Football didn’t seem likely to be part of Joshua Adler’s life when he left Macon after high school.
Yet Adler’s first documentary film, “Living the Fantasy,” is about the rise of high-stakes fantasy football, with players earning six- and seven-figure payouts in certain online leagues.
“The irony of my life is I played four days of high school football at Stratford (Academy) and hated every second of it,” he said.
The Adler family moved to Middle Georgia from New York City when Adler’s late father, Paul, got a job running the technology for a kaolin company. Baseball was more popular in their home, and Adler remains an avid Atlanta Braves fan to this day.
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That made the eventual topic for the film something of a shock for Adler’s mother, Deborah.
“I’m actually stunned by it because football was never a part of our family dynamics,” she said.
Adler instead chose to pursue theater because he enjoyed acting and writing. He was also in the band at Stratford, and band director Laura Voss, also the school’s fine arts chairwoman, recalled his time at the school.
“I’m so proud of him,” she said. “He was always a great student and a strong, creative person in the arts.”
THE FANTASY BEGINS
After graduating from high school in 1993, Adler attended Kenyon College in Ohio before heading off to Los Angeles to take a shot at a writing career.
It was during that time that he found an interest in fantasy football, where players select professional athletes for their own teams and collect points based on the athletes’ performance in real-life games.
“I fell in love with it after college,” he said, noting that he had already been a fantasy baseball player. “I did my first fantasy football league and didn’t even know players’ names.”
With his new fantasy football team, Adler found himself becoming more invested in National Football League games, but it was still always just for fun, even if he was playing in a league with money on the line.
That wasn’t always the case for competitors, whom he witnessed unleashing profanity-laced and angry chat messages about players they had never met. And that’s when he got the idea for his film.
“Who is so obsessed with this stupid game that we’re playing, that I enjoy playing?” he remembers wondering. “I want to learn who these people are.”
So Adler, who also has a master’s degree in film from Columbia University in New York, pitched the idea for a movie following several players from the Fantasy Football World Championship leagues, which hold their player drafts in Las Vegas. Within a week, he had secured the investors for the movie’s six-figure budget, and he began working on it with his company, LPA Productions.
The company is named after his 4-year-old son, Lucas Parker Adler.
“It’s impossible to raise money for a film, and the one thing I realized is, look, fantasy sports is huge,” he said, noting that he wants to shoot a documentary about adoption one day.
TELLING A STORY
“Living the Fantasy” went from idea to production during the 2014 football season in a matter of months. While the movie addresses the ins and outs of fantasy football, both in more traditional, season-long leagues and the emerging industry of weekly leagues, that was never the goal behind it.
Instead, Adler aimed to direct a film that took a look at the lives of those who participate in such events, following people such as 48-year-old Kimra Schleicher. A lawyer by trade, Schleicher went from her all-female fantasy league to one of the most respected players in the game, ranked No. 8 in the world.
“She’s the most feared person in fantasy -- and the sweetest person you’ll meet,” Adler said.
The film also features interview segments from actor Nick Bakay, who participated in the FFWC festivities. Adler was able to secure the time with Bakay in part because he is also a Kenyon graduate.
“I probably had the most fun I had in the hour I spent with him because he had the funniest things to say,” he said.
Humor also played a part in the selection of the film’s narrator, comedian and actor Michael Rapaport, who has had roles in multiple movies and television series. Adler said he heard Rapaport in a radio interview “hysterically talking about fantasy” and reached out through his agent.
“We’re actually really happy to have Mike,” he said. “What’s fun about him is he’s just really passionate about fantasy.”
On the flip side, Adler chose producer Andeep Singh because she has no interest in the subject. That way he could meet another goal of his movie, to appeal to a wider audience than just fantasy sports enthusiasts.
He said his mother and wife, Lara, are not into football, but he wants them to enjoy his work.
“Because if they like this movie, I was successful,” he said.
The film, which is available on DirecTV, Amazon and iTunes, hit its mark with his mother.
“Actually, it’s brilliantly made, and it does draw you in,” Deborah said. “It really explains how fantasy football works.”
To contact writer Jeremy Timmerman, call 744-4331.