An Interview with Dan Schaefer, Creator of the Film "Mania"

I recently got the chance to chat with Dan Schaefer, creator of the feature-length film Mania, documenting the history of the Portland Trail Blazers.  Mania premiered as an official selection at the Northwest Film Festival and has since aired on Comcast.  Aside from his work on this film Dan has contributed to film and television productions varying from animation (Teen-Age Mutant Turtles television series), advertising campaigns (BMW, Adidas, Nike, Intel, HP, Clorox) and feature films.  He has worked with notables such as GusVan Sant, Guillermo Arriga, and Ellory Elkayam.  We thank him for taking time from his busy schedule to talk to us about his Blazers project.

Blazersedge:  Where did you get the inspiration for Mania?  What's your history with the Blazers?

Dan Schaefer:  I've followed the team since 1975, since before the championship and ever since.  I've lived here my whole life so I've always been a fan of the Blazers.  I've listened to more games than most, I think.  I hold Bill Schonely's radio broadcasts amongst my best memories.

When we came up with the idea I had been working on another documentary. The cinematographer and I discussed doing another film, a Blazer film.  I was inspired and went home and wrote the initial outline straight from memory.  It came naturally at first because of my experience.  Only later did I have to do research, which consisted of reading all the different books about the team:  Breaks of the Game, Idol Time, The Long, Hot Winter...all of them really.  Then it was a process of interviewing people.  We started filming in 2006 and just kept at it.

We interviewed between 45-60 people connected with the team.  We started off with Bill Schonely because I had met him previously at a Blazers function.  I remember that being in the middle of a low point in the team's history...21 wins.  I went on to Harry Glickman, Stu Inman, Terry Dischinger.  I wanted people from every era of the team's history to make a more detailed, fuller story.  We found people from just about every year, from Rick Adelman in Year One to Brandon Roy today.

It was fun getting to talk to guys I had followed for so long.  As much as meeting the players, meeting management figures was fascinating.  Harry Glickman pre-dated the Blazers with the Portland Buckaroos.  They were champions three times in a decade.  There's history there.  Bill Schonely in some ways inspired me to go into the media field as a filmmaker.  I used to listen to every game.  It was as much a thrill to meet him as anybody.  Stu Inman was the architect of the team from its inception on through to the 90's.  He affected all of the runs up to that point.

Click through for the balance of the interview.

BE:  What does the film cover?  What's the story?

DS:  The overall structure of the film is a year-by-year account of the ups and downs of the team from 1970 to today, from just trying to start the team to the good first year to the setbacks to the championship up until now.  The first 45 minutes or so chronicles the championship road and the remainder walks us through to the current era. We cover the organization on the court and in terms of community relations.

One interesting thing about the film is that it eschews a narrator in favor of letting the subjects and the fans provide their own narrative story.  Essentially the film is an extended conversation between Blazer figures with each other and with the fans who are watching.

BE:  Were the Blazers receptive to this project?

DS:  When I approached the Blazers back in 2006 I talked to then-General Manager Steve Patterson.  He was open to the idea.  Kevin Pritchard was also supportive and gave a fantastic interview for the film.  It was a positive experience.

Most of the people we interviewed actually live here.  They loved the way the community respected them and they stayed.  They continued to follow the team even after they were no longer a part of it.  For instance Terry Dischinger is now a dentist.  He decorates his office in Blazer themes when they make the playoffs. 

When the franchise sank in the middle 2000's it affected everyone.  They do care.  While not as visible as it once was the Blazers alumni association is still active to this day.

BE:  Any memorable experiences while filming?

DS:  It's only in the editing process that you start to realize how special and important the material you've just gotten is.  Stu Inman taught me so much about the game and about life in general, just from listening to him over and over again in the editing process.  Meeting Brandon Roy...he was very genuine.  I met him twice and both times he was personable.  He is a good example for people.  He's a nice guy and somebody Portland should be proud of.  Meeting Kevin Duckworth was interesting because I had to shoot the interview myself.  I set up with my on-shoulder camera and just started filming.  That was the first time I had met him.  He actually thought he knew me from way back.  It wasn't actually true but it made the conversation easier.  He spoke about how he appreciated his time with the team and the fan support.  These were all positive experiences. 

Maurice Lucas talked to me for an hour and half on camera.  I had so much material to choose from.  It was fun interviewing Dee-Dee Anderson who had been an original Blazer Dancer and later became the coach of the squad.  She was great.  It was nice to have the female point of view in a male-heavy documentary.  We also had some celebrity fan interviews.  Art Alexakis from Everclear is a studious fan and had followed the game since the Walton era.  He had the UCLA connection with Bill Walton before that.  Storm Large is also a big fan and was excited about interviewing.  Then there was Mike McCloud who had worked on the 70's documentary called Fast Break with Don Zavin.  They chronicled the end of the championship run and interviewed all of the players for that team.  There's a segment in Mania about the making of that film.  In a way that film influenced Mania, as they did it without a narrator as well, though I went with more of a pure interview style than Don did.  Then there were fans like Paul Knauls who owned Geneva's bar during the championship years and Bill Zavin (Don's brother) who was the official-unofficial photographer for the team in the early years. He went down himself and produced amazing color photos, which they didn't do officially at the time.  Those photos capture many of the iconic events of the era such as the championship parade.

BE:  Where has the film been shown?  What  kind of reception have you received?

DS:  It's been shown four times on Comcast SportsNet.  It's gotten extremely good ratings...as high as 1.5 million in a viewing.  Cumulatively it's been seen by over 5 million people.  It was selected for last year's Northwest Film Festival and screened to a packed house.

BE:  Where can fans see Mania now?

DS:  You can go to Filmbaby.com and get a copy on DVD.  You can also get it at the FYE stores:  Suncoast and the Wherehouse.  If they don't have it you can ask and they'll order it.  It's also available at the Rose Garden Fan Shop.

There was so much material when we shot Mania.  Stories would flow into ancillary anecdotes that couldn't fit into the film.  That material and outtakes have been put together into a series called Rip City Stories, also shown on Comcast.  We delved into the high school careers of some of the players, talked about people's coaching jobs elsewhere, that kind of thing.  One episode dealt with how management copes with problems.  Another dealt with players' expectations as they enter the league.  There are four episodes appearing periodically on Comcast.

When I started originally I was going to put in a section about Harry Glickman's Portland Buckaroos hockey team being the origin of the Blazers.  There was so many Buckeroos stories that I decided to make a separate film about it.  It's called Kings of the Road.  There's a shorter version available on FilmBaby.com and a longer version will be coming out soon.  They're as impressive as the Blazers themselves in their own way.  They went to championship games consistently.

Thanks again to Mr. Schaefer for sharing his documentary experience with us.  If you're a Blazer historian or just a fan, you might want to watch your Comcast listings and/or find a copy of the film.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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