The Cool Way Clemson Football Helped The Disney+ Film Safety Capture Its Game Scenes

Clemson players

College sports have been a beacon of light in what has been a particularly difficult year. While many of us struggle with obstacles, the weekends (as of late) have bene filled with college and professional sporting events as athletes adhere to safety protocols and learn how to compete during complicated times. In short, it’s the ideal time for an inspirational sports movie like Safety to hit Disney+ and teach us all the value of overcoming adversity, on the field and off.

Directed by Reginald Hudlin (Marshall), Safety will tell the true life story of Clemson University football standout Ray McElrathbey, a freshman at the school who had to adopt and raise his little brother while also attending school and playing ball. Clemson, over the past few seasons, has become a hot-bed for football talent, with the Clemson Tigers winning National Championships in 2016 and 2018 under head coach Dabo Swinney. The trailer for Safety just landed, and we have it for you at the top of this article.

Reginald Hudlin’s pedigree with Marshall suggests the type of inspirational sports movie that Safety might be, but then I tell you that it’s produced by Mark Ciardi, and you should sit up and pay attention. Ciardi’s credits include such motivational hits as The Rookie with Dennis Quaid, Secretariat, Mark Wahlberg’s Invincible and Kurt Russell’s Miracle. The man knows how to find (and to film) memorable sports dramas.

As you can see in the Safety trailer, the movie makes excellent use of “Death Valley,” the nickname for the Clemson Tigers’ home stadium, and in an exclusive interview with CinemaBlend, Mark Ciardi revealed the crazy circumstances under which the Safety team was allowed to film its pivotal sports-action sequences. He said:

The school was fantastic. We got to shoot on campus. We started production there, and shot all the exterior shots. And we were allowed 11 minutes at halftime of a live game. You know, you don’t know if people are going to stay in their seats, or if they're going to – because it's one of the few schools that you can leave at halftime and go tailgate and then come back. So we were aware that we needed to publicize this, and make this a love letter to Clemson. And everyone supported it. The fans were going crazy.

College football is enormous in the South, and Clemson University’s “Death Valley” is one of those locations that you can not film somewhere else (say, in California or upstate New York), and hope that fans or alumni don’t notice. Clemson’s Memorial Stadium and its capacity crowd of 81,000 needed to show up for Safety. According to producer Mark Ciardi, they did just that:

It was so loud there (when we filmed). They said it was the third loudest they'd ever heard that stadium. Like, they gave these different games once. One against Florida State, and in the Eighties, once against Notre Dame. And then this one. So it was like really, really amazing to get that authentic flavor to it. And you know, we had guys (in the cast) that had played at different SEC schools that were now putting on the Clemson uniform. That was pretty funny. There were a couple of Alabama guys, and they had just played, and lost, to Clemson the year before. And it was like, it was very hard to put that Clemson uniform on, but they were great.

Coincidentally, Safety producer Mark Ciardi said that the creative team took its cue from another iconic college football film as they scrambled onto the field and used their 11 minutes to get authentic football action shots. Ciardi told CinemaBlend:

We really tried to replicate a lot of what Rudy did. Because they also got to shoot at halftime of a live game. And it really shows when you can open that camera up, where you're not trying to cut, shoot down, and keep the crowd out of it. It was the opposite for us. We got cameras that were down low that you could get that perspective of the crowd.

It can only help make this inspirational football film look all the more realistic, as is implied in the new Safety trailer that just arrived. Safety will be on Disney+ starting on December 11, where it co-stars Jay Reeves, Thaddeus J. Mixson, Corinne Foxx, Matthew Glave, and James Badge Dale.

Sean O'Connell
Managing Editor

Sean O’Connell is a journalist and CinemaBlend’s Managing Editor. He's frequently found on Twitter at @Sean_OConnell. ReelBlend cohost. A movie junkie who's Infatuated with comic-book films. Helped get the Snyder Cut released, then wrote a book about it.