Original-Cin@TIFF Q&A: The makers of the doc Screwball on A-Rod's juicing and 'Florida f---ery'

South-Florida based doc makers Billy Corben and Alfred Spellman like to call themselves specialists in “Florida F---ery.”

Corben and Spellman are the director and producer of the TIFF doc Screwball, about baseball’s Biogenesis Scandal of 2013.

 Alex Rodriguez, all about the Benjamins

Alex Rodriguez, all about the Benjamins

Said scandal involved a fake Miami doctor named Anthony Bosch who provided testosterone and growth hormones to major league ball players, notably the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez (and to top college and high school players), and a disgruntled investor/tanning enthusiast named Porter Fischer who stole Bosch’s files to try to blackmail back $4,000 he was owed.

The cast of characters is gob-smackingly idiotic and thuggish, all the way up to Major League Baseball executives, who bought the stolen files to try and get the goods on A-Rod and suspend him (and A-Rod himself, who hired his own thugs).

Corben and Spellman have been down this road before, having previously made the doc Cocaine Cowboys and the ESPN 30 for 30 doc The U about the University of Miami’s unscrupulous football program.

 A-Rod as portrayed by a child in Screwball

A-Rod as portrayed by a child in Screwball

The noteworthy difference in Screwball, however, is that dramatized scenes of all the players in this drug scandal are performed by elementary school age child actors.

Original-Cin’s Jim Slotek sat down with Corben and Spellman to talk about Florida f---ery and how it related to baseball’s biggest doping scandal of this century.

ORIGINAL-CIN: I liked the casting of children in this movie. A-Rod does actually have a kind of baby face. But given how mordantly funny the story already is, aren’t you maybe gilding the lily casting kids? (Both laugh).

BILLY CORBEN:“Here’s how it happened. The title was always Screwball. We always saw it as this Elmore Leonard, Carl Hiassen, Coen Brothers-esque take on the story. Because the facts of it don’t make any sense. The motivations of the characters don’t make any sense. The way they respond to circumstances makes no sense. The fallout makes no sense. 

“It is truly a stranger-than-fiction only-in-Miami story. So we wanted to treat it with our tongue firmly placed in cheek. We had these wonderful, very vivid storytellers who spoke in dialogue. Literally, you would be flashing back with them as they recalled the scenes – I said this, and he said, this and then I said this.

“But we were faced with an interesting challenge, which is that when we did The U for ESPN, you’d interview a bunch of people and you’d use a glut of game footage. And this is not a sports movie. So, we didn’t have that. Most of our story took place in backrooms and fake doctors’ offices and hotels and nightclubs.

 Filmmakers Corben and Spellman, experts in “Florida f—-ery.”

Filmmakers Corben and Spellman, experts in “Florida f—-ery.”

“So, we took inspiration from Spike Jonze’ 1997 music video (for Biggie Smalls’) Sky’s The Limit. Biggie had just been killed and he was faced with the challenge of doing a posthumous video. And he faced it by doing a complete a completely straight-faced Bad Boy Records era video, complete with ridiculous mansion, gorgeous cars, girls in hot tubs popping bottles. 

“It was just that everybody in it was eight years old. There was a baby Biggie, a baby Puffy, a baby Lil’ Kim, a baby Busta Rhymes. And there was an off-Broadway musical called A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant that I had seen in the East Village and adored, with elementary school age children performing the story of L. Ron Hubbard.”

(At one point Corben and Spellman intended to film a doc about Scientology’s history in Florida, again with children. It didn’t happen, but they hung onto the concept).

OC: To make this doc work, you really needed the cooperation of both Tony Bosch and Porter Fischer.

CORBEN: “Right, who are not friends, in fact they are mortal enemies.”

ALFRED SPELLMAN: “The story had been on our radar since the Miami New Times broke the story in 2013. Tony reached out first, through some mutual friends, to say he was interested in making a documentary. And we were ready to do something with him, but he got sentenced to prison.”

CORBEN: “As you do.”

SPELLMAN: “But while Tony was away, we heard from Porter Fischer, who wanted to make a documentary as well. Totally independent of each other.”

“And the New Times story had entirely been based on Porter’s story. Tony had done 60 Minutes, Porter had done his own interviews. This was our chance to tie them together.”

CORBEN: “When they reached out to us - I was like, ‘I don’t really believe in stuff like this, but it certainly seems like the universe is trying to tell us something.’ When you’re approached independently by the central figures in this incredible only-in-Miami scandal, it seemed like the time was now. Often these stories, have to ripen. But we’re only five years on from the scandal at this point.”

OC: One of the incredible things to me was this wasn’t even the first time Bosch was caught. When he was caught doping (the Dodgers’) Manny Ramirez (in 2009), that actually made his career. (According to Bosch, A-Rod’s first words on meeting him were, “I want what you gave Manny Ramirez.”)

SPELLMAN: “It’s kind of the world we live in today, where your actions don’t necessarily come with consequences, and the scoundrels don’t necessarily receive their just desserts.”

CORBEN: “The Florida today is the America of tomorrow. If you want to know what challenges will befall us as nation in years to come, you need only look at Florida and specifically South Florida. Miami, especially, has been a place where honesty and integrity is not valued. In fact, they are liabilities. And lying and cheating and stealing seem to be a more effective means of success. 

“They got a Governorship out of it, and subsequently the Presidency, (Trump’s) a part-time Florida man, at Mar-a-Lago.”

SPELLMAN: “You talk to federal agents in South Florida and they’ll tell you that frauds and scams are perfected in South Florida and then exported across the country - whether you’re talking Medicare fraud or IRS tax refund frauds or insurance fraud.”

OC: Has the Miami Chamber of Commerce approached you guys yet to be their official spokesmen? (Both laugh).

CORBEN: The comedian Jeff Ross said, ‘We only roast the ones we love.’ I would argue the responsibility of citizens in a free society is to call out our problems. I once heard from someone in local government in Florida who said, ‘More often than not, we need to be embarrassed into doing the right thing. That is the role of the fourth estate. That is the role the media plays.’

“And it’s true. You have to be embarrassed into doing the right thing, unfortunately. And if you love something, you want it to be the best it can be.”