“Making the film has always been the goal, not having an office with bagels and coffee and tons of overhead”. So said Tyler Gooden the director of The FC Start Movie.

Bagels and coffee aren’t bad companions to have though in creating an animated featurette and feature.

The making of The FC Start Movie has been a long, challenging journey for the director who has surmounted seemingly impossible hurdles on several occasions. A less passionate filmmaker may have already given up on the project but Gooden’s drive has ensured that his vision of FC Start’s story will be told.

“This is a winding road, really. I just want to make the film – And I have wanted to since 2002,” he said.

Gooden originally envisioned the movie as a live action feature but after, in his words, “a few years of roadblock,” he toyed with the idea of doing it as an animated film. 

“I noodled around with the idea of making it as an animation in 2009, but it didn’t quite formulate,” Gooden admitted “Then, a couple years ago, I just simply announced that I was going to make it, and I started”.

A featurette is well on its way to being completed and the production of it has taught Gooden and his crew a number a valuable lessons. On a wholly practical level the featurette serves a dual purpose for Gooden, as it’ll allow him to show the audience the look and feel of the film whilst providing the platform and building blocks he requires to make the full movie.

“It’s a prototype, but it’s also the architecture for the feature, and teaching us many lessons. Once the featurette is complete, we are already on our way, with assets built, infrastructure, style, and many things already in motion. The featurette will give the audience something to enjoy and will have taught us what we need to know, while building value and making it appealing to investment.  

The evolution of the look itself has seen a few iterations initially starting off as a 2D production before switching to a 3D universe. Though The FC Start Movie is an animated feature Gooden has tailored the 3D approach to be a central part of the story-telling experience whilst acknowledging its practical advantages.

“It’s more like a moving painting, and not some squishy cartoon. It will be very cinematic, made as if I was shooting it on a location,” he explained “I just had to choose a medium, and with animation I can do more than the big budget guys at a fraction of the price. I am incredibly mobile and I have control. I have a great team who has stuck it out with me, and they bring a lot of value to the chosen medium. But most importantly, with animation we are making it, and not just talking about it or waiting around for someone to tell us we can”.

Having settled on a visual medium there’s still the challenge of bringing the characters to life, framing dramatic scenes and of course animating FC Start’s exploits on the football pitch.

“Blocking scenes, dynamics between characters, keeping the story held together, subtleties in performance and dramatic precision are always more difficult than action sequences,” admitted Gooden. “Action sequences come naturally to me. The big football sequences will come a little later, but I love choreography, and I don’t have it all worked out yet, but the audience is going to be lifted out of their seats when we arrive at that. First, I am focused on getting the pieces to come together so we can all enjoy that part even more”.

There are many facets in bringing this movie to life from character design:

“The characters in the featurette are a mix of a little imagination, some references, and in fact, some friends. I have a few friends who pledged some money towards the film, and in turn, we created characters inspired by their likeness”.

To finding the right voices:

“In casting, I look and listen for actors who know how to hold a secret, who don’t tell me everything, and make me want to know more. If it’s a physical performance, such as the stage, I look for actors who use their bodies as the medium.   But in this case, it was important to listen deeply, and try and find actors who really use their voice as instruments instead. Distinct voices, clear voices, people who have a grasp of language. Who love their words to the core. Some people get it, many do not.   Some do not go deep enough and fall in love with words enough. I love words, so I want to hear the meaning of each word in the way it sounds, the way it rolls off the tongue should reflect the innate meaning embedded deep in a word’s history.   So we will do a final round of casting before even the featurette is finished”.

And getting it right musically:

“I want the music to capture a feeling of homesickness from a country that was abrupted, and the ghosts of the past are calling to the present, asking why that country never came to be”.

It’s fair to say that Gooden has undertaken an ambitious project but then again it helps working with elite, mobile, production ninjas who can solve anything”.

