Mark Story: Documentary about UK basketball fans 'a labor of love' for filmmakers

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistOctober 7, 2013 

Film director Jason Epperson said the ultimate challenge when one is striving to create a documentary that will fully capture the phenomenon that is the Kentucky Wildcats basketball fan base comes down to the cutting.

"There are so many amazing fan stories," Epperson said last week. "The hard part of this is just deciding what you leave out of the film."

After more than three years of filming done by four Kentuckians, The Sixth Man: Bluesanity will be available for public consumption later this month. The documentary will have its official premier Oct. 17 at the Kentucky Theater. After an invitation-only private screening at 7 p.m., there will be two public showings of the film at 9 and 11 p.m. (tickets are $8).

(A DVD of the film will be available for sale starting later this month. For buying information, go to www.sixthmanmovie.com)

Being a Kentucky basketball fan "really is unique, there's nothing like it," said Lee Cruse, the WLEX-TV personality who is one of The Sixth Man's four producers.

"There may be larger fan bases, Alabama football, the New York Yankees, Manchester United (soccer), but I don't think there's any other fan base where (their favorite team) is so much a part of the culture. In the film, we interview fans who moved here from other places, and they all say there's nothing like it."

To capture the full-on Kentucky basketball fan experience, the film makers — Epperson, Cruse and brothers Tim and Steve Bates — filmed throughout the 2011-12 UK basketball season. You might recall, that year ended with Kentucky cutting down nets after winning its eighth NCAA title.

"The only bad thing for us," Epperson said, "is we didn't really get to enjoy a championship season because we were so focused on trying to make sure we got the right things filmed."

Among the Cats fans you will see in the film are the two men who famously fought at a Georgetown dialysis clinic over the 2012 UK-Louisville Final Four game; Darren Moscoe, Rupp Arena's dancing "Boogie Man;" and Reese Kemp, the teenager with cystic fibrosis who has been befriended by Kentucky basketball figures like John Wall and Nerlens Noel.

Celebrity UK backers who appear included Hunger Games star Josh Hutcherson; country music singers Laura Bell Bundy and Eddie Montgomery; actors Josh Hopkins (Cougar Town) and Steve Zahn (You've Got Mail); and Kevin Richardson and Brian Littrell of the Backstreet Boys.

The celeb most identified with UK basketball fandom, actress Ashley Judd, does not appear.

"We just never could make that connection," Cruse said. "Whether Ashley just didn't want to do it or 'her people' weren't relaying our requests to her, I don't know."

Among basketball notables you will see are John Calipari, Jay Bilas, Joe B. Hall — and the man who broke many a Kentucky fan's heart on a Saturday evening in 1992, Christian Laettner.

"He was great for this film, really respectful of Kentucky and Kentucky fans. Who could believe that?" said Epperson. "To me, Christian Laettner was the biggest surprise of this whole process."

Epperson, a married 37-year-old father of three, gained attention in 2007 when legendary Hollywood film director Steven Spielberg selected the Winchester resident as one of 50 contestants to compete on a reality TV show designed to boost up-and-coming film makers. Epperson finished as runner-up on On the Lot.

Since then, he has made his living directing films, commercials, TV shows and music videos. Earlier this year he released a documentary on the aftermath of the 1988 Carrollton bus crash, an accident caused by a drunk driver that killed 27 people, mostly schoolchildren.

Epperson traces his interest in Kentucky basketball to Rex Chapman's heyday. "Since I got into filmmaking, I've always wanted to do a UK basketball film," he said.

Designed to be an affectionate look at the Kentucky basketball "fan-demonium," Cruse said the film does explore the underlying causes of some of the over-the-top aspects of the Big Blue Nation. There's even a psychiatrist in the film trying to explain the phenomenon.

"Without giving it away, (the psychiatrist) says it's like shooting up, but with no real bad side effect," Cruse said.

The Sixth Man: Bluesanity cost around $100,000 to make, Epperson said.

"That does not include the time or expenses we put into it in terms of travel and getting interviews," he said. "For all four of us, this very much was a labor of love."

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230.Email: mstory@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: markstory.bloginky.com.

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