Review by David Wangberg, Red Carpet Report Reporter follow David on Twitter @norcalmovieguy
For his first feature film, At All Costs, Mike Nicoll took something that was near and dear to his heart: AAU basketball. He grew up playing it, but he never quite made it as far as the people he documents. After graduating from USC, Nicoll put his focus on turning an idea he’s had for years into a reality.
“It was a natural thing for me to want to go back, and I was frankly blown away by how much had changed since I was playing,” he said during a phone interview.
At All Costs looks at how the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) has turned youth basketball into a professional sport. Kids as young as 12 are playing 100 games during the summer break. Freshman athletes are already getting sponsorships and offers from top-ranking colleges.
The documentary places its focus on Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Gabe York, two blue chip prospects looking to make it to the pros. They are just two of the 60-80 athletes that are invited to participate in AAU-organized tournaments and practices in the hopes that they can make it to the NBA. When determining which players he wanted to follow, Nicoll didn’t want to go for the players who were already on their way to the NBA. “The top 10 guys don’t need help from any system; they’re going to be in the NBA regardless,” he said. “But between 10 and 70, those 60, 70, 80 kids, they really need to manipulate and gain the system.”
That’s where Cartwright and York came into effect.
“I was really drawn to Gabe and Parker because they were in the positions where they have to know how to navigate this world and make sure that they’re exploiting it and not getting exploited,” Nicoll added.
At first glance, At All Costs might just seem like its main audience will be for the basketball fans in the world. But Nicoll has made the film to where those who aren’t fans of the sport can find some relation to it. Some of the themes on which he focuses are family and politics, which go beyond the world of basketball.
“I think people that aren’t strictly basketball fans can latch onto it and appreciate the themes built in,” he said. “We always wanted to make it more than just a basketball movie, and I’m really proud of that part of it.”
Whereas most documentaries might take one side of a particular issue, Nicoll made At All Costs to show the inner workings of AAU, and then the viewer can decide on how he or she feels about it. He noted that was how he wanted his documentary to be from the beginning.
“I don’t like documentaries or films that shake their finger at the audience and tell them how to feel about it. For me, it’s more challenging and more interesting to present the world and let the audience decide how they feel about it. The story’s always taking place in the mind of whoever is watching it. They’re going to bring their own experience and successes and failures to it. I would rather present something that assumes the intelligence of my audience and let them decide how they feel about it rather than be like, ‘You’re an idiot; here’s how you should feel about something.’”
When it comes to what he plans on doing next, Nicoll doesn’t plan on looking at how AAU is affecting other sports, but he did note its impact on them from what he has witnessed.
“It’s definitely evolving and traversing different sports,” he said.
Nicoll’s next plan is to hopefully turn At All Costs into a made-for-TV movie.
At All Costs is now available on iTunes and On Demand
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