Jeff Malmberg talks The Saint of Second Chances

Director Jeff Malmberg attends "The Saint Of Second Chances" premiere during the 2023 Tribeca Festival at SVA Theatre on June 11, 2023 in New York City (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Tribeca Festival).

Jeff Malmberg spoke with Solzy at the Movies last week about the new Netflix documentary, The Saint of Second Chances.

Malmberg co-directed the film with Oscar-winning filmmaker Morgan Neville. He also edited the film with Alan Lowe. Both have been wanting to make a baseball movie for quite some time now. It just so happens–as Jeff tells me–that Morgan first met Mike Veeck fifteen years ago. The two filmmakers started scheming together about how they could make the film and honor the story, which is pretty wild.

If you’re a baseball fan, the Veeck name should sound familiar. Chicago Cubs  owner William Wrigley Jr. hired then-sportswriter William Veeck Sr. to be their name president when he was writing columns about how he would run the Cubs. It was Bill Veeck Jr. who first suggested planting ivy along the outfield walls in 1937. Veeck Jr. would own what is now the Cleveland Guardians, the St. Louis Browns (currently the Baltimore Orioles), and the Chicago White Sox. Veeck wanted to buy the Philadelphia Phillies and break the color barrier but it wasn’t meant to be. He would break the AL color barrier by signing Larry Doby. Mike Veeck would later get into the family business and played a big role in Disco Demolition Night. Mike would soon be exiled from baseball but Bill Veeck Jr. would own the Chicago White Sox until selling the team in 1981.

As the film shows, Mike Veeck would make his way back into baseball. He is currently the president of the St. Paul Saints (AAA – Minnesota Twins) but the ballclub was independent for a number of seasons. His son, Night Train Veeck, is also working in baseball. But in as much as The Saint of Second Chances is about baseball, it is also about Rebecca Veeck and what lessons Mike would learn from her illness.

There are plenty of books by or about the Veeck family. Bill Veeck Jr., who would later be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, wrote a memoir and The Hustler’s Handbook. Paul Dickson wrote a biography about Veeck Jr. Mike has written a book about having fun and wrote the forward to a book on the St. Paul Saints.

After making its world premiere during the 2023 Tribeca Festival in June, Netflix is releasing the documentary on September 19.

Directors Morgan Neville and Jeff Malmberg attend The Saint Of Second Chances premiere during the 2023 Tribeca Festival at SVA Theatre on June 11, 2023 in New York City.
Directors Morgan Neville and Jeff Malmberg attend “The Saint Of Second Chances” premiere during the 2023 Tribeca Festival at SVA Theatre on June 11, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Tribeca Festival)

It’s so nice to talk with you again after Tribeca. How are you doing today?

Jeff Malmberg: Good. I remember saying hi to you then. I’m doing great. How are you?

I’d be doing better if Zoom wasn’t acting up but at least we have phones.

Jeff Malmberg: Yeah, exactly. Exactly.

The Saint of Second Chances was among a few baseball related films to be selected for Tribeca. How honored were you and Morgan to have the film play at the festival?

Jeff Malmberg: I thought it was a great place to play. I’ve never actually played a film at Tribeca. I’ve always heard about it. It was really, for me, just perfect, Many crew members and cast members made their way to New York and we all got to celebrate together so that was terrific.

What was the genesis behind The Saint of Second Chances?

Jeff Malmberg: Morgan had known Mike for a really long time. He bumped into Mike 15 years ago and always wanted to make a movie about him and never really had the chance. He and I started scheming of how we could make this film. Morgan and I worked together a few times. I’ve always wanted to make a baseball film and I know Morgan has, too. It was really just like, how can we honor this wild story?

Yeah. How did you and co-director Morgan Neville balance directing duties on the film?

Jeff Malmberg: Well, we’ve done it once before. We did it on series for Showtime called Shangri-La. I’ve also co-directed with Chris Shellen on a film called Spettacolo. I’ve come to really enjoy the process of directing with a partner. I think once I realized how fun it is to not make it a three-legged race, so to speak, and make it both of the directors coming to some answer that they hadn’t thought of, if that makes sense, triangulating a position and really kind of celebrating their differences about a subject, and trying to show each other things that interest you. I also edit so sometimes when I direct and edit by myself, it gets a little lonely. Co-directing, to me, especially with somebody like Morgan or Chris is really a joy. I love it and I think it’s just a chance to get to go down the road with someone and learn something together and experience something together.

L-R: Mike Veeck and Bill Veeck.
L-R: Mike Veeck and Bill Veeck. Courtesy of Netflix.

How did you all decide to incorporate the reenactments into the film?

