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BAD NEWS BEARS INTERVIEWS TWO: BREAKING TRAINING

Part Two of the original BAD NEWS BEARS Interviews
In our first BAD NEWS BEARS ARCHIVE DOUBLE INTERVIEW, the original Mike Engelberg, Gary Lee Cavagnaro, who was perfectly suited for the tough, overweight, snarky and endearingly argumentative, moody team catcher, was asked what he thought of the actor, Jeffrey Lewis Starr, who took over playing the same character in the 1977 road movie/followup THE BAD NEWS BEARS IN BREAKING TRAINING. "I really have no thoughts on the subject," Cavagnaro wrote of his replacement. "I am sure he played it the way they asked him to. Unfortunately for him, I don't believe the scripts or casts of the two later movies were nearly as strong as the Original."

Double Header Poster
Well here we have two more interviews conducted by a BAD NEWS BEARS mega-fan who wants to simply go by Mike, and once ran a BEARS site that was taken down, long ago. And now, years later, it's placed here at Cult Film Freak for cinematic history following the first set of interviews by Cavagnaro and also David Pollock, the latter who played Rudi Stein, an abundantly clumsy pitcher replaced by firebrand strong-arm jock, Amanda.

But first let's take a quick glance at BREAKING TRAINING, an effective sequel directed by Michael Pressman replacing PRIME CUT (and later on, FLETCH) cult director Michael Ritchie. And with the absence of Walter Matthau's drinking and swearing Coach Buttermaker and Tatum O'Neal as the ultimate tomboy, Amanda, TRAINING centers solely on the boys of the team, including rebellious leader Kelly Leak, played by Jackie Earle Haley, more mellow and, although still with a perpetual cigarette dangling from his mouth, he's now the responsible grownup leader, driving the team van to Houston where a big game is planned, and with his own idea of who should be the new coach.

Rating: ***1/2
Freewheeling road trips and groovy vans were the thing in the late 1970's, and BREAKING has the best of both worlds. Although with the limitless potential of a gang of misfits on their own, driving across the highways of America while stopping off at cheap motels, instigating start-up sandlot practice games with random locals, and an eventual bonding between Kelly and his father, played by ROLLING THUNDER star William Devane, the adventure is surprisingly subdued and restrained. For instance, Tanner Boyle (Chris Barnes), who physically and verbally held back nothing in the original, has, in BREAKING TRAINING, grown into a pretty nice kid, writing sweet narrative letters to the token wimp-turned-hero he once bullied, Lupus, who appears in the beginning but stays home thereafter...

And as the new token "fat" kid, Engelberg, JEFFREY LEWIS STARR is more of a shy nice guy, contrasting to Gary Cavagnaro's blunt and mouthy catcher, who seems like he could become a future high school football player (which, when you read his interview, has some non-fictional merit) as opposed to Starr's version, who probably wouldn't harm a fly, much less the opposing team of any sport except the passive game of baseball. And while it's always hard to fill the cleats of an established character, Starr did just fine. So let's begin with an archived interview with actor Jeffrey Lewis Starr followed by a more expressive discussion with the popular sequel's director, Michael Pressman.

Jeffrey Lewis Star as Engelberg
JEFFREY LOUIS STARR ("ENGELBERG") INTERVIEW

What were some of your best memories from shooting the Bears movies? Some of your worst?

Best memories… There are too many to list. All in all there are a lot of good memories. Worst probably when the hotel caught on fire in Houston and we could not use the swimming pool because of broken glass and debris.

How did you get the role of Engelberg?

Zeke Davidson (a good friend of mine) knew the casting director Sherry Rhodes and talked her into having auditions at the local Kentucky Fried Chicken in Anna Illinois; I got the part.

The opening credit sequence
Did any of the members of the Bears become friends and hang out during the shoot? After the shoot?

I feel I was pretty good friends with all the Bears…two of my best friends I would have to say were Erin Blunt and George E. Gonzales; yet after the films we just fell out of touch.

What was a typical day like on the set of the 2nd movie? The 3rd movie?

To be honest I had a blast almost every day, even with school or work or both it was definitely new to me. I could not have asked for much better.

Starr as Engelberg
Was it difficult being one of the new guys coming into the group in the second movie? Did anyone treat you differently?

No. Everyone made me feel like one of the Bears.

When you were asked to play the role, what were your feelings of being a stereotypical "fat kid"? Did you ever object to any of the one-liners concerning your weight...

