Filmmaker Sean Mullin and sports journalist Lindsay Berra spoke with Solzy at the Movies about the Yogi Berra documentary, It Ain’t Over.
Yogi Berra is one of the greatest catchers to ever play the ballgame. There’s a chance, however, that you know him less from baseball and more so from his Yogi-isms and commercial appearances. In any event, Jay Jaffe’s JAWS ratings for catchers place him in 6th with 48.7. Jaffe’s JAWS system is a player’s career WAR (wins above replacement) with their 7-year peak WAR. Berra is in good company behind Johnny Bench, Gary Carter, Ivan Rodriguez, Carlton Fisk, and Mike Piazza. What really helps Berra are having 3 MVPs and 7 top-five finishes in the MVP voting throughout his career. It doesn’t hurt that he appeared in 18 All-Star Games either. This was back when MLB had two different games! Berra is one of eight catchers in the HOF to play for 19 seasons. Yadier Molina will be the ninth in a few years from now.
We do discuss one thing in the film that Mullin considers a spoiler. If you’re a baseball fan, you probably know what this is. If you’re not, maybe you should consider bookmarking the interview for after watching the film. It’s your choice in the end on what to do here.
You don’t even have to be a New York Yankees fan to enjoy It Ain’t Over. Take it from me, I’m a St. Louis Cardinals fan. We talk about this during the interview but imagine the 1950s Cardinals had Branch Rickey signed Berra. It would have almost certainly added a few more World Series championships in Cards history. But he signed with the Yankees and we’ll never know.
Sony Pictures Classics will be releasing It Ain’t Over theatrically on May 12 prior to expanding into other markets.
It’s so nice to meet the both of you. I’m a baseball fan and think Yogi Berra is one of the greatest catchers to ever play the game. What was the genesis behind It Ain’t Over?
Sean Mullin: Oh, goodness. Well, let’s see, I was approached by these two producers I’ve worked with in the past, Peter and Mike Sobiloff, a father-son duo. They had a connection to the Berra family through a charity golf event they did every year. They’re also huge Yankee fans. They had just seen the Mr. Rogers documentary back in summer 2018. They wanted to do a similar type film, but for Yogi. They approached Dale Berra at a golf outing and asked if they could possibly pitch them an idea for documentary and Dale said yes. I flew in, they called me immediately and asked me to direct. I came on board and flew out to New York to meet them, Dale, Tim, and Larry, and their lawyer Ed, in their office in New York. The meeting went well—they said, Sure, that sounds great. It took another six to nine months to finally get the project moving as these things always do. Our first shoot was in May 2019 and that’s around the time I had been introduced to Lindsey over email, and finally, in person. We really hit it off and decided to bring Lindsay on board in a more efficient capacity and not just as executive producer, but also as a narrator of the film.
Lindsay Berra: I’m still questioning the soundness of that idea.
How many of the interviews were completed before Covid impacted filmmaking?
Sean Mullin: I’d say about 65-70%, more than probably two-thirds were done before Covid so we were over the hill. Of course, the pandemic was still going on but the first one where we opened back up—we shut down March 2020 and we opened back up March 2021—the very first interview after the we opened up was with Billy Crystal. That was the one interview where if you’re locked down for a year and a lot of stress and I remember leaving that interview thinking to myself, I know this stuff well enough. I’ve know how to sculpt these stories. I said, we have a movie. As a filmmaker, you’re always thinking if I get hit by a car and die tomorrow, can someone finish the film without you? That’s just how you have to think. I knew after that interview that if I was hit by a truck, there would still be a movie in here somewhere that someone could find.
Lindsay Berra: The ones that I really wanted to get that I thought were most important were Vin Scully, Tony Kubek, Bobby Richardson, Roger Angell—these guys who had played with or seen Grampa play, who were getting on in years, and I wanted to make sure we got those done. Thankfully, we got all of those done prior to the Covid shutdown, because I would have been sweating bullets if we had to wait a whole year to go and get those folks.
Especially with some of these people that were getting up there in age and all that isolation. I lost a few cousins who were alone during those early months.
