By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. --The Book of Manning is the next edition of the ESPN Films’ SEC Storied series, which premiers Tuesday, Sept. 24 at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN. The film explores the personal and professional life of former NFL and Ole Miss quarterback Archie Manning and how the sudden loss of his father impacted his life and the way he and his wife Olivia raised their three sons.
Rory Karpf, the director of The Book of Manning, sat down with the SEC Digital Network to discuss the upcoming film in this Q&A.
SEC Digital Network: The Book of Manning is really a film about fathers and sons. Where in the creative process did this film go from being a football story to that?
Rory Karpf: “I try to make films that appeal to me. I have two young sons, ages 7 and 4. When I was looking through the home movie footage that Archie gave me, it really struck a chord with me. I was learning things from just watching that footage about being a father myself. Archie was so revealing in his interviews about his relationship with his own father. I really made that connection with Archie about his role as a son and his role as a father. That kind of goes into the question that most people ask, ‘How did the Mannings get to this place of being the most accomplished family in all of athletics?’ The process of that is really kind of simple – it was just a father’s unconditional love for his sons, as simple as that may sound. It kind of came out of that organically and also my own self-interest.”
SEC Digital Network: What led you to reviewing the Manning family’s home movie footage for this film?
Rory Karpf: “I had seen some of those home movies in other productions – just a couple of clips – and I asked Archie about it. I was over at his house and he just had stacks and stacks of VHS tapes and beta tapes. He told me that he wasn’t sure what was there, but that I could take what I wanted as long as I got it back to him. I was kind of like a robber at a bank, stuffing all of those tapes into my duffel bag. I took them on the airplane with me and, once they were transferred, there was a lot of really cool stuff that I hadn’t seen before. There were a lot of old, eight-millimeter movies from the late 70s and early 80s that, to my knowledge, had never been seen before.”
SEC Digital Network: What was it like working with Archie Manning on this film?
Rory Karpf: “He was great to work with. He’s very humble and sometimes the challenge is getting him to speak about himself because he is so humble. Getting him on board was a process I had been trying to do for years. I kind of pestered him to the point where he said he was going to do the film and then he backed out of it even after we had started filming. He came back around a couple of months later. He was very hesitant to tell his story and expose himself to a certain degree.”
SEC Digital Network: Before you had even viewed the home movies and done your in-depth interviews, you had a great interest in doing a film like this. Why has this topic always appealed to you?
Rory Karpf: “There has been a lot done on Peyton and Eli, so a lot of people have seen that. But there’s never been a full-length documentary film with Archie as the centerpiece. I was excited about reintroducing his football career to fans so they could understand how great he really was. He was an incredible football player. You look at the footage and he was kind of like Barry Sanders running around because he was so athletic for his time. When you look at him back then, he doesn’t strike you as someone who would be such an unbelievable athlete, but the footage is amazing. I think most people, even if they’re big football fans or Manning fans, aren’t aware of the tragedy Archie went through with his father’s suicide, him finding his father and having to clean up the scene, and then having to go back to school a few days later. That is an unbelievable tragedy to endure and, understandably, he has been hesitant to get in-depth about it. We were able to tell the story about how that affected Archie as both a son and a father.”
SEC Digital Network: Given Archie Manning’s initial reluctance to participate in the film, what has been his reaction to the finished product?
Rory Karpf: “I screened a rough cut for Archie and Olivia in their condo in Mississippi. It was just me and them watching in their living room. They were very complimentary and they both got very emotional during the section on Cooper. They said they had never heard some of the things before that Cooper said on the film, which is a pretty big compliment that they were watching things on the film about their son that they didn’t know about. After the screening of the film in Oxford in front of about 1,200 people last Friday night, Archie gave a speech afterwards. He said that I told him all I wanted to do was make him proud and that I made his family proud. For me, that was mission accomplished. All I wanted to do was create something he could be proud of and show his grandchildren.”
SEC Digital Network: You had directed four SEC Storied films and produced six of them. Have there been any overarching themes that you have learned about the SEC through that process?
Rory Karpf: “The SEC signifies greatness, so you have great unbelievable athletes and therefore, behind a lot of them, are some great stories. Not to oversimplify, but what we’re trying to do is tell a great story. The series is called Storied because the SEC has a storied history of unbelievable players and coaches. There are a lot of great stories to tell as a filmmaker.”
SEC Digital Network: Do you think this film dispels any stereotype that the Manning football dynasty was part of a plan or vision on Archie’s part?
Rory Karpf: “One of the first things that Archie says in the film is that he does not like the perception that it was a grand plan. He just wanted to spend time with his children and have a good father-son relationship. He said that if Peyton, at age 12, had said he didn’t want to play football and rather do ballet, that Archie would have said ‘Cool’ and tried to find the best ballet teachers in the area. Newman High School [in New Orleans] is not a sports high school. It never won any football championship or had great success before the Mannings. It’s an academic school. Another thing that I learned through the home movies was how much the kids did – they were in school plays and did all kind of sports. There is footage of baseball, basketball, golf and all kinds of different things. I think you look at Cooper, who is the eldest, and I think you see how he turned out, how good of a guy he is and how well-adjusted he is. In a lot of families, he could have very easily been the black sheep or resentful. But he is honest, has a true sense of who he is, and is not resentful. He has his own sense of identity that doesn’t have to do with his brothers or father. It is a testament to how he was raised and the tools his parents gave him to be a confident, well-adjusted adult.”
SEC Digital Network: What do you hope viewers take away from The Book of Manning film?
Rory Karpf: No. 1, I hope they are entertained. I also think that you look at Archie Manning and you see that this is a father that didn’t pressure his children. Parents think they should put pressure on their kids and push them, but all Archie did was support his children and they blazed their own paths. By doing that, they are well-adjusted, confident adults, including Cooper, not just Eli and Peyton. As a parent, there are some takeaways from how Archie reared his kids and dealt with adversity. He didn’t let that adversity be the defining moment in his life. He made a very conscious effort to do things differently with his own children that perhaps his father didn’t do with him.”