Feelings were fine because I was a fat kid. No objections at all; in fact I helped make up a few.

What was school like for you when the Bears were the hot movies?

School was fine. All my friends had no problems at all, that I know of. I would not say that I got a big head over it.

Jeffrey Lewis Star behind the boys
Were there any scenes that were shot for the movies that didn't make it to the film?

In BREAKING TRAINING you will notice I was not in a few scenes in which I was thrown off the team, for holding out some money on them, in which they also cut out the scene where I came back.

What was your favorite of the 3 movies and why?

BREAKING TRAINING was my favorite. It was my first movie and also a pretty good show I think.

What are your thoughts on the TV show? Did any of the movie Bears ever mention it?

No comment.

Do you ever see any of the members of the Bears? Do you remain friendly with any of them?

It has been quite a while since I have heard from any of them but I feel we are still friends.

Chris Barnes as Tanner Boyle
What happened to Chris Barnes, who played most people's favorite character, the mouthy, confident Tanner Boyle? From the information I have received from informed sources, he doesn't want to talk about the movies... Was this always the case? Do you have any memories about Chris that you'd like to share?

I cant tell you because I have no idea. Chris and his whole family are good people, and I liked them very much.

Was there any tension between any of the cast members?

Not really; they were just being kids!
 
What were the auditions like for BREAKING TRAINING? Were any notable actors at the time turned away for roles?

When I tried out it was at Kentucky Fried Chicken in Anna IL and then at Zeke Davidson's house in Anna Illinois. Then we made a tape at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale Illinois and sent it to Michael Pressman (the director). Later I met with Mr. Pressman at Paramount he and his wife were both very nice people.

Do you remember any bloopers that stand out in your mind for one reason or another?

Nothing individually; there was always something going on.

Kelly Leak runs the show
Was anyone on the set give preferential treatment or act like they thought they deserved being treated with special favor?

Not that I would say; although maybe at times.

What do you think the typical salary was for the Bears?

Could not tell.

Do you still have your uniform?

No.

Did you try to get acting jobs after the Bears movies?

For a little while, but it was hard because I was living back in Southern Illinois.

The Original Engelberg
Do you know Gary Lee Cavagnaro, who played the overweight catcher Mike Engelberg in the original? Have you ever talked to him about the movies?

No. Don't know him and have never spoken with him.

How has your role in the BAD NEWS BEARS affected you in your life as Jeffrey Starr?

Even to this day there is always someone talking about it. I'm sure it changed things but all in all I have had a pretty good life... it could have been a lot worse.

What do you think you took away from the Bears experience that you will  most cherish?

I know the age I was back then, I did something that most people never get the chance to do: I made a real movie!

Comparing the Bears to other kid-sports movies, what do you think the legacy will be, and what is its place in film history?

Best Kids sports movie ever made!


Dinner Time Again
If you could say one thing to the fans of the BAD NEWS BEARS after all of these years, what would it be?

Tell Paramount to do a BAD NEWS BEARS Reunion.

Has there been any recent talk about a Bears reunion? 

Not that I know of.

So are there any last thoughts you might like to share that might interest the legion of BAD NEWS BEARS fans, worldwide?

Just keep asking for a reunion...

INTERVIEW WITH "BREAKING TRAINING" DIRECTOR MICHAEL PRESSMAN

MichaelPressman behind-the-scenes
Was there pressure making a sequel to THE BAD NEWS BEARS after the original smash hit was directed by Michael Ritchie?

I remember feeling a lot of pressure on myself personally because I wanted to do well, and lot of a pressure was kept from me. The only thing I knew was that I was almost fired after day two, because I got confused with two cameras and shot hours worth of film and a lot of the shots repeated themselves. It was the Coach Manning (Dolph Sweet) scene on the ball field. The cameraman, Fred Koenekamp, a wonderful old timer, pulled out a second camera and I wasn’t prepared, and he said: “Don’t worry, it’s free."

Well, it almost cost me my job. I told him to put it away and I was able to concentrate and get back on my feet. Now I use two and three cameras all the time, but now I know how to do it. I was 26 back then and it was my first studio film, and my second day of shooting. I was terrified. But I loved doing the movie, and the kids were great, the crew was wonderful, and it was one of the great experiences of my career.

Did BREAKING TRAINING live up to your expectations? And the Studio’s?

Yes it did. The studio was thrilled too. It was Michael Eisner’s first movie at the studio and it was a big hit for him; especially since sequels were not guaranteed back then and we didn’t have Matthau or Tatum.