Sean Mullin: Yeah.
Lindsay Berra: Yeah.
Is it fair to say that his being overshadowed by the likes of Johnny Bench and others as a baseball player is because of his commercial appearances?
Lindsay Berra: I think the Yogi-isms, commercials, and just his personality in general did certainly play a huge part of it. I think the other problem is that he played his last game, May 10, 1965, and then he spent 45-50 years doing—he had this whole second life as a manager and a pitch man. It’s like a recency problem. People remember what’s most at the front of their minds. What he was most recently doing was appearing in commercials and saying funny things. I don’t think it’s a bad thing that he’s known for the Yogi-isms. It was a huge part of his personality but I do want people to remember just how great of a player he actually was. I’m thrilled that the movie is going to be available to the masses and they can learn about how great he was as a player.
Do you ever think about what history might have looked like if Branch Rickey had signed him when he was still with the St. Louis Cardinals?
Lindsay Berra: All the time! If he had signed him as a Cardinal, it would have been a very different story, and he would have gotten to play with his buddy, Joe Garagiola, and he would have been on a team with Hall of Famer Stan Musial so that would have been amazing if he’d been a Cardinal, If he’d been a Dodger—I mean, totally crazy because the Yankees were playing the Dodgers in the World Series basically every year and he would have been playing with all those amazing Dodgers players, his buddy, Gil Hodges. It could have gone either way—Cardinals or Dodgers—and it’s a very different baseball world if Grampa was not a Yankee, but he was.
Of course, the 1950s for the Cardinals would have looked much different.
Lindsay Berra: Oh, yeah.
Sean Mullin: Absolutely.
Until watching the film last summer, I never realized the depth of the feud between Yogi and George Steinbrenner.
Lindsay Berra: That was an interesting time period. I was the only Berra grandkid with any memory of Grampa at Yankee Stadium, but it’s not like he talked about it all the time. He was coaching with the Astros. He was still involved with baseball. He just didn’t go to Yankee Stadium and it was just kind of a known fact. Nobody pushed him on it in the family. I remember when I was in high school, a girlfriend of mine had season tickets to go see the Yankees, and asked me if I wanted to go to a game. I was like, Oh, I have to ask; I’m not sure if I’m allowed. I called Grampa and say, Grampa, Suzanne has tickets to the game. Is it okay if I go? And he said, Why not? You ain’t got no beef with George! I went to the game. That was around 1993 or 1994. Obviously, they didn’t make up until 1999 but he had no problem with any of the rest of us going. It was just his choice not to go while George was in charge. The moment George came out to the museum and said he was sorry, it was over. It was like it had never happened. I’m quite grateful for that because I believe that his ability to be at Yankee Stadium and in spring training and just be around the Yankees in the ballpark, I do really believe that it added 10 years to his life. The quality in those years was greatly increased because of his ability to meet and mentor Jeter, Posada, Tino Martinez, Paul O’Neill, and Bernie Williams and have those relationships. I think they learned a lot from him as well.
(The following is considered a spoiler.)
To have David Cone throw a perfect game on that first Yogi Berra Day in 1999 with both Yogi and Don Larsen in attendance, that’s got to be something!
Lindsay Berra: It was pretty crazy. It was a totally nuts experience. We were all up in the Steinbrenner box watching and nobody wanted to stand up or go to the restroom. Nobody wanted to talk or eat or chew. No one knew what to do, except for Grampa and Donnie, who were in the top row of the outside seats and they would not stop talking the entire time. It was really stressing everyone out.
My college boyfriend was with me at the game and I was supposed to leave in the sixth inning to drive him to the airport. He took a taxi without me. You see the footage in the film of Grampa. He was in the TV booth for the last inning. He just cracks up when it happens when Coney seals it because it was just so improbable, so unlikely, and just so ridiculous that that could happen on Yogi Berra Day. They say there’s ghosts in Yankee Stadium. I personally have always believed firmly that there are ghosts in Yankee Stadium and they were out in full force that day.