“There’s never been more than four of us at any given time.  Usually it’s either been just me and one other person, but one of my goals for this year is to start scaling up now that we’re into the last couple laps of the featurette,” he detailed “ In the beginning, I was very conscious of making sure we could get each step following the last, and that’s why I didn’t hire tons of people just for the sake of making it quickly.  We could have easily ran ourselves into deficit.  Instead, we just keep putting one foot in front of the other, every day.  20 paces every day, no excuses. And I’d also like to make it clear, that, while I am proud of all we have done as a small team, this is not the end game.  It’s all going to grow. As we inch closer to the finish line of the featurette, it becomes clearer and clearer how to scale it up. We are a small team, but our psychology is not”. 

And if overseeing the technical aspects of the movie wasn’t difficult enough Gooden also devoted time into researching the details of the FC Start story and the era the movie is set in. From having articles translated from Ukrainian to English to reviewing material chronicling football and the art of that period to interacting with scholars of Slavic culture, Gooden’s dedication to telling the full story is nothing short of remarkable.

“I am constantly researching, and it’s not just about the story. Every day requires research, learning something new and exploring something new, whether it be the technical challenges, cash flow and marketing, staging a scene, lighting a scene, character development, accents, art direction, or history. It’s a constant, constant process, a journey in every sense,” said Gooden.

And that journey has brought to light fascinating insights into the Soviet sporting culture as well as the birth of one of the most successful sides in Ukrainian football. Gooden explained: 

“Well, ‘FizcultHura’ itself was a big deal in the Soviet Union. Meaning, a lot of emphasis was put on the athlete, physical culture, and how the athlete is perceived.   They would have great events, called Spartakiads, which were meant to embellish the greatness of their athletes. But another interesting aspect, which is perhaps more relevant to our film, is the club now known as Shakhtar. Shakhtar started as Stakhanovitch, named after a working class hero, Alexey Stakhanov. This team was composed of miners, ‘hirnyky’ from the east. Alexei Klimenko (a member of FC Start) was among them. So, you had these football clubs that were made up of workers, tough, working guys from the mines and the fields. And they were stars. There are lots to talk about in terms of impact, but perhaps historically, the important thing to mention is that the state attempted to mold the spectator into the ‘Soviet New Person,’ a controlled perception of how the spectator should participate. This is important to the history. But this is also contrary to how I focus on the spectators in my film, which are meant to reflect how they really feel, and not the false picture the state attempts to manipulate – although this will be present as well in my film”. 

It is clear that Eastern Europe has left an impression on Gooden. The filmmaker lived there for a decade and acknowledged that the region remains close to his heart. In that sense it really isn’t surprising that he’s invested so much in himself in bringing to life one of the most iconic true stories from Eastern European history.

The journey in making this movie has taken Gooden to many places, physically and emotionally. He’s discovered a hitherto unknown level of patience and that if the passion is there then anything is achievable though there will be costs.

“Something happens when you are making a film, especially for this long. You become a part of it, and it becomes a part of you,” he detailed, “you are immersed, and you just lose the ability to be analytical, you lose a lot while gaining a lot. I have my team, and they are the ones who keep the ship moving, and they have my loyalty. Really, it is like a journey on a ship or being in the trenches with your brothers. Everything else falls to the side. It’s hard to really describe, because so much is at stake, so much investment of ourselves. The story, to me, is about a game we all play, a game on the field of life, a game in which we all know the ending, but we play anyway. Death is around every corner, and from that desperation, real life is found. In all it’s horror, weight, lightness, comedy and tremendousness. This is beautiful to me, and this is why I will make the film”.

Gooden summed up his movie in three words: Agony, Ecstasy, Victory. Given his continuing journey in making this movie and the passion he has put into this project The FC Start Movie promises to be something special.

On his hopes for the movie Gooden humbly wishes that the audience will be well served by his offering.

You can follow the progress of the feature on his website TheFCStartMovie.com. The journey will no doubt be fulfilling.