Original Poster
Do you know if the original film's stars, Walter Matthau or Tatum O’Neal, was ever ever considered to return in BREAKING TRAINING?

I never knew why they weren’t invited back. I think Walter turned it down because he hated an early script, or something like that, and there was no one to navigate it for him. I gather he had to be arm-twisted into doing the first one, so I gather the sequel was out of the question. And I don’t know why Tatum wasn’t included.

Tell us a little about the soundtrack? 

I chose to do a classical score for the sequel just like the first one. The old saying goes, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. I wanted to keep true to the tone of the movie.

Favorite Bears character?

I always loved Tanner Boyle, and Chris Barnes was a sweetheart, and so was his whole family. All the kids were great and special, and I loved every one of them. I felt like a surrogate father or older brother, and I made it like coming to camp.

Chris Barnes don't back down
In retrospect, I should have given prizes for the best behaved, but that would have been counter to what I was trying to accomplish, which was a team of hooligans of sort. I remember shooting on the motel set, and the noise of rehearsal and carrying on really got to Freddy K., the cameraman. He had had enough.

I had to talk to all the kids privately and tell them to be understanding and quiet and apologize to Fred. They did. It was precious. Then I had to hop them up again for the scene. I also remember once a flu going around the set. Kids dropping left and right. I think George Gonzalez was sick as a dog in the first van scene, with a high fever. Then I got real sick, with a serious flu, and they had to shut down in Houston, Texas, for about two days. I was even in the hospital with a very high fever.

Did the story's van driver Jackie Earle Haley even have a driver’s license?

Not sure. I don’t think he did. Maybe a learner’s permit. But the van was always pulled by another car. He never actually drove it.

The California Champs issue?

Writer Paul Brickman invented that to give him justification to write the story.

William Devane
Were any other actors besides William Devane ever considered for the part of Kelly's father, and the new team coach, Michael Leak?

None. I think Bill Devane was the first one I read, and he nailed it. Marion Dougherty was a great casting lady, and she gave me the confidence to go with my first and only choice. Maybe a few others came in and read, but I don’t remember. If I remember correctly, Billy wanted the part, and read for it against agent advice. He wanted to show off his ball playing, and he made that whole astrodome sequence work by being so involved and tracking every single move in the game. It was so complicated.

Salaries?

Don’t remember. I made twenty-five thousand dollars in 1976, and I was happy. It was the most I ever made. They year before I made five thousand dollars, so I wasn’t complaining.

Jimmy Baio as Carmen
Changed anything in the movie?

I would have loved to re-shoot Carmen Ronzoni’s first introduction. It was boiling hot that day, and everyone was tired… Energy was very low.

Astrodome extras?

We had several hundred people that we would move around everyday. One day they would be behind first base, and we would shoot the whole game towards first base. And the next day we would put everybody behind home plate, and repeat the drill. It took about seven days to shoot the whole Astrodome sequence.

Any thoughts on the remake? 

I knew nothing about the remake, and haven’t gone to it. It didn’t sound like a good idea.

The Van
What happened to the van from the movie... It was like a character in itself?

I have no idea what happened to the Van. I know there were two identical Vans built for the movie. The art director designed it. The reason for the two vans was that while one Van would be attached to another camera car and towed, we could also get shots of the Van  driving without it being attached and save time.  I thought it was kept in Paramount transportation for years, and maybe eventually auctioned off. I'm not sure. No one knew at the time that the Van's would be of value. Maybe they were painted over and recycled to another movie or TV show. Such is the movie business. You never know what you have when you are doing it.

Engleberg & Co
Any other behind-the-scene memories or particular scenes stand out?

There was a great sequence when Engelberg (Jeffrey Starr) left the team in Houston, and disappeared, and then returned to the hotel room, and was invited back in to the group. It was a beautiful sequence that was painful to cut, but it just didn’t move the story forward...

The amazing thing is that when we cut the sequence, Engelberg disappeared from the film for about ten minutes and no one noticed... Only upon careful viewing can you tell when he disappears. It is when the team is piled up on the ball field and Bill Devane asks them if they finished practicing yet. It was right before that that Engelberg left. And I have nothing more to add... than to say it was gift that was handed to me early on in my career, and I was blessed for it.
Original Interviews by Mike & Edited, Restored and Introduction/Review  by Cult Film Freak's James M. Tate
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