You cannot have scripted that any better.
Sean Mullin: No.
Lindsay Berra: We didn’t have to! (Laughs)
Sean Mullin: Well, that’s what makes documentaries really wonderful, honestly, is this idea that if we were to have script that in a scripted film, producers would just kick it back and say, No, you can’t have this in the movie. It’s too unbelievable. There have only been 23 perfect games in the history of baseball. In all the thousands and thousands of games, there’s only 23. It’s too improbable but the fact that it happened in real life is really what I think gives the doc a lot of power. It’s a bit of a spoiler, that scene in the movie, so I’ve been trying to kind of save it a little bit, but however you want to describe it, you can. But yeah, it’s one of those moments that is really important to the film, obviously. It was the first scene we cut because we knew it was that important. We cut that first and then we kind of built everything to lead up to that.
Speaking of cutting, how long was the initial cut?
Sean Mullin: Oh, lengthwise? Gosh, I don’t really have too much of a problem. Some directors are like, Oh, three-hour cut. I’m pretty tight with things. There was an assembly that was longer. The final film is 98 minutes. I think the first cut was maybe a little over 100, maybe 104-105.
Lindsay Berra: I don’t think I knew that.
Sean Mullin: Knew what?
Lindsay Berra: I’ve never heard anyone ask you that before. How long the first cut was.
Sean Mullin: Oh, goodness. I honestly have to go back and look at the time. I showed Lindsey probably the fifteenth or twelfth cut. There’s an assembly, right, which is really kind of long. The first rough cut that we started showing internally to our internal producers and team was probably just over 100 minutes—not too much longer, honestly. When I showed it to Lindsay, there was one photo we had mistagged, there was an aunt that we thought was—
Lindsay Berra: Grandma Paolina. There were just some little things. My dad watched with a notepad and there really weren’t many things on it.
Sean Mullin: There was a double beat, too, with the Jackie Robinson safe/out which we took out that Lindsay thought was redundant and she was absolutely correct. But then we added in a couple things, too. We added in a little bit about Gil Hodges and we added a little thing about—
Lindsay Berra: Elston Howard.
Sean Mullin: My initial cut of the film—I was really, really lucky to be supported. It’s very strange for a sports documentary to be made independently. Almost all of them are commissioned by either ESPN or HBO or something like that. The fact that this is an independently made doc sports documentary and it turned out as strong as it did is testament to the producers giving me final cut. I had full creative freedom. I interviewed so many people. If this was a regular studio production, I would have been grilled on every interview, why it’s important to the story. I would have to justify it. I interviewed anybody I wanted. I was interviewing philosophy professors, neighbors, and friends.
I was flying to Larnad, Kansas to get Ralph Terry for one clip that’s in the movie, but it’s an important clip because he pitched—
Lindsay Berra: I love Ralph.
Sean Mullin: Yeah, he’s amazing in the film, and he pitched to Yogi. It was a really important thing for us to find a pitcher actually pitched to Yogi. The furthest place you can get in America is two plane flights and a three-hour drive. I think there’s nothing further than that and so we went out there for that one. Just being able to be supported as an independent filmmaker by my producers and my production team—they had full faith in me, but it was a lot of responsibility on my shoulders. I took it very seriously. I’m a pretty light-hearted, jovial guy, but I also have a very serious side. I had a feeling that this film was going to be the benchmark for Yogi’s legacy moving forward. Yes, there have been dozens of books but in this day and age, people tend to like to watch things and so there was a tremendous amount of pressure on my shoulders to deliver something that did his legacy justice. I’m glad I was able to live up to that—those steaks.
It definitely feels like the definitive documentary on Yogi Berra.
Sean Mullin: Yeah, no. If someone wants to make another one go at it. Go have fun. I don’t know what you’re gonna do. I don’t know who you’re gonna get. We’ve already got all the people so I do feel like no, this is—I was saying this earlier, but one of the best comments we had after the Tribeca premiere is someone came up to me and said they felt that film belongs in the Library of Congress. That made me feel really, really good. Again, this is really a snapshot of America at a certain time and a certain era and that made me feel good.
