By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Rory Karpf is the director of the SEC “Storied” documentary “Miracle 3,” which premiers on Sunday at 5 p.m. ET on ESPN and 8 p.m. ET on ESPNU.
The film chronicles the dramatic events that ensued after a tornado hit downtown Atlanta as the SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament was being played at the Georgia Dome.
Karpf sat down with the SEC Digital Network to discuss his take on the Miracle 3 documentary in advance of the national television premiere.
SEC Digital Network: For those who may not know, what is the meaning behind the film title ‘Miracle 3’?
Rory Karpf: “The title kind of has a dual meaning. In basketball, a three-point shot hit at the end of the game is often referred to as a miracle three. In the film, Alabama player Mykal Riley hit a miracle three and, by hitting the shot, he kept everyone inside the Georgia Dome. That was when the tornado hit the Georgia Dome and so the theory is that by him hitting the shot, it kept everyone inside and protected them when the tornado hit. A lot of people referred to that as a shot that saved lives.”
SEC Digital Network: What was it about this story that appealed to you?
Rory Karpf: “I think it’s the human element. One of the themes in the film is that the worst of circumstances can bring out the best in people and bring people together. You see that in the film. You see it with the Southeastern Conference and what they had to go through in figuring out what to do in very unusual circumstances. You also see it with the University of Georgia basketball team that was forced to play two games in one day. There were people from Georgia Tech and all areas of Atlanta that had to lean on one another to make sure the tournament happened. Tornados, especially this one, are unexpected and people weren’t prepared. There wasn’t a weather warning. People expected bad weather on Saturday, but not Friday night. It was a shock to people and they had to adapt on the fly.”
SEC Digital Network: In addition to the basketball tournament element of this story, you also feature one of the victims of the tornados that hit the Atlanta area that weekend. How did you happen upon that story and how did you weave it into the film?
Rory Karpf: “Doing research, I found that there were some fatalities from the tornados that hit on Saturday. There were numerous tornados that weekend and that was something I wanted to make clear. I first started researching only Friday, but realized that another tornado came through on Saturday and there was a tornado warning in Atlanta that Saturday. The SEC thought they might have to cancel the games at Georgia Tech. There is a gentleman by the name of Mike Turner, who lost his wife in one of the tornados that hit in a suburb of Atlanta and he suffered some really horrific injuries. Doing research, I saw that his wife was one of the fatalities and he lived. I thought it would put a face on the destruction of the tornados. So often we see the damage, but just think of the physical damage. This really affected this guy’s life. That was really a human element to the story – what these weather events can do to people.”
SEC Digital Network: This film is different than others in the SEC Storied series, but how do you feel that this fits in with the series?
Rory Karpf: “I think it is totally different from any that have been in the series so far because it’s not just a biography or one specific game. We interviewed 60 people for the film and there were a lot of different stories that intersect and weave together. We did a minute-by-minute time stamp and there was a lot of tension throughout the film the entire time. I think it fits into the series mainly because we tried to tell a good story and the title of the series is SEC Storied. At the end of the day, my job is just to tell a compelling, emotional story that people will enjoy.”
SEC Digital Network: With all of the people you talked to for this film, what were some of the common themes that you heard from your various interview subjects?
Rory Karpf: “I think one of the main things from Friday night was just the shock of the tornado and how unexpected it was. Very few – if any – said they thought it was a tornado when it initially hit. People thought it might have been a plane crash or a terrorist attack; they just didn’t know. It takes a little while for the brain to process what’s going on. They were enjoying the basketball game and, all of a sudden, the Georgia Dome is moving and stuff is falling from the rafters. It’s a very scary feeling. Another common theme was that very few people got sleep that weekend. Time was literally of the essence with people working all through the night to make games a reality. Once one problem was solved, another problem would pop up. They found a place to hold the games, but realized it was a much smaller arena. They had to leave a lot of fans out of the building. Kentucky had 20,000 fans in Atlanta and most weren’t able to go to the games on Saturday, so there was some ill will. It was just one of those things where people just tried to do their best and not look back. It’s a situation where indecision is maybe the worst decision. People tried to make the best of it – same thing with Georgia playing two games in one day. They realized the situation they were in and tried to make the best of it. You can see in the film that it all worked well.”
SEC Digital Network: What was the production of the film like, especially with the large number of interview subjects?
Rory Karpf: “We actually filmed a lot in the Georgia Dome and had people come to the dome. Because the event took place in Atlanta and it’s a central location, we kind of camped out in the Atlanta area for a three-week period, although we did fly to different parts of the country. The Georgia Dome was really gracious in letting us film and do the majority of our interviews inside the Dome.”