Exclusive Q&A: Jeffrey Elmont on “Shadowplayers”

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From Executive Producer and legendary soccer player Ronaldinho and Emmy Award-nominated Executive Producer Jeffrey Elmont, comes the new sports drama series “Shadowplayers.” The eight-episode series, currently under development, will begin streaming internationally this Fall 2019 on the newly launched, millennial-focused Zeus Network. Elmont got to chat with us exclusively on it all!

What was a typical day like as executive producer of “Shadowplayers”?
This is the first show I’m doing as the showrunner so it’s exciting but at the same time a lot of responsibility. This is the first drama series that shows the gritty, urban world of street soccer, as opposed to the glitzy, commercialized world of professional soccer with huge stadiums filled with cheering supporters. A typical day at this time involves a number of different duties.

First, I’m working with my writer, David MacGregor, to put the final polish on the episodes. While the story takes place in the world of street soccer, we’re aware that what will really make the series compelling to a broader audience is the characters, the relationships between them, and the obstacles they need to overcome. Yes, we’re pulling the curtain back on a hidden world that most people don’t know about, but we’re still focused on telling a very human story that people can connect with.

I’m also in the process of casting the last few roles and developing the action scenes. To help me with that, I’m consulting with some of the best male and female street players in the world (e.g., Edward van Gils from The Netherlands and Ice Cold, who is one of the best players in LA). We want to capture the raw, primal physicality of the game, as well as the poetry of ballet-like movement with the players. Like a statue sculpted by Michelangelo, we want to capture the beauty of the human form, only within a setting where the human body is pushed to the absolute limit.

Overall, every day involves shaping, directing, and shepherding the project forward. I’m wearing a lot of hats, but I also have a team of talented and passionate collaborators who all share in the vision we’re trying to create for this series.

What is it like working with the legendary Ronaldinho?
We have not shot his scenes yet. We are planning to shoot them in October. The great thing is that he’s excited to work on “Shadowplayers” and really believes in the project. When he shared a link to our teaser on his social media, we got almost two million hits within twenty-four hours.

What do you hope audiences take away from the series?
Well, at a very basic level, I want the series to be compelling and entertaining. I want people to wonder what happens next and look forward to watching the next episode. But at the same time, I want the series to reflect on what is going on in the world. A few people are doing spectacularly well, but many more people are falling through the cracks and living on the fringes of society. Day by day, the number of tents and homeless people you see on the streets of LA is growing. People feel beaten down and hopeless and wind up channeling their despair into anger at other people. ​

Our protagonist is one of those fringe people, and our story isn’t one about achieving riches and fame, but regaining the respect for himself that he had lost. It’s also about connecting to other people and recognizing a common humanity in someone you didn’t think could be anything like you. My collaborator on this project, David MacGregor, is also a playwright, and I know that his plays have quite literally changed people’s lives. After a performance of one his plays, he was in the lobby and heard a woman coming out to her friends and telling them she was gay. He also told me about a couple who decided to get married after seeing a play, and how a man grieving over the loss of a child thanked him for dealing with that subject in one of his plays.

Art can have that effect on people. Not on everyone and not all the time, but seeing the right story at the right time in your life can quite literally be life-changing. I want “Shadowplayers’ to have that potential—to be inspiring, to be human, and to remind people of all the things that we have in common, no matter what our superficial differences might be.

How is working for Zeus Network different compared to a traditional network?
The biggest difference is that since there isn’t a specific time slot for the series, the episodes have some flexibility in terms of duration. We don’t have to expand or limit episodes based on time, so we can tell the story exactly the way we want to. Also not dealing with commercial breaks is a huge advantage, and the fact that it’s not a traditional network means we don’t have to deal with censorship issues and can present our world in all of its raw human aspects.

Is there possibility for the series to have multiple seasons?
Absolutely. I have teamed up with the writer, David MacGregor, on a couple of other projects and we have a great working relationship. We’re very open to doing more episodes, but at the same time we hope that this will give us the chance to do a feature-film version of “Shadowplayers.”

Could you describe the series in a single word?

When did you realize you wanted to be a producer and director?
When Meryl Streep told me I should get into making movies. No kidding. I met her when I was working at a hotel in Amsterdam and she was a guest. I had always loved movies but channeled my passion, creativity, and competitiveness into soccer. After speaking with her and hearing her encouraging words, I realized I could use my passion, creativity, and competitiveness to make movies. There is a lot of talent out there, and just like in sports you need to be competitive to survive.

Who are some of your biggest inspirations?
As a kid I was a huge fan of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. When I got a little older I watched a lot of classic films and got inspired by some truly amazing directors. For example, Fritz Lang’s “M” really opened my eyes to the importance of editing and lighting, and how you ​can create tension not only by what you show the audience, but what you don’t show them. I also watched almost everything made by Akira Kurosawa, Sergio Leone, John Frankenheimer, Alan J. Pakula and Sydney Pollack. The movie that gave me a specific direction as to what kind of stories I want to tell was “La Haine“ from director Mathieu Kassovitz. On the one hand, the three protagonists were boys I really identified with (three enticing boy growing up in a big city), but everything about that
movie—the story, the music, and the visual style—got me inspired to tell stories that entertain, but also educate. At the moment, I love the movies of Denis Villeneuve. The choices he makes regarding storytelling and material are incredibly inspiring.