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How A Ben Affleck Movie Influenced Disney+’s Rise, According To Director Akin Omotoso

There are several important aspects that a filmmaker must consider when crafting a basketball movie. It should have a compelling story, layered characters and of course, effective basketball sequences. Over the years, directors have employed different methods when it comes to filming such scenes and, as a result, viewers have been treated to unique styles. Through his work on Rise (which can be accessed with a Disney+ subscription), director Akin Omotoso managed to add to this great tradition by capably recreating the on-court theatrics of Giannis and Thanasis Antetokounmpo. And believe it or not, the movie’s techniques were actually influenced by a Ben Affleck movie. 

Akin Omotoso is a self-proclaimed sports fan, who has a great deal of respect for the game of basketball. So when it came to Rise, he put a lot of thought into how he wanted to film scenes in which the sport was being played. And he had some talented collaborators to help him out in that department. When I spoke with him during the junket for the Disney+ movie, Omotoso showered praise on his basketball coordinator, Aimee McDaniel. The film industry veteran brought a lot of experience, including her work on Ben Affleck’s The Way Back, which set the tone for how this latest production would be handled:

Aimee [McDaniel] was one of the first people we hired because she worked on The Way Back, and we really liked what she did on The Way Back, and she's done a whole bunch of things. But there was something in The Way Back about that reality of how the basketball was shot that we liked. And then also just as a basketball fan, and so I've had some ideas in my head of like, ‘Oh, it'd be great to try this shot out on this.’ So really she and her team, they, according to the story and dramatic beats, we just went back and forth on getting that choreography right.

2020’s The Way Back sees Ben Affleck play an alcoholic construction worker who seemingly finds a shot at redemption once he becomes the basketball coach at his former high school, where he was a sports phenom. The R-rated film featured a sweet story and boasted some strong scenes that took place on the hardwood, despite the fact that its director doesn’t actually view it as a sports movie. Akin Omotoso and his team were wise to bring Aimee [McDaniel] on for their movie, and her efforts shine through in the finished product.

Ben Affleck and Brandon Wilson in The Way Back

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Though the Nigerian filmmaker did want to inject a level of realism into the Antetokounmpos’ sports biopic, he also wanted to make space for a bit of movie magic at times. He went on to explain during our conversation that he was aiming to make Rise both “realistic” and “cinematic”: 

I really wanted to get the sense that yes, you're watching basketball, but it’s also a movie. So I also felt like you needed to use cinematic… Don't be afraid to take it into the ‘not real.’ You know what I mean? Because you know, it's a film. So at the same time, you just want to say, ‘Hey, look, it's also a film.’ So film allows us to do certain things. And I wasn't afraid of pushing those boundaries, where I would say to people, ‘Listen, in a real game, this shot is probably not realistic. But in a movie, it’s realistic.’

When it comes to movies like these, one does want to be as authentic as possible, there are certainly moments where extraordinary things happen purely for entertainment purposes. I mean, one can look no further than Happy Gilmore or some of the Rocky movies to find scenes that aren’t entirely feasible. Yet that doesn’t (or shouldn’t) take away from one’s enjoyment of said flicks.

Now that Akin Omotoso has gotten his feet wet with Rise, I could definitely see him taking on another basketball movie somewhere down the line. And should he do so, I hope he’ll continue to utilize the talents of people like Aimee McDaniel, who can help him draw the cinematic line between what’s real and what isn’t.

Rise is now streaming (opens in new tab) among some of the best movies on Disney+. Be sure to check out CinemaBlend’s schedule of upcoming movie releases to see what else is coming your way this year.

Erik Swann
Erik Swann

Covering superheroes, sci-fi, comedy, and almost anything else in film and TV. I eat more pizza than the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.