No finish? New finish! The 41st Day’s Tim Jeffreys
Picture this: You’ve just invested seven months filming a documentary on an athlete who then, on the Big Day, totally craps out.
Tim Jeffreys, director of The 41st Day, finds himself in just such a predicament after the Olympic men’s marathon, when star Ryan Hall dropped out with a hamstring injury Jeffreys had no idea about. (You want something more unpredictable than a marathon? Try pinning your fortunes to a marathoner.)
This hamstring business is what is most perplexing for Jeffreys, even weeks later, because going into the race there was no hamstring injury. And he would know: second to Hall’s wife, Jeffreys is more in tune with the day-to-day Life of Hall than anyone: He and his crew had endured the boredom and heat of Redding, Calif., filming every workout and riding the rollercoaster of his star’s nagging injuries and shitty races.
But Hall was healthy. He was ready. Everything was coming together. Then it all fell apart.
So what do you do when your star inadvertently torpedoes your narrative arc? You spin. Or at least that’s how it might seem.
The Best Case Scenario was always “Hall Wins,” but even a top-ten finish could be a decent end to a bizarre story: man eschews Western training and wisdom, writes “God” under coach on entry forms, raises stagnating career back to life. “People just don’t do that,” Jeffreys says. “It transcends running, and it makes him so interesting.”
He goes on: “Obviously this changes the story a bit, but we weren’t completely sure until after the Olympics what the story was going to be. Above running, it’s about his faith and how that drives him.”
Then Jeffreys actually says that old cliché about how it’s not the destination, it’s the journey—yes, he knows how that must sound. But because of this, he says, the story he’s telling isn’t hindered by one race.
If this sounds like someone putting a silk hat on a pig, that’s partially true: Jeffreys would really, really like a better ending, and his only chance is at the New York City Marathon in November, which Hall committed to race in April. For that reason Jeffreys and his team have decided to continue filming through the end of NYC instead of wrapping post-London, as was the original plan. A positive result there could shift the finality of the Olympics race into a midpoint along the way to glory.
It’s fast footwork, sure; the decision to stay on has thrown all production estimates for the movie out the window. Editing has been pushed back to November at the earliest, so they’ll miss the SXSW 2013 Film Festival deadline originally planned (but as a positive they’ll have the next nine months to edit a cut to for the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, so maybe the Lord does work in mysterious ways). Just like Hall’s Olympic DNF, for Jeffreys the next few months are unscripted. He’s moved back in with his parents (how’s that for a creative definition of hell?), with the only for-sure being New York, where he hopes to film a different ending to his story.
What do you do when everything’s gone sideways? You and your production crew get really good at whistling. “That’s the one thing that I’ve learned the most on making a documentary: don’t plan ahead at all,” Jeffreys says. “It’s all going to change.”