UT alumnus Rich Middlemas (B.S./JEM ’97) got accidental inspiration for his Oscar-winning documentary Undefeated while keeping up with UT football recruiting.
A self-described “crazed college football fan,” Middlemas happened to read a Memphis Commercial Appeal story in 2009 about O.C. Brown, a 16-year-old left tackle with the Manassas High School football team and became intrigued by his story. After sharing the article with his friends and fellow filmmakers, Dan Lindsay and T.J. Martin, they decided to make a documentary about the Manassas High team.
Two and one-half years later, Middlemas (producer), Martin (co-director), and Lindsay (co-director) were honored to be nominated for their first Academy Award, and thrilled to be called to the stage at the 84th Academy Awards to accept the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature.
While at UT, Middlemas received a degree in communications while majoring in broadcasting. He moved to Hollywood soon after graduating.
The production team struck gold after meeting with Manassas High volunteer Coach Bill Courtney and obtaining permission to shoot the underdog Tigers’ winning 2009 season, which resulted in the school’s first visit to the state playoffs in the school’s 110-year history. The film evolved from the story of an individual player, O.C. Brown, to one focused on the team and the volunteer coaches’ dedication to the future of the young men they were coaching.
As part of the production process, Middlemas, Martin and Lindsay became involved in the lives of the high school students they were filming. They taught video production to an advanced history class and helped them make their own documentary, which Martin described on his Academy Award questionnaire as one of his most rewarding life experiences.
Anna Patterson, current JEM student, has produced a short video based on her interview with Rich Middlemas. View her video here, http://vimeo.com/39083180.