Colin Hanks on Dennis Rodman, storytelling and juggling acting with filmmaking

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 22: Director Colin Hanks attends the ESPN Sports Shorts at Regal Battery Park Cinemas on April 22, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Gilbert Carrasquillo/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 22: Director Colin Hanks attends the ESPN Sports Shorts at Regal Battery Park Cinemas on April 22, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Gilbert Carrasquillo/FilmMagic) /

Known more for his acting ability, having starred in films such as King Kong and Orange County and made appearances on TV shows such as Mad Men and his current CBS program, Life in Pieces, Colin Hanks is also an accomplished documentary filmmaker, with feature-length and short films to his credit, including a new film for ESPN’s 30 For 30 Shorts series. Debuting at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, The Amazing Adventures of Wally and the Worm tells the story of ten days in the life of Chicago Bulls assistant trainer Wally Blasé as he attempted to corral the likes of one Dennis Rodman toward the end of the 1996-’97 NBA season.

The Amazing Adventures of Wally and the Worm is included in a five-film program of ESPN 30 for 30 shorts debuting at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. Screenings occur on Thursday, April 27 at 5:30 p.m. at Regal Cinemas Battery Park Stadium 11, and on Saturday, April 29 at 12:30 p.m. at Cinepolis Chelsea 8.

Hanks spoke to FanSided about the creation of the film, his aspirations as a documentarian and where he finds inspiration.

FanSided: This isn’t your first time at Tribeca, having been in Elvis & Nixon, but you’re making your Tribeca directorial debut with The Amazing Adventures of Wally and the Worm. This is also your fourth documentary. In a 2015 interview with Vanity Fair, you said that you think “real stories are much more interesting.” What is it about real stories that draws you to them?

Hanks: Depending on the story, I just think that when you have a scenario which is almost too good to be true, or the details so rich and engaging and with so many layers to a story, when people go in knowing that the story is true, it makes it that much more enjoyable. As an actor, I’m always trying to find a real moment in something that’s staged – real joy, real humor, whatever. For me, I’ve always been really a big fan of documentaries simply because these are real people telling these stories. That’s one of the things that excites me about documentaries.

FanSided: Though you’re better-known as an actor, this isn’t your first foray into directing a film about sports, having done The Anti-Mascot in 2014. What brought you back to sports after two feature-length documentaries?

Hanks: Ironically, it’s just the timing of the release. We finished this documentary a year ago, after working on it for maybe two and a half years before. We had a relationship with Dan Silver at ESPN, who has been very instrumental in working with me on the documentary side. All of the documentaries are in various stages of completion… or procrastination. We were working on Wally and the Worm, and (The Anti-Mascot), while we were working on (All Things Must Pass: The Rise and Fall of Tower Records). It really comes down to Dan Silver. When we started this documentary, he was out in LA, and he asked if we had anything else for 30 for 30 shorts. I’d read Phil Jackson’s book (Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success), and there was a paragraph in his book about Wally. I just went, “Oh, that story’s hilarious.” I just thought it was funny! He even pitches it in the book as sort of Get Him to the Greek. I told Dan about it, but I didn’t know how to go about doing it. Dan just said, “Animate it!”

Over a couple of months, reaching out to Wally, getting in contact with Dennis’ camp, doing their interviews, while also working on Tower Records and doing the CBS show (Life in Pieces), they all come from the same place and the same time, sort of, it just takes a long time for it to come together. Being honest – the only reason I remember we finished this a year ago is because the day we finished editing was the day Prince died. It took a while to do the interviews, and it took a while for the animation. We spent a lot of time talking about what the animation should look like, the overall tone, what it should look like. The animation is labor-intensive, it’s extensive, and it took us a lot of time to find people who could do that. Once we did that, they turned it into this whole other amazing thing.

FanSided: There must be countless trainer-athlete bonding stories. What was it about this one that compelled you to want to make this film?

Hanks: I’m constantly looking for ideas for documentaries. Once I met Dan, we would always be talking about ideas, I would pitch him stuff, and he was always a sort of champion of good ideas. Really, what it was, I liked him, and I wanted to keep working with him, so I had to come up with different stuff to do. He’s no longer at ESPN; he’s at ABC, but I pitched him a couple of different shorts – a feature about the California Golden Seals. I was really just coming up with different ideas, and it was always just talking things out. I never would’ve thought of using animation because I have no experience with it. (Wally and the Worm)’s one of these stories where there’s really no way you can recreate it.

Basically, because 30 for 30 and Dan had animation experience, it wasn’t foreign to him. As soon as he said it, it took us a while to find animators and figure out what the rates are. It was like how Russ Solomon, the founder of Tower Records, once said, “Hire the right people, and get out of the way.” That’s what we tried to do with this. I would love to be able to do more animation. I am always wary of documentaries with an animation segment, but it would be fun to do another doc with animation because it adds another layer of satisfaction and enjoyment, not only to tell the story, but to hear the story be told.

