'Million Dollar Arm' Director Gillespie Discusses Filming, Traveling in India

Starring Jon Hamm, Disney movie tells story of search for pro baseball players in India
by Zach Everson Posted May 21st 2014 12:43a.m.
The travel news/travel buzz editor at MapQuest, Zach's pitching arm is valued at about 50 cents. Follow him on Twitter at @z_everson.

India features prominently in the movie, with director Craig Gillepsie (Lars and the Real Girl, Fright Night) and his cast and crew shooting in Mumbai, Lucknow and Agra with the second unit filming in Udaipur and Jaipur as well. 

Here, in a lightly edited transcript of our phone interview, Gillepsie discusses the challenges of shooting a movie in India, whether his visit (his first) changed him as much as it did Bernstein and what travelers to the subcontinent need to know. He also shared photos from his travels.

India has a reputation for being completely different that any other place on Earth. Bernstein touched on that sentiment in his Skype calls with his tenant back home and was  different when he came back. Did you experience anything like that?

It was an honest portrayal of my experience arriving there. It was kind of interesting, that character parallel, with JB arriving for the first time and us turning up for the first time. There are these amazing sites, this mix of the modern and the old, the extremes in wealth. It is just an assault on the senses, in the best way. 

Do you have plans to go back to India anytime soon?

Not yet. We were there for two months, so I was thoroughly entrenched. The most enjoyable part of it was working with the Indian people and the crew that we had and just this sort of can-do attitude and humor that they had with everything. We made many friendships there.

Did you have an experience similar to Bernstein's when he first arrived in India to set up his office [spoiler: nothing was ready and some palms needed to be greased]?

I honestly did. It was a lot of trying to figure out locations and "Well, you can't shoot here" and "Why can't we shoot here?" "You just can't." You'd reason and push it and eventually somehow you'd get a yes. Ok, I don't know what changed, but you move forward. 

"There are these amazing sites, this mix of the modern and the old, the extremes in wealth. It is just an assault on the senses, in the best way."

– Craig Gillespie, director of Million Dollar Arm

What's your next project?

It's not quite announced yet, but I'm in the prep of doing another project with Disney which I'm very excited about.

Will it involve traveling to some far-flung destination again?

Not out of the States. That was part of the allure of doing this film, the opportunity to go to India and experience that and being in these real environments. The village we shot in was straight out of North Mumbai. We got to go in these worlds that, as a tourist, you never really have the opportunity for.

The second day I was there, we were scouting villages. I went to this village I'd checked out across a field from another village that looked like it might have a better visual presence. So I just walked over there with a guide that we had from the area. I said to the guide, "Could I look in that person's home just to get a sense, because these guys [the Indian baseball players] came from villages very similar to this. He's like, "Let me ask." And he walked over to some elders sitting outside and they talked and he waved me over and he let me in, unannounced to his family. I just walk in and I find a woman cooking in the kitchen. I'm like, "hi!" Everybody was so friendly. It was really a beautiful experience to be able to step into their lives and see firsthand. 

When you're traveling personally, is that something you try to do as well, get off the beaten path and have experiences like that?

We certainly try to. Not as rough as that. Obviously we're with a crew and we're with guides. We shot in a village which is a four-hour drive from Delhi. There's no plumbing, there's no running water. You've got to be careful where you walk. It's like stepping back in time. There's just a pride and a joy that people took in their homes. In fact, all the kids at the end of the movie are from that village. I sort of did an open casting session with everybody in the village. We picked out a bunch of kids and filmed them the next day.

Did you ever feel a need to get away from your cast and crew and just be on your own while you were in India?

I would just lose them anyway. [Laughs.] I was way, way ahead of the crew when we were in that village. It was just literally myself and the guide. The first day we went into an area in Mumbai, a slum area, and we got to walk around for three hours and I just explored. I like to just forge ahead and find what looks interesting and inspiring.

While you were forging ahead, what did look interesting? What did inspire?

First and foremost, the friendliness of the people. The peacefulness. I didn't know what to expect. I would certainly startle some people, because I'd be in these narrow corridors about three-feet wide. When you look in a doorway, you're looking in somebody's kitchen. It was just a really welcoming environment.

With two months in India, you're kind of an expert in it from a travel standpoint. Any tips you picked up from traveling over there that you could share with our readers?

You have to be careful about not eating salads and things that can be washed with water. It's all about the water and not getting sick from it. Their immune system is so much stronger than ours in that sense. We're a little more fragile.

Million Dollar Arm is rated PG for mild language and some suggestive content. For tickets, showtimes and reviews, check out Moviefone.

Slideshow: Photos from Gillespie's travels in India
Slideshow: Photos from Gillespie's travels in India