Or Cooperstown for that matter.
Sean Mullin: Yeah.
Lindsay Berra: Since he’s mentioning people at Tribeca, my favorite comment at Tribeca was the guy who went up to Sean and told him that the film had inspired him to be nicer to his wife.
Sean Mullin: (Laughs) Initially, I was like, Wait a second, what are you doing your wife?
Lindsay Berra: Exactly.
Sean Mullin: But no—whatever. He really seemed like a super nice guy. He didn’t seem like a—whatever.
Lindsay Berra: As far as you know.
Sean Mullin: As far as I know. I don’t know. But anyways, listen, we’re helping people be nice to people. That’s a good thing.
Yeah. Is it possible that we might see even more interview footage on as bonus features on the home video release for It Ain’t Over?
Sean Mullin: There’ll be a streaming release, probably in the fall. If we can get our act together in time between now and then, I think Lindsay and I would like to do a little—I don’t know about clips as much but definitely a little podcast. Maybe we could do some video clips with the pod?
Lindsay Berra: Yeah.
Maybe release a few video clips with the podcast? But yeah, some of the best outtakes that didn’t make the film. Maybe do like a little—
Lindsay Berra: A Tony Kubek episode with all of Tony’s good stories.
Sean Mullin: Billy Crystal—
Lindsay Berra: A Billy Crystal episode. Yeah.
Sean, was there anyone that you interviewed in which you got super starstruck?
Sean Mullin: I’ve been pretty lucky. For some reason, I don’t get—I’ve written screenplays for Britney Spears and Ridley Scott. I’ve hung out with some pretty famous people in my life. My dad always said, we all put our pants on one leg at a time. What’s the big deal?
Lindsay Berra: Or if your Grampa, you make a life vest out of them.
Sean Mullin: Yeah, that’s true. He didn’t know how to swim. But no, I don’t tend to get super starstruck. I will admit, though, the one person I interviewed from my childhood—who was my childhood sports person—was Don Mattingly because I’m from Indiana originally and he is from Indiana. I did love Don Mattingly as a kid and so interviewing him—I think he’s the only one I actually got a photo with. It was nice, too, because I wasn’t gonna ask for a photo because I’m the director and directors don’t do that. Peter Sobiloff knew I was a big Don Mattingly fan so afterwards, Peter said, Hey, can I get a picture of you two? So I got a photo with him.
We got a picture with Jeter and Mariano and these guys are great. Jeter is incredible. I mean, Billy Crystal and Vin Scully—the fact I’m sitting with Vin Scully in the owner’s box at Dodger Stadium to talk about Yogi Berra for 30 minutes was just beyond incredible. Starstruck, I don’t think is the right word, but just awe and real reverence for who these people are. Bob Costas. Sitting in Billy Crystal’s backyard for 90 minutes just talking about Yogi was just—I’m big Billy Crystal fan. I’ve been lucky. I don’t know super starstruck necessarily.
Where in Indiana?
Sean Mullin: I was born in Indianapolis and lived in Zionsville for a bit. My parents lived down in Brown County for a couple years as well and then back up to Indianapolis One thing I don’t talk about, I actually lived in St. Thomas for a year in the Virgin Islands.
Lindsay Berra: You did?
Sean Mullin: I lived in St. Thomas for first grade. My dad was insane, in the best way, but yeah, he wanted to move south. Indiana was too cold for him so he wanted to move south. We moved six kids, a cat, and a dog to St. Thomas, Virgin Islands and lived there for a year. My mom was like, island fever, was trapped, it didn’t work. We moved all the way back to Indianapolis and then my mom’s like, let me pick the southern town this time. He says fine, and she picked Boca Raton, Florida. We moved to Boca Raton, Florida in third grade and then I was in Boca. So yeah, I lived in St. Thomas for one year.
Lindsay Berra: Aunt Betsy’s sister married a guy from St. Thomas. Gretchen and Bridget’s first cousins were all raised in St. Thomas. My family has whole St. Thomas thing.
