Behind-the-Scenes of Disney’s McFARLAND USA – All About Attitude

On February 20, 2015, Disney will release their inspirational new film McFARLAND USA.  Directed by Niki Caro, and starring Kevin Costner, the film gets its inspiration from the incredible true story of a group of young inexperienced runners from the small town of McFarland, California.  It shows how they work to build a cross-country team under the direction of Coach Jim White, a newcomer to their predominantly Latino town.  Concentrating on the kids, their family’s struggles and eventual relationship with the White family rather than the sport of running itself, the movie becomes an effective depiction of a small town in California and the people who inhabit it.  Continue reading for our discussion with the cast, crew, and real-life people who inspired the film, and click here for more images, trails, and news for McFARLAND USA.


Coach Jim White (Kevin Costner) photo by Ron Phillips ©Disney 2015

On Feb 7, 2015 Disney welcomed the press to a special Q&A to discuss the behind the scenes of the film.  Members of the cast and the crew answered questions and opened up about their feelings regarding the importance of the movie’s themes.  The panel was made up of director Niki Caro and actors Kevin Costner, Johnny Ortiz, Sergio Avelar, Carlos Pratts and Hector Duran.  Then the second half of the Q&A brought out actors Rafael Martiniz, Ramiro Rodriguez and Michael Aguero, along with the real life coach Jim White and three of the actual students (now all grown up) who were part of the true story: David Diaz, Damacio Diaz and Danny Diaz.


(L-R) Runners Victor Puentes, Johnny Samaniego, Danny Diaz, David Diaz and Damacio Diaz attend the world premiere of “McFarland, USA” at The El Capitan Theatre on February 9, 2015 in Hollywood, California. Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez for Disney


L to R: Kevin Costner (Coach Jim White) and real-life Coach Jim White on set of McFarland, USA. Photo by Ron Phillips ©Disney 2015


Costner, who has starred in his share of great sports films (Bull Durham, Field of Dreams and Tin Cup), discussed his attraction to the project by saying, “I had read the story some time ago… in Sports Illustrated and I remember being very taken with it.”  He went on to talk about coach Jim White, as well as the many other great coaches out there who spend their lives trying to inspire the kids growing up in the United States. “There are these men and women all over America who are affecting our young people.  Relationships that coaches establish with young people is something that carries through their life if it’s done right.”


L to R: Jose Cardenas (Johnny Ortiz), Danny Diaz (Ramiro Rodriguez), Thomas Valles (Carlos Pratts), Victor Puentes (Sergio Avelar), Damacio Diaz (Michael Aguero), Coach Jim White (Kevin Costner), Johnny Sameniego (Hector Duran) and David Diaz (Rafael Martinez) photo by Ron Phillips ©Disney 2015


Director Niki Caro (Whale Rider, North Country) also talked about her attraction to the story by saying, “I was inspired, simple as that…  and not only by Jim White and the original team and the scale of their achievement…  But I was really inspired by the people.  By how hard they work.  By the commitment to their families, their faith, their community.  And it was great for me to be able to light that up.”   It is this inspiration that Caro talks about that allows the film to be about more than just the sport of running.  Costner added a little later that, “If you want to make a great sports movie, don’t put too much sports in it.  It’s the backdrop.  It’s the environment…”


L to R: Actor Carlos Pratts (Thomas Valles) and Director Niki Caro on set of McFarland, USA. Photo by Ron Phillips ©Disney 2015


The actors themselves also talked about why they were all so proud to be a part of the film.  Carlos Pratts who played Thomas, one of the young kids, said, “I think for the longest time, we as Latinos, just in general wanted to see ourselves in a better light.   This film shows us that.”  Also, recognizing that the film can be seen as inspirational to everyone, not just Latinos, he continued, “The only difference is the color of our skin, and you know we came into this world the same and we’re gonna leave the same.”  Hector Duran who also played one of the kids, Johnny, agreed by saying, “I feel like this will open the doors for not only Latinos, but for all other ethnicities that are waiting for their recognition.”


L to R: Damacio Diaz (Michael Aguero), Thomas Valles (Carlos Pratts), David Diaz (Rafael Martinez), Danny Diaz (Ramiro Rodriguez) and Jose Cardenas (Johnny Ortiz) ©Disney 2015


When the actual Jim White came out to talk, he addressed his technique of coaching by saying, “I think my whole philosophy on everything is about attitude…  The most important thing for me to transfer to these kids is the attitude that hard work can transfer into the classroom, and into their jobs, and into their real lives.”


Coach Jim White on set of McFarland, USA. Photo by Ron Phillips ©Disney 2015


The real life Diaz brothers were also in attendance and while talking about the inspiration of the film David Diaz said, “It’s such an inspiration to see that kids can come out of the fields, and kids can have some success with the right attitude and with the work ethics that you can pick up from cross-country.”  His brother Danny Diaz followed this by commenting, “I think that it’s gonna inspire kids to not only do their best in sports or education, but to know that there’s bigger and better things out there, and there’s these doors that can open.  You can do everything that you set your mind to.”


L to R: Coach Jim White (Kevin Costner) and David Diaz (Rafael Martinez) Photo by Ron Phillips ©Disney 2015


Of course, one thing that I always wonder about whenever Hollywood takes on a true-life story is the question of how accurate the film is to the actual events.  Damacio Diaz made sure to include that he was, “…happy to see Disney portraying us how we really were.  We’re working in the fields and I’m glad that the whole world is gonna be able to see that.  Because (for) so many, you know, Latino families, Hispanic families, that’s our life.  …I’m so happy that Disney is portraying us, um, how things really were.”


Behind the Scenes on set of McFarland, USA. Photo by Ron Phillips ©Disney 2015


In conclusion, McFARLAND USA is an emotional story about the kids of McFarland, California, their families and the coach that changed their lives forever.  Costner acknowledged, “It’s a great lesson to us, McFarland, that if we give our children, our young men, our young women goals, we let them see what’s possible, they can exceed beyond their own wildest expectations.  It’s just a very good lesson, this movie.”  Caro added, “I get a big kick out of it, actually.  Working with real communities.  And this is a real story, it really is…  To go in and tell a story that is not only meaningful, but is true and real… this has been a deeply, deeply satisfying experience for me and I hope it will be for the audience too.”


Director Niki Caro, photo by Ron Phillips ©Disney 2015


McFARLAND USA opens wide on February 20, 2015. For more family movie news, be sure to follow Adventures by Daddy on twitter and “like” our facebook page too.

About Mark Oguschewitz

Mark Oguschewitz moved to Los Angeles, California after graduating with a film degree from Columbia College in Chicago, Ill. Pursuing a career in the industry, Mark became an award winning freelance editor. He is also known for being the creative consultant for the podcast "Skywalking through Neverland" and co-host of the Podcast "Talking Apes TV." Mark's short film "Gourmet" took the Best Micro-Short honor at the International Horror and Sci-Fi film festival in 2007. His spare time is all about movies. It's not just entertainment, but has become more of a real passion, as he tries to see everything he can. Art house or Blockbuster – It doesn't matter, he loves them all.