Rajiv Joseph never thought Draft Day would make the major motion picture league. The 39-year-old Cleveland Heights native and football fanatic — a 2010 Pulitzer Prize finalist for his Broadway play Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo — had penned the script with buddy Scott Rothman just for fun. After their story about the general manager of a hapless NFL team topped the 2012 Black List (film executives' annual ranking of the most popular unproduced screenplays in Hollywood) their script became as hot as Johnny Manziel. Joseph replays his experiences filming in his hometown and what it means for this city.
Q. Draft Day was originally a story about the general manager of the Buffalo Bills. Why the Bills instead of the Browns?
A. I thought I couldn't write about the Browns because I'm too close to them. I'm too passionate about them. We chose the Bills, because the Bills were the team most like the Cleveland Browns. We needed a city that had a rabid and passionate fan base. We needed a city that was comparatively down on its luck and that attached its hopes and dreams to its sports teams. And we needed a team that hadn't had a string of huge success.
Q. Is there a day during filming that stands out in your mind?
A. Probably the most exciting day for me was in the first week in Cleveland when we went to FirstEnergy Stadium. We were down in the locker room, and they had a bunch of actual Browns players there. And then there were about 60 extras in full Browns uniforms who were creating a fake team. It felt so surreal to me to be down on the field, in the [Browns] locker room, and with this entire team that we had somehow created out of thin air.
Q. What does this movie mean for Cleveland?
A. I can't remember a film in recent history that depicts the city in such a beautiful way. I also don't remember the last time a major motion picture was shot in Cleveland that was actually about Cleveland, that took place there. The movie reflects the sports culture of the city in such a direct way.