Sean Mullin: Look at this. We’re learning stuff. I was in St. Thomas in first grade so I do remember it. Actually, I vividly remember it because that’s something that’s tough to forget as a kid moving from Indiana to St. Thomas. Where are you from originally?
I’m from Louisville, Kentucky. When you said Indiana, I’m like New Albany? Clarksville?
Sean Mullin: Yeah, I’m making a couple of films in Louisville coming up. Are you based there?
No. I’m in Chicago. I saw Second City during my freshman year of college, improv bit, and I moved to Chicago after college.
Sean Mullin: Yeah.
The lifelong seeds of my being a baseball fan, I owe it to growing up in Louisville We had the Louisville Redbirds there until they moved to Memphis, but my allegiance to the Cardinals has been there ever since.
Sean Mullin: Yeah. We need to actually talk to Sony about this because we don’t currently have the film playing there.
Lindsay Berra: In Louisville?
Sean Mullin: I’ve had a few friends reach out to me so we need to actually book it in Louisville.
Lindsay Berra: The other one that needs is Birmingham.
Sean Mullin: Birmingham, too? We need to tell them.
Lindsay Berra: Birmingham is where Andrews Sports Medicine is—Dr. Andrews—and there’re 600 employees who absolutely love baseball and they’re all angry with me.
Sean Mullin: Yeah. We need to get on that. I love Louisville. I’m making two films. I’m producing a scripted film there this summer and then I might be making a documentary that has something to do with the Kentucky Derby as well.
I’ll be one of the first people in line to see that.
Sean Mullin: Yeah, thanks.
How honored were you to hold the world premiere last year at Tribeca, miles away from where Yogi Berra made so much baseball history, and during the 50th anniversary of his Baseball Hall of Fame induction?
Sean Mullin: I was over the moon. It was the perfect place to premiere the film. They jumped on it. We were, I think, probably the first film admitted into it. We had a sold out 1000 seat theater, standing ovation. I’m sitting between my mother and my daughter. I don’t know—it doesn’t get too much better than that. I made the family proud, I think. Tribeca was a really wonderful, wonderful experience for us. We sold it out of Tribeca—we sold it to Sony Pictures Classics. This was made independently and I think you know Vanishing Angle, right? Do you know Natalie?
Yeah, I’m friends with Matt and Natalie.
Sean Mullin: I thought you were Yeah. Vanishing Angle produced my first feature film, Amira and Sam, back in 2015 so I’ve had a relationship with them forever. They were the perfect partners for this, creatively.
Sean, how did you manage to go from serving in the military to performing stand-up comedy to becoming a filmmaker?
Sean Mullin: It all makes sense to me. But I think other people—the one thing I will say about West Point is West Point—I get that all the time. Oh, you went to West Point? You’re a film director. It couldn’t be more different. I actually think West Point’s the best film school in the world and I say that a little tongue in cheek. But when it comes to filmmaking, so much of it is leadership, so much of it is herding so many different cats and being a good leader and being responsive to all your partners and everything they need. Especially narrative filmmaking—when you’re on set, you’ve got 100 crew people and you’re about ready to shoot the scene outside and it starts to rain, you got to change covers, you got to move, you got to adapt, you gotta overcome. I think that that military training really came in handy. The comedy of it all, I don’t know. I just was a comedian my whole life. When I found out in fifth grade that I could make pretty much anyone laugh pretty much whatever I wanted to, it was like, fuck, I’m a superhero now—how does this work? I just started making people laugh and it’s a bit of a problem.
What do you hope people take away from watching It Ain’t Over?
Sean Mullin: That Yogi was one of the greatest players to ever play the game but if you can wrap your brain around it, he was even a better person.
Lindsay Berra: What he said.
Thank you so much. It was nice to meet the both of you.
Sean Mullin: Wonderful.
Lindsay Berra: Thank you, Danielle.
Sean Mullin: Thank you, Danielle.
Sony Pictures Classics will release It Ain’t Over in theaters on May 12, 2023.
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