BY MIKE LEONARD, PHOTOGRAPHY BY SHANNON ZAHNLE
David Anspaugh thinks for a moment and then recalls the first time he encountered Angelo Pizzo nearly 50 years ago.
“There was this staircase,” he begins. “He came down and he kind of did this little toss of his hair. He was part of the new pledge class, and I just loved him from the start.”
Sitting across the room, Pizzo breaks out into a bemused grin, as if to say, “Thanks, David, I knew I could count on you to say something completely ridiculous.”
Asking about the beginnings of their relationship was not unwarranted. After so many years as friends, collaborators, and, at times, each other’s most blistering critic, Anspaugh, like Pizzo a decade before him, has abandoned California and come home to Bloomington to stay.
The two pals will forever be linked as the director and screenwriter, respectively, of Hoosiers, the monumental film about the small-town basketball team that overcame all odds to win a fabled Indiana state championship. The low-budget film earned two Academy Award nominations and almost universal glowing reviews. The American Film Institute ranks it the fourth-best sports film of all time.
The native Hoosiers went on to make Rudy, the story of a not-so-good athlete whose dream was to suit up for the vaunted University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team. It, too, gained widespread acclaim as an inspirational film. No less a star than Kobe Bryant has proclaimed, “That film changed my life.”
Anspaugh and Pizzo also collaborated to make The Game of Their Lives, the story of how the unheralded United States soccer team came together to beat mighty England in the 1950 World Cup.
Both men have had enviable careers outside of each other’s spheres, with a young Anspaugh arising from obscurity to win two Emmy Awards for directing episodes of Hill Street Blues, the 1981–87 television series TV Guide called the best police series of all time. Pizzo rose rapidly through the ranks at Warner Bros. Television and Time-Life Films before making his name as a screenwriter. He currently is putting the final production touches on My All American, based on the true story of Freddie Steinmark, an undersized, crowd-favorite football player who helped lead the University of Texas to the 1969 national football championship before learning that a nagging bruise on his leg was not a bruise but, rather, cancer. Pizzo wrote the screenplay and, for the first time, also directed.
As filmmakers and practitioners of storytelling, Anspaugh and Pizzo recognize all too well that their relationship is a buddy story — maybe not of cinematic proportions but of a genuine close and enduring friendship that has entered a new phase. After nearly three decades living in Santa Monica and Ojai, California, Pizzo moved back to his hometown of Bloomington in 2004. Anspaugh — at Pizzo’s urging — came here from Los Angeles in June.