Never could they have imagined Tyler emerging as trail blazer in his sport or the project taking them to the third-largest city in Israel or Japan's capital city.
Tyler, of course, bypassed his senior year at San Diego High School and a scholarship offer from Louisville to play professionally overseas, a highly controversial decision that sparked backlash nationwide. The 6-foot-11 big man and his family believed the lack of competition in high school wasn't properly preparing him for the NBA, so he left to play first for Israeli power Maccabi Haifa and now for the Tokyo Apache of the more remote Japanese professional league.
Gallery was kind enough to join me recently to chat about the project, which he expects to be released in late 2011 after the NBA draft. He was a little reluctant to reveal some of the film's juicier behind-the-scenes moments since it won't be out for so long, but we spoke about how Tyler decided to turn pro, whether the criticism has impacted him and what his experience in Tokyo has been like so far.
JE: How did you decide to do a documentary on Jeremy?
AG: A friend of mine sent me a clip of Jeremy when he was ninth grade, and we were like, 'Wow, this kid's phenomenal.' We said let's go meet him, and literally after that first face-to-face meeting, we decided to start shooting. We didn't know anything that would happen because we started shooting when he was a sophomore before the scandal of his junior year and before him leaving high school. We thought it would be the average story of a kid going to college and trying to be a No. 1 draft pick, but it has been a roller coaster ride to say the least.
JE: So in a lot of ways, you were fortunate Jeremy became a trail blazer?
AG: From a film maker's perspective, absolutely. He's definitely become a lightning rod for attention. Also it changed the scope of the film. Before it was about a basketball player. Now it's moved to being not just about Jeremy but other kids in his situation and what decisions are the best decisions, college or overseas? It's kind of cool to see it go from a smaller story to one that can definitely reach more people.
JE: How much access did Jeremy and his family give you? Was there anything you weren't allowed to shoot?
AG: Jeremy and his family literally adopted me. They are the nicest, most caring, awesome people. Jeremy has been so gracious letting me tag along and the family has been so cooperative. I got immediately accepted. I went to Jeremy's prom with him. I went to Israel with him. The level of access I've been able to get has been unprecedented.
JE: Jeremy received an avalanche of criticism from all corners of the basketball world when he decided to turn pro. How has that impacted him do you think?
AG: He's really good at seeing how different challenges are good opportunities for him to grow. There are times I'd ask him what he was thinking when he did something, and he was really good at seeing what he did in the past and how he can learn from it and grow from it. This whole experience for him isn't just a couple months out of his life. It's the road he's on forever.
JE: What led up to the decision for him to turn pro?
AG: It was a combination of what was going on his junior year with the coaching staff and the team and then really not enjoying, not learning and not growing that year. I think he was really concerned with having another year just like that. On the one hand, I thought it was better for him to stay in school and go to school in the U.S. On the other hand, I see that your senior year is a really valuable year and you don't want to spend it in an environment where you're not going to learn or grow or get better. So from that standpoint, I applaud his decision to change his circumstances and go somewhere that he can get a better quote-unquote basketball education.
JE: Do you think he has any regrets about that decision?
AG: It's like when any of us make a decision that we weren't sure about at the time. We can't go back and change it, so the best thing we can do is learn from it. I don't really think he regrets it because I think he's learned from it. In college, I spent a summer abroad and it was an awesome experience. He sort of sees some of this like semesters abroad. He's getting out of the country, getting to see different cultures and that in itself is pretty valuable.
JE: Why didn't it work out for him in Israel?
AG: I think it wasn't a good fit. Haifa's a pretty small town and it can be a little challenging to adjust to. He didn't play as much as he thought. He went there to get experience and wasn't able to get that much. But again it led him to make a decision that he had to get out of there and make a better choice. Even though it was kind of a step backward, it made him take a step forward to get to a better place. He loves Tokyo and I think that's because it's a little bigger, a little faster and there's more to do there.
JE: So Tokyo has been a better fit so far?
AG: I haven't been over there yet, but just from talking to him and skyping, yeah, he loves it. He loves the city, the coach is awesome, he's playing great. I definitely think we're going to see a different Jeremy Tyler in Japan than we saw in Israel. I think he's really focused on where he is right now as opposed to thinking about the draft and that in turn will set him up for the best possible outcome for the draft.
JE: What do you think will surprise viewers about Jeremy and his story?
AG: Obviously, there's so much that goes on behind-the-scenes that leads up to these big decisions, so I think people will be really surprised by what's led up to this stuff. And then, the best part about being able to shoot Jeremy is that he's actually really fun to hang out with and there's so many little adventures that happen on a day-to-day basis. I think viewers will see that when all this was reported it was all very serious, but Jeremy's a teenager so he's always joking and kidding around and the film reflects that. There's a lot of funny parts in addition to the serious moments surrounding all the decisions being made.
JE: What's the goal for the project? When are you looking to release it?
AG: We're looking to have it wrapped up after the draft, so we can have it come out in late 2011. We still want to see where the story goes because we're just along for the ride. We're envisioning it ending right around the draft next year, but who knows, maybe something will change up the story. If you told me years ago that I was going to be going to Israel with Jeremy as opposed to Louisville, I'd have told you that you were crazy, but that's been part of the fun.