Jeff Malmberg: We’d been talking with Mike for a while. There’s so much story in it. The Veecks just have so much. I mean, whole 500 page books have been written about Bill—several, both by him and about him and that’s just the start. Once you realize you are going to try and cover the whole Veeck dynasty, so to speak, from Bill Sr.—Bill’s dad, who ran the Cubs in in the early 1900s—to Bill Veeck to the Mike Veeck to Night Train and Rebecca Veeck, it was really how do you compress this story and find commonality across this whole timeframe? It’s literally been over 100 years now that they’ve been involved in baseball. For us, I just started by—we would interview Mike by phone. There’s a certain point where Morgan and I both realized, Oh, it’s almost like Mike’s telling us a bar tale. Somebody’s coming up to you at a party that you don’t know and they’re kind of elbowing you and telling you a story and how much of this is true. It’s sort of wonderful. He’s such a storyteller that we thought, what if we honored this with the vision that he’s projecting, that the regression might be the vision of the story that he was projecting for us in his head? Once we kind of caught on to that idea that this was in Mike’s head, that’s when it really came alive.

Yeah. You’re not lying. A hundred years—there is a lot of story there.

Jeff Malmberg: Yeah, yeah. I feel like we checked the box on Bill but we could do a whole Bill movie.

Yeah. Even another film that played Tribeca also touched on Bill Veeck because of Larry Doby signing with Cleveland.

Jeff Malmberg: Yeah, yeah. Which is great. I love that. I love Bill’s relationship with Satchel Paige. The idea that he was going to completely transform the Phillies before Jackie Robinson, mentioned that briefly. Some people don’t believe that story but it’s certainly a wonderful idea anyway.

How long was the initial cut?

Jeff Malmberg: It wasn’t that much different. We were lucky—besides myself editing, we had Alan Lowe editing with us. It’s one thing that—like I was saying, the difference is I used to do three-hour rough cuts. I love doing that. Once I started working with Morgan on Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, which I edited with Aaron Wickenden for him, he was like, we don’t have time for a three-hour cut. (Laughs) Let’s try and project something closer to running time to start with. It was a really fun challenge. I can see it both ways. I guess it depends on what movie you’re making, which is the better way to do it. This was one of those—maybe the rough cut was 100 minutes but that’s because we did our homework of what parts of this story are we not telling because you could really get lost in it.

(L to R) Rebecca Veeck and Mike Veeck in The Saint of Second Chances.
(L to R) Rebecca Veeck and Mike Veeck in The Saint of Second Chances. Courtesy of Netflix © 2023.

In editing the film, was there anything that you all struggled to find the right place in the film and ultimately had to leave out?

Jeff Malmberg: Yeah. There were a few things. Mike kind of had—we talked about his first attempt at getting back in the majors, which was the Devil Rays, but there were others. There was time with the Tigers. Dombrowski hired him for the Tigers. There were multiple attempts at getting back into the major leagues. I always wished Mike saw the great things he was doing in the minors as way more interesting than anything he could ever do in the majors. I think you could say that for Bill Veeck, too. The things he did with the Milwaukee Brewers, who were a minor league team at that time, I think overshadow a lot of the things he did with the major league teams. Mike was always quick to point out that the Saints were his version of his dad’s Milwaukee Brewers team.

I think the hardest editorial aspect to me was trying to figure out how the last third of the film was going to work and what Rebecca’s real estate, meaning and lessons in all this were. I think that once we caught on to what Rebecca taught Mike through her illness, taking all these beckoning ideas of fun and joy and seeing them through this pain that she was experiencing. It kind of really upped the ante for all of them and for the film. That’s when it finally started to land and work, to jam all these things together. Because if you look at it, you’ve got almost three different movies, right? You’ve got the 70s White Sox, the 90s St. Paul saints, and then the more recent version of the Charleston RiverDogs. You could almost do three separate movies about these three things but we’re tasked with finding the thread of all three of them. Luckily, I always wanted the film to feel like the characters. I always thought of a firework, where it kind of explodes and you think it’s done and then it explodes again and it explodes again, like the movie could be that path. It felt appropriate for the subject matter. The Veecks were kind of that way and that the movie should be that way, too, if that makes sense. If people weren’t laughing and crying and going through a lot in this film about the Veecks, then we hadn’t done it right.

Yeah. Did you all ever consider making it as a three-part documentary series?

Jeff Malmberg: No. I’m sure it was discussed at some point. But it was really like, I’m still a fan of that movie that leaves you wanting to know more. It’s always like that 85-95 minute film that sends you on a quest to learn more things, see more things, and listen to more things, whatever. I’ve always feel like it’s a blessing when you’ve got a subject that’s bigger than your frame. We had done four hours together on a Showtime series, Shangri-La. There is a certain taste to those limited series and it tends to be a little slower. We definitely wanted this thing to, you’d have to catch a breath a little bit so I think, ultimately, the feature was the right way to go.

