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Interview with Peter Berg

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HBO

What are you trying to accomplish with this series?

Peter Berg

It was our goal to slow down the speed that a lot of sports programming is moving at today. The common trend is louder, faster, brighter, slicker. We wanted to slow it down to give the subjects time to breathe. Our theory in 'State of Play' is to focus on the thematic. To look at an issue like parenting, or happiness, or resiliency, rage, drug use... whatever it is, to paint it in slightly broader strokes and take our time with it.

HBO

Do you start with the topic or do you look for characters and stories and craft the rest around them?

Peter Berg

We generally start with ideas that we're interested in exploring. We've got shows we want to do on redemption, on falling from grace, on fear, on flow in athletes. We try to come up with big, broad ideas and then decide how we want to get to them in a personal way.

HBO

What do you look for in the subjects? How do you select them?

Peter Berg

In the case of 'Happiness,' Brett Favre, Tiki Barber, Michael Strahan, all were very forthcoming about their challenges in reinventing themselves when they got out of football. Tiki had some very well documented problems after he retired. He was a logical choice for us and was very willing to talk.

HBO

Are you concerned that people might not spare sympathy for former athletes who at least had a few years on top of the world and earned a good amount of money?

Peter Berg

We used to think that way, but now we're more aware of the realities of what life is like for them. You look at the average NFL career, which is under three years, and the contracts are not guaranteed. A lot of guys have financial problems when they get out. People can call it "Rich People Problems," but I don't think that's what it is. These football players get out of the sport and they're hurting physically; they don't have the money everyone thinks they do. More importantly, they don't have anything to do. This incredibly dynamic life full of brothers and teammates is suddenly over. In the film, we used these guys as a way in to explore the idea of happiness in all of our lives.

HBO

This film deals with the psychological downside of giving up playing, but not with the players who have suffered the most debilitating physical effects of the game. Was that by design?

Peter Berg

That's a different story. It is somewhat part of this one - Wayne Chrebet has had some real issues with concussions, and Strahan will tell you it takes him two hours to get up and out of bed in the morning because of the pain. But brain injuries, concussions and everything else that we're seeing is such a big issue that I really felt it was another show. For this, I wanted to look at the reality of what it means to go from living an extraordinarily full life to being unplugged from it. I thought brain injuries would overpower that.

HBO

Pro sports leagues do a lot of prep work for athletes who are starting out, do they have programs in place to help players who are finishing their careers?

Peter Berg

They have all kinds of job programs and counseling. But as Strahan says, there's just nothing like it. They have a real hard time letting go.

HBO

You mention Michael Strahan. His successful media career might be the best case scenario for a former athlete - how does that compare to life on the field?

Peter Berg

He'll say it doesn't compare. And he had to work so hard to get there. He was terrified of slipping into depression - that drove him to get into the media and attack it as hard as he can.

HBO

You had former Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell on the panel. How do the experiences of former athletes compare to those who have been in the military?

Peter Berg

I've always been close to the football community and have a sense of what life is like in that culture. When I did the film 'Lone Survivor' I got very close with the Navy SEAL community and I found the similarities to be extraordinary: The work periods are the same - six or seven months of intense work, followed by some off-time. The teamwork, the closeness to your brothers, the violence, the intensity, the passion, the stakes. Football doesn't have the same stakes, obviously, but it's about as close as you can get. But maybe the biggest similarity is the trouble that football players and military - particularly Navy Seals - have when it's over. When you're not with your guys anymore. When you're just alone at home with your memories, it becomes very challenging. It was interesting to see Marcus and Michael sitting there, understanding each other like only two brothers can.

Happiness

State of Play

November 18th at 10 PM ET