I recently had the pleasure to sit down with Eric Newland and George Dalton who are in the process of producing a documentary about America’s Negro League Baseball. Their passion of baseball and history will be ever present throughout their film, The Parallel Game, exploring American history’s greatest past time. They went on to discuss the process of producing a documentary, the people they’ve met, and the determination and patience it takes to bring a story to life as they are navigating the world of filmmaking.
Christian Roberts: What inspired you to produce this project?
Eric Newland: Traveling back 25 years prior to the age of Google aided research and even earlier, we had a passion for Negro League Baseball which I followed by creating a self-inspired talk show, Inside Baseball. “Only the Ball was White” was a groundbreaking history book by Robert Peterson about the Negro Leagues. It opened my mind to a fascinating yet sometimes disturbing history of that era-a story which was largely untold. On the show and traveling across the country, I interviewed former NLB players, historians, and sportswriters. A chance conversation with George about Peterson’s book combined with my interviews, inspired us to begin this project.
Roberts: What about this project stands out from other documentaries?
George Dalton: While it could be a documentary we are not locked into a specific format. We are exploring several possible film development opportunities. Our conversations and meetings with experienced film producers have opened our eyes to various avenues including a documentary, a scripted episodic series or even a feature film. For example, a pure documentary is the simplest path but one which could evolve into a mini-series or we may go straight to a series. A feature film is the most remote. In whatever form it takes, we believe the uniqueness of The Parallel Game comes from the virtually untold history of the 1920s-1940s told through the background of Negro League Baseball which ran concurrently with historic and cultural events such as the Great Depression, the evolution of music from gospel and spirituals to Blues and Jazz, and the Black experience during World War II. Our project title, The Parallel Game, evokes both the similarity of segregated Black and White baseball as well as the historical and social turbulence of that era.
Roberts: What is it like producing a documentary? Is this your first?
Newland: This is our first film project which came about simply by following our passion, again, we are not limiting this to a documentary but rather taking a central theme and asking film experts to take us in the right direction—documentary, mini-series or other vehicles. As relative “rookies” yet having significant involvement in various businesses, we are fascinated by the learning experience and especially the diversity of people we have been meeting. It is remarkable when people’s eyes light up with just a glance at our logo which inevitably opens a spirited conversation about our project. Interestingly, our on-going research continues to shed new light on the culture of that era which was a precursor to integration not just of baseball, but of American society.
Roberts: What kind of people have you interviewed?
Dalton: In addition to the interviews of NLB players, sportswriters and historians which Eric conducted about 25 years ago, our recent efforts run a gamut from current and former Major League Baseball players including Frank Robinson who is the only man to be the MVP of both the American and National Leagues, the first Black major league manager and in the Hall of Fame, All-Stars Tommy Davis and Lorenzo Cain, Black and White historians, a former owner of a notable MLB franchise, Bob Kendrick, President of the Negro League Baseball Museum in Kansas City, a former head of the Congressional Black Caucus, and even a prominent museum exhibit about Black migration in the early 1900s and, Louise Lippincott, the curator of the famed “Teenie” Harris photographic archive on Black baseball in Pittsburgh.
Roberts: What’s the next step for the project? And lastly, any advice you can give to people trying to break into producing?
Newland: We have been actively pursuing additional interviews with former and current players and, especially, meeting with experienced film insiders who are interested in the project. These insiders have been providing direction on how best to advance this project. We are in the process of building social media sites and exploring various fund raising vehicles. Our advice, especially for “newcomers”, is to stay focused with a disciplined structure and to network as much as possible with experts in all fields that connect with the project topic.