developed the idea on the important and timely topic of concussions and brain injuries within professional football.
Nick contacted me about the project because he had seen my documentary on semi-professional basketball, “For Keeps,” which was featured in Cucalorus in 2009. Nick also knew of my company, National Productions. Of course, I was honored by the opportunity.
e: The topic of head injury and concussions has been discussed a lot in recent years. Do you think the National Football League is doing enough to protect the players?
ZH: I think the league has made vast improvements in working toward protecting the players. There have been a lot of changes, and I think there will be a lot more, until they have a system that is not only protecting the players, but also keeping the game exciting.
e: The culture of professional sports seems to encourage injured players to continue playing in spite of long-term health risks. How can we change that?
ZH: Honestly, I’m involved in the production of this documentary not because I think I know all the answers, but because as an athlete and spectator, I recognize the importance of this topic. I see my role as producer and director of the documentary as key to providing an artistically dynamic and provocatively candid voice for these modern-day heroes of the sports arena.
When people see our film, they will understand the complications that players have to consider involving the stipulations of their contract negotiations. If a player feels his job, his salary and his reputation as a contender could be in jeopardy by speaking out about his fear of injury side effects—symptoms that are not obvious outwardly—he is going to hesitate to talk about those issues, especially the unseen results of a concussion. At the same time, the quality and integrity of our documentary is underscored by the inclusion of all sides of this issue.
e: What is the core message of the film?
ZH: To bring awareness to the topic—not sensationalism but the truth, and that truth conveyed through the people, their families and the organizations involved. Mistaken publicity presents the documentary as already rich football players whining and asking for more money; “Bell Rung” is far from that. We are diligent about showing all sides—related organizations as well as the players. Awareness is the goal, not money.
Appropriate medical coverage is one issue openly discussed from all sides. . . . We put the viewer in the position of sitting down and talking with these pro players as if at a poker table or about to watch a game. The dialogue is raw and unscripted as players talk with Dorsey about their personal stories. With Dorsey as the interviewer, a viewer can participate in these intimate conversations. They are talking with Dorsey, their associate, their trusted friend. The viewer, with Dorsey’s vantage point, can sense the concern and frustration of these athletes as they confide in Dorsey their plight.
Dorsey is a highly respected individual in the players’ community. The atmosphere is relaxed and personal. The viewer walks away not with a breaking news story, not with a player’s forced after-the-game commentary, but with the true story: locker-room talk that normally only players hear.
e: Tell me a little about National Productions. How did you get your start in the film industry
ZH: National Productions is a young production company in operation for only a few years. We focus on film, as well as corporate video production and commercial production. We are located in Wilmington, but we operate nationally, handling productions for clients nationwide.
I started out in the film industry as a basketball player on “One Tree Hill” where I performed sports action scenes for scripted plays. In that capacity, I was taught and became captivated with the idea of combining and directing sports and film—the techniques and the necessity of creating real sports action for film. I was then offered the position of assistant sports coordinator to Mr. Brendan Kirsch, where I learned more behind-the-camera techniques.
“One Tree Hill” was a great experience for me; all the producers and crew were extremely open to helping out in any way possible, helping me learn more and more about the industry. Then, I had the opportunity to direct and produce a small documentary with a friend and co-worker, James Lafferty who played Nathan Scott on “One Treel Hill”], about a minor league basketball team. We had a great group of guys just working for the love of creating on “For Keeps.” From there, I had the opportunity to meet Pete Gratale, who has not only been a great friend and mentor, but also a partner in National Productions, bringing much needed business IQ to the company.
e: What do you find unique about the Wilmington film community.
ZH: I love that it is a small community of professionals and artists—that everyone pretty much knows everyone else. Most of the people in the Wilmington film community are always open to helping other local filmmakers, which is a rare commodity in this industry. It’s nice to see and be part of a community in this field, where everyone wants Wilmington film to succeed as a whole rather than succeed independently. The city does a great job in supporting that.