FanSided: How long did it take to create the film, from idea inception to completion?

Hanks: I really genuinely don’t know. It took a long time, if only because there were so many different components on my plate at the time.

FanSided: Just curious: was there anything to Rodman’s hair color constantly changing in the animation, or was that just a subtle touch?

Hanks: We were having discussions about this, and the Dock Ellis video was going around – it’s such an interesting, crazy story, and the animation is so good. I was looking at it and trying to figure out what are the basic things I need to convey. Dennis’ hair was so colorful at points with the Bulls, where he’d have not just green hair, but every color. “It has to be colorful – just a crazy boost of color. There just needs to be bright colors.” I wanted the Worm to be the Technicolor Dreamcoat. I just said that the animation needs to be colorful, and since we’re dealing with it over the course of several days, wouldn’t it be funny if Dennis had different hair color every day? That’s one of the things animation allows you to do – that’s why I was so grateful that Dan Silver came up with the idea to do animation, because it really opens the door.

All the other documentaries I’ve done, the question is, “What are we seeing? What are we showing?” The idea of being able to animate these things – there’s hardly any photos. I was amazed Wally had any photos. We couldn’t re-create it on film; that’d be too expensive. With Dennis’ Lamborghinis, it’d be the most expensive short film of all time. I’ll give the animators a ton of credit. The little things they came up with, like Wally climbing in the sunroof, I never would’ve thought of that. I just told them one thing: “It needs to be colorful, and Dennis has to have different-colored hair.” The first time I saw it, going through editing, it was so exciting to essentially watch the movie and not know what was going to come up next. We spent a healthy amount of time refining that, improving it, making suggestions, and it turned what I thought was a fun story into an engaging, enjoyable adventure.

FanSided: Could you see yourself directing a full-length sports documentary in the future, and what sort of story would you look to tell given that kind of freedom?

Hanks: For whatever reason, I just gravitate toward what my interests are – two sports, two music. For me, it’s just fun. Sports are just one of my passions. I’ve been sitting here for five hours waiting to see when SportsCenter will play Sharks highlights from last night. Sports are the same thing as storytelling. This isn’t anything new. In playing in a different part of the sandbox than I’m accustomed to, I sort of went to my go-tos and went to my passions to look for stories. I looked at sports and music.

There’s part of me that still wants to do the Seals story. I also wanted to try and make a film – actually more of a short, really, depending on if a Canadian team wins (the Stanley Cup this year) – but this Canadian curse, not winning since 1993 with the (Montreal Canadiens). The insane conspiracy theories you can go into, it’s just as big as the Curse of the Bambino and the Curse of the Black Cat. When you’re talking about a country that can’t win a title in its national pastime, there’s something there. There are lots of great stories out there, but sometimes they’re difficult to tell. It’s the same thing as with Wally – “How do we tell this story, because it’s a great story, but how can we tell it?” Sometimes it takes you a while to figure that out. Hopefully we’ll be able to crack the code on some of the other ideas we have.

FanSided: Was there anything from the story that couldn’t make it into the film, either due to time or, perhaps in Dennis Rodman’s case, subject matter?

Hanks: It’s funny because I will totally admit this – there’s a reason why it’s a short. It really is just a collection of stories. Normally, you would say, “We go out to this club, this happens, then, as a result, this happens.” That’s how stories normally evolve. This one is just, “And then this happened, and then this happened,” and there isn’t a whole lot of struggle. Only at the end do you get to this resolution. The thing that surprised me is how close Dennis and Wally are and how they really bonded on this trip. It changed Wally’s life. Prior to that, he didn’t have anyone. It really changed him. There was a lot of stuff I wanted to include, none of which I can tell you. Ultimately, we wanted to keep it clean. There were certain things I really wanted to include, like them flying to Sacramento to see Dennis’ daughter. It was really sweet. It gives you this insight into athletes as human beings. Especially with Rodman being a larger than life figure, it’s fun to tell a story that humanizes him. He’s the Worm, but it’s fun to see a part of the Worm’s life through Wally. You put yourself in Wally’s shoes, and you say, “I don’t know if I could’ve survived two days with Rodman.”

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FanSided: Is there anything else you’d like people to know about the film?

Hanks: It’s meant to be a delightful little slice of unknown basketball history. It’s fun! It’s one of those fun stories that I just get a kick out of. The amount of crazy stuff that occurred is great. It’s fish out of water. Phil Jackson’s not wrong: It’s Almost Famous meets Get Him to the Greek. I’ll never NOT want to see that.