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Director Jess Atkinson Talks About His ESPN Film "Bryce Begins"

12:00 PM, Apr 30, 2013   |    comments
courtesy: (USA TODAY SPORTS IMAGES and 3PennyFilms.com)
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WASHINGTON (WUSA) -- It was the spring of 2011 and filmmaker Jess Atkinson happened to randomly be shooting some b-roll at the class A Hagerstown Suns game. He knew who Bryce Harper was, but at the same time, he didn't know who Bryce Harper was.

"The way people reacted to this kid...they followed his every move. Cameras, camera phones. And I noticed he was very comfortable with it all," recalled Atkinson.

And thus Bryce Begins, an ESPN documentary profiling the first 18 months of Harper's career, was born. Shortly after his first encounter with Harper, Atkinson approached Harper's agent, Scott Boras, and pitched the idea of an off the field look at Harpers life.

"They were great with the access, and great with letting me tell the story." After months and months of shooting, Atkinson was able to get the MLB to collaborate their footage for the ultimate portrayal of Harpers career. 

The story spans 12 different cities, 150 hours of footage and 70 different days of shooting. Atkinson revealed several different themes of the documentary which help paint the entire picture of Bryce Begins.

1. "His whole life, every place he's been, he's always been the youngest guy fitting in."

From the bits and pieces of the film I viewed, Atkinson does indeed go back to some of Harper's minor league tussles -- blowing kisses to opposing pitchers, being ejected rather frequently, blowing off autograph seekers. Atkinson himself has two sons ages 21 and 19 and does a fabulous job of showing the transformation of Harper's maturity as he grows older. "You go from being a young man, to your own man," explained Atkinson.

2. "He's got that reptilian brain. Once the ball is in the air...he just reacts."

Atkinson went on to tell a humorous story one of the shoots in Huntington Beach, CA. where Bryce Harper was doing a photo shoot for GQ. The magazine people wanted Harper to play around with this stick ball game, just for the cameras. But Harper only has one mode when it comes to athletics. So when a tennis ball was tosses in the air, Harper violently swung the stick, creaming a male photographer across the room in the nipple. Everyone in the room was laughing, as the poor guy lay on the ground in searing pain. Harper can only go 100 percent, even during a magazine photo shoot. His incomparable style of play is dissected by many baseball greats throughout the documentary.

3. "I don't think I really understood Bryce until I saw his dad tie rebar. You will see a human side to a father and son who have gone through this amazing odyssey."

Atkinson has footage of Ron Harper, Bryce's father, hard at work in the Las Vegas trenches. For those of you who don't know what tying rebar is, it's some of the hardest manual labor out there. Workers reinforce steel bars to hold concrete in place. The elder Harper often wakes up at 2 a.m. for work. The father/son relationship is heavily explored in Bryce Begins. The younger Harper gets a lot of his motivation just by making his father proud and would put himself through absurd workouts as a young teenager to try and match his father's work ethic. *Spoiler alert* both shed tears during the film.

Atkinson's hope for the documentary is an authentic look at Bryce Harper.

"There's been so much written on the web, talked about on television, seen on television during games. But I think in the film you go places with Bryce and see him do things you haven't seen before."

The film debut's tonight at 9 p.m. and Atkinson is currently working on several different documentaries on college football. Visit his website 3pennyfilms.com

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