SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Ryan Coogler chose to use his first feature length film to tell the story of Oscar Grant. That decision has the writer/director and former Hornet wide receiver linked to another Oscar as he has been tabbed an early favorite to be nominated for an Academy Award.
Coogler returned to Sacramento State on Tuesday for a busy day of media interviews and a screening of his "Fruitvale Station" in front of a full house at Century Theaters. The movie traces the final day of Grant who was shot at the Fruitvale BART station in the early morning hours of New Year's Day in 2009 and later died from the injuries.
The film debuted at the Sundance Film Festival where it won the Grand Jury Award for dramatic film and also claimed the audience award. Since its limited release in select cities two weeks ago, it has continued to garner critical acclaim and has earned Coogler prominent headlines across the country. The movie opens nationwide on Friday, July 26.
Coogler's day on Tuesday began at Good Day Sacramento just past 8 a.m. An interview with Beth Ruyak on Capital Public Radio immediately followed before he returned to the Broad Fieldhouse to make a "Made at Sac State" feature. Interviews with KFBK 1530 AM, Sacramento News & Review, Capital Weekly, the Sacramento Observer, News 10 and KCRA 3 packed his afternoon session.
That evening, he introduced the film to an audience which included former teammates Mike Brannon, Cyrus Mulitalo and Terrell Baker, and also participated in a question and answer session following the showing. Throughout the day, Coogler stressed the lessons he learned at Sacramento State in both football and in the classroom.
Coogler was a two-time all-Big Sky Conference selection as a receiver and also a three-time Big Sky all-academic selection as a finance major. He led the Hornets in receiving in 2005 and 2007 (he redshirted in 2006) and finished his career with 112 grabs for 1,213 yards and six touchdowns. His receptions total ties him for fourth in school history while his yardage ranks 19th.
His quest to make a career in film started late in his college career, forcing him to take as many as 24 units during a semester. Coogler praised Professors Dr. Roberto Pomo and Steve Buss for providing him with the skills to make the film. After graduating from Sacramento State in 2007, he enrolled in film school at USC.
The making of "Fruitvale Station" placed Coogler on the fast track of independent film makers. He submitted the screen play to the Sundance Project where it was reviewed for the first time in the January of 2012. Once the film was green lighted, with the backing of executive producer Forest Whitaker, Coogler began assembling the cast which included Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz and Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer.
With a minimal budget and a tight shooting schedule of 20 days, Coogler was forced to return to his football roots to help prepare some of the scenes.
"Because of the schedule, BART would only allow us to film from 1 to 5 in the morning," Coogler explained. "Like football, we created a walk through at a school nearby to practice. We then would eat together, just like training table, before heading over to film."
There will not be much rest time for Coogler as it was reported on July 24 that he will co-write and direct "Creed". The film, which will focus on the grandson of Apollo Creed, will be the latest installment in the "Rocky" series. Jordan will return to team with Coogler in the leading role and Sylvester Stallone is also reportedly on board.