With a father who lettered as an LSU Tiger in the mid-1960s, artist and filmmaker John Darling Haynes grew up hearing old war stories from the gridiron at family gatherings and cookouts. His father’s teammates were like a pack of extra uncles. A few years ago, with his production company Wish Picture Shows finding success, Haynes approached the university with an offer it could not refuse: to tell the story of LSU football like no one had dared before.
For Haynes, Ole War Skule would be more than a movie. It would become a conquest of insight. On top of researching and selecting material from the LSU Athletic Department’s massive archive of footage, photographs and memorabilia, Haynes’ documentary team embedded itself within the Fox Sports crew for the 2011 Cotton Bowl to capture the inner workings of a nationally televised Tigers game.
They camped out in the Advocate newsroom to witness stories, statistics and snapshots from a Saturday night showdown being assembled and edited for the Sunday morning paper.
They traveled to the Waterford Crystal Factory in Waterford, Ireland, to film the intricate cutting and crafting of the BCS trophy.
They flew to the Wilson factory in Ada, Ohio, to watch laces and cowhide become one as college football’s most trusted game ball.
They drove to Balfour headquarters in Austin to document the glimmering birth of an LSU national championship ring.
“We want to entertain, but also educate, and that’s what the film will do,” Haynes says. “Where did the idea of the tiger mascot come from? What does it take to make the stadium look immaculate each Saturday? It was a complete throwback to find answers.”
In footage from a lengthy, early cut of the film in April, former Tiger running back Charles Scott jokes that Coach Miles’ hats must be allergic to his ears the way they ride so high on his head. All-American-turned-ophthalmologist Tommy Casanova tears up over the degree in life LSU has given him. 1940s quarterback Y.A. Tittle recalls cutting up cardboard boxes to use for pads. Former coach Paul Dietzel claims one can learn more on the goal line than anywhere else in the world.
“I personally enjoy the footage of our coaches’ wives giving their perspective on what it is like being married to a coach,” says Joanna Haynes, the director’s wife and producing partner. “You know that behind ever great man is a great woman.”
After several years of production and 80 interviews—including sit-downs with Les Miles and Nick Saban—the film became more than a documentary or a highlight reel for John Darling Haynes. It somehow connected back to those cookouts and family gatherings he cherishes from his youth. Ole War Skule lets the public in on the kinds of stories Haynes grew up hearing, only amplified to epic proportions.
Haynes hired an NFL Films crew to fly over Tiger Stadium and capture sweeping, cinematic views of Death Valley. His own saturated and timeless 16 mm footage captures the atmosphere and energetic ether that swelters the field and the stands like a late summer Louisiana humidity finer than any digital high-definition rig possibly could. Emmy-winning actor John Goodman, a longtime New Orleanian and LSU superfan, narrates the film in his famous jovial drawl.
Warm and nostalgic, Ole War Skule is a love letter to LSU football penned by those who wooed her well: dozens of former players, coaches and coaches’ wives, school officials and longtime Tiger fanatics.
And in that adoration, we all take part, from tailgates and living rooms, from the sidelines, upper decks and box suites. Ole War Skule is not only the most revelatory look yet at our thrilling home team, but a surprisingly rich story about ourselves, one that resonates like the marching band cadence of those booming pre-game trumpet blasts. The ones that took hold of so many hearts and never let go.
“We wanted to film something beautiful,” Haynes says. “This is a beautiful story, and one that’s not just about football. It’s about everything that makes Saturday nights in Baton Rouge so special.” The film debuts August 11 along with an Ole War Skule-themed smartphone app, games and a merchandise line. olewarskulemovie.com