Behind the scenes of ‘Pooh: The Derrick Rose Story’

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Derrick Rose in 'Pooh'

Derrick Rose in ‘Pooh’

The real life tale
of an NBA star
who responded
to his critics
by playing
like a legend
on the court

Director Scott Diener endured several last-minute NBA thrills to capture a real-life, feel-good, Hollywood-style ending for a film about basketball legend Derrick Rose.

Pooh: The Derrick Rose Story is an upcoming Stadium Network special scheduled for release on April 11 at 6 p.m. The original narrative was prompted by a media controversy, but the film ultimately became a tale of redemption about a hometown hero.

“At the end of the day, Derrick is a kid from Chicago who just really wanted to play basketball and take care of his family and win a championship,” says Diener. “I’m hoping that people who followed his career will see this film and take a moment to reflect on everything he went through.”

 
POOH: THE DERRICK ROSE STORY | OFFICIAL TRAILER

 

 
A hometown hero
Derrick Rose became a Chicago Bull when the team selected him as the top pick in the 2008 draft.

The move ignited monumental expectations.

Rose was born and raised in Chicago. He was a star player at Simeon Career Academy High School and the University of Memphis, where he led the Tigers to the most wins in NCAA history. He was a hometown hero by every stretch of the imagination, and his return to the Windy City inspired a lot of fans who still remembered the Michael Jordan glory days.

What could go wrong?

 
In his own words
Production on Pooh began in 2015 — before Diener and Stadium got involved — when Rose and his agent BJ Armstrong hired a crew in L.A. and set the stage for Derrick to “talk in his own words about the controversy that had been plaguing him,” says Diener.

The controversy started when Rose expressed more concern about his long-term health than about playing basketball during an interview in 2014. He had torn his ACL in his left knee two years earlier, causing him to miss the entire 2012/13 season, and his priorities were not without justification.

Still, the comment touched off a widely publicized struggle of Derrick Rose versus the media and millions of Bulls fans.

“After that, it was like everyone was out to get him,” Diener recalls. “They all wanted answers, but Derrick never spoke to it directly.”

Young Derrick
Young Derrick

Although Rose and Armstrong eventually created “an intimate portrait of this figure from Englewood who became a hometown hero,” Diener knew that more work needed to be done when production shifted to Stadium.

“Most of the pieces were there,” he explains. “But if felt like something was missing.”

Besides asking Rose to expand on his comment, Diener ultimately conducted more than a dozen new interviews to complete the story. But before getting to any of that, he had to immerse himself in everything Derrick Rose.

“I spent almost three full months, seven days a week, reviewing and logging the footage,” he recalls. “I listened to interviews with his family until I felt like part of the family.”

He also hired Periscope Editor Mike James to help with the process, a decision that would prove to be crucially wise down the road.

 
Getting to know Derrick Rose
Highlights of Rose’s legendary “Chicago-style” talent supplied a good dose of Pooh’s initial content — “he attacked the rim like no point guard had ever done before,” says Diener — but there was also an inspiring backstory that required further exploration.

Before his first meeting with Rose, Diener was nervous. He presented the famously reserved NBA star with a few rough cuts of the film’s progress “to show him the sincerity we had put into it.”

“I had to let him know that this is him and I working through this story together,” he recalls. “Derrick growing up in Englewood and experiencing poverty and knowing that his brother used to deal drugs, that’s very sensitive.”

Over the ensuing months, Diener would develop a huge amount of respect and fondness for Rose.

Chance the Rapper
Chance the Rapper

“Once he settles in, he’s an honest, candid, easygoing person who doesn’t mince words,” says the director. “If you’re in his circle of friends, he’s an awesome guy to know.”

Diener also interviewed the likes of Chance the Rapper, Stacey King, Joakim Noah, and John Paxson, who mostly understood and accepted Derrick’s comments during the infamous interview in 2014.

Back at Periscope, James combined the material with previously shot footage of Rose’s mother, Brenda — who Diener describes as “one of the most remarkable people you’ll ever meet” — to keep the project rolling smoothly towards the film’s original intention, to let Bulls fans decide how history would view Derrick Rose.

But Rose took control of the decision on the basketball court.

 
The resurgence of Derrick Rose
“He scored fifty points on Halloween night!” exclaims Diener. “I’m like half asleep and the phone starts ringing and texts start coming in: Did you see what Derrick just did? It was this complete resurgence of Derrick within the NBA, and we had to come up with a new thread about getting to this place.”

It was a career-high game for Rose, and he scored it while playing for the Minnesota Timberwolves, the third team he had joined since being traded away from the Bulls in 2016.

The Pooh narrative obviously needed to include Rose’s stellar Halloween-night performance. As Diener and James were working it into the story, they were blessed with what the director refers to as a “Christmas Day Miracle.”

Two weeks before the film was set to wrap in late December, a production company sent the filmmakers a terabyte of Derrick Rose highlight footage originally shot for an Adidas commercial.

“It was exactly what we needed,” recalls Diener. “I almost had tears in my eyes.”

James was equally enthusiastic.

“Delving into footage and finding awesome b-roll that would never have seen the light of day is one of the best parts of documentary storytelling from an editor’s perspective,” he says. “All these shots that some people may think are useless finally find a home.”

“Mike was relentless,” adds Diener. “He created this beautiful imagery that had all this emotion. He wasn’t forcing it in any way, it just worked. It was one of those moments as a director where you say, goddamn, that’s good.”

At that moment, finally, it seemed like everything was all good. But Rose wasn’t finished.

“On December 26, I’m on vacation with my family and start getting texts about Derrick playing against the Bulls in Chicago when the fans started chanting, ‘MVP! MVP!,'” says Diener. “It was a Hollywood ending that you could never script.”

To see how Diener and James worked Rose’s last-minute highlights into Pooh, visit Stadium Network at 6 p.m. on April 11.

 
Send your film updates to Reel Chicago Editor Dan Patton, dan@reelchicago.com.

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