What was the most surprising thing you learned during the process of making the documentary?

Jeff Malmberg: One of the first things Mike said to me was, I want to take what happened to my daughter, I want to take my daughter’s diagnosis, and turn it into something beautiful. I’m always looking for a road that you can travel down with your subjects. That to me, when we first started, Rebecca’s passing was fresh. It was really about a year, maybe. To try and honor all of the Rebecca story inside this and figuring out how Rebecca fits into the Veeck legacy, that was new ground. And so that was the thing that we learned. We learned it together with the Veecks so that was really special because we got to go to Rebecca’s house and meet Rebecca’s friends, talk about her and laugh. It was meaningful to almost try and help frame up some ideas for them about what they’ve been through so I think you can’t get better than that in documentary. That’s really a honor and a joy to be able to do that with people that you care about and that you’re fascinated by.

Pandemic aside, what was the most challenging aspect of the production?

Jeff Malmberg: You’ve only got a certain number of days. I guess that’s where limited series are somewhat easier, you can throw 100 days at the problem of shooting. You can’t do that in a feature. This story takes place over a long period of time, all different parts of the country. It was not clear to us when we started where this story took place between Chicago and St. Paul. It took a while to figure out, Oh, of course, the end of it happens in Charleston, about the RiverDogs. Rebecca, Night Train, Mike, and Libby all being together but that we didn’t know that until we happened to be shooting in Charleston. It’s funny what you don’t know while you’re making the film. It seems obvious later but it’s not at the time, or at least not to me. I think just kind of covering all that ground in the limited amount of time that you have, with the resource that you have is always a challenge. Luckily, we had a great production team who was really skilled at giving us what we needed. Everybody on this film really went above and beyond because I think they really believed in the story and they were really captivated by Mike and Libby and the whole thing. It’s wonderful we can get that many people moving in the same direction to try and help tell the story. Once you have recreations and you have all these things, you’re talking about a lot more number of crew and a larger group of people that has to be tuned in, in the right way, to what you’re trying to accomplish. Documentary is wonderful—you can do it by yourself, but you can also do it with a team of 50 people and this was definitely on the 50 people side of it. Just coordinating all that. Luckily, we had a great group of people—Danny Breen, Chloe Simmons, who were so good at making everybody see the movie that we’re trying to make and going for it on set.

Were you working on the film at the same time that you were also directing the Mickey Mouse documentary?

Jeff Malmberg: Yeah, they overlapped a little bit so a lot of the same crew. Antonio Cisneros, our DP, Miles Wilkerson, our assistant editor and additional editor. So yeah, there’s definitely some overlap and that was fun. It’s fun to have different things to work on at the same time.

What do you hope people take away from watching the film?

Jeff Malmberg: I’ve seen it a little bit. It’s wonderful to see. We just saw it last night with an audience again. It’s amazing what it brings out and what people talk about. I am a father and so I think to a large degree, it’s about what it is to be a parent, what it is to be a child of a parent, and the joys and complications of that. I think that’s a big one for people. That’s so vital and basic, but it’s deep. I just think that Mike makes—the way of looking at life makes the world a little bit better. Laughing in the face of adversity and trying to find the good in things. That’s always a message that I need reminding of so I help people value it.

Thank you so much.

Jeff Malmberg: Yeah, thank you. I really enjoyed your review in the film and it was nice meeting you in New York.

Likewise. I’m in the midst of six ballparks in six weeks.

Jeff Malmberg: Awesome. Where are you gonna go?

Well, I started out with American Family Field in Milwaukee a few weeks ago and then was going to do Busch but with the excessive heatwave, I rescheduled so last week was Guaranteed Rate Field so that I could see Miggy play for one last time and of course, he had the day off; Twin Cities for Target Field; and then Busch Stadium. I was just in Kansas City this week and next week’s Progressive Field in Cleveland, and then a break until after all these Jewish holidays, and then I’ll be going to Coors Field in Denver.

Jeff Malmberg: Awesome. I was at Target this summer. A good stadium, I’ve never been there before.

Yeah, I went to Yankee Stadium and Citi Field during Tribeca.

Jeff Malmberg: Oh, great. Yeah. I like both of those. Don’t you?

Yeah. Thank you so much.

Jeff Malmberg: Thank you, and really appreciate the time and feel free to cut down my rambling answers but I really appreciate it.

Netflix is releasing The Saint of Second Chances on September 19, 2023.

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.