It was a surreal feeling for coach Ryan Hofer and a handful of his Trinity Western University women’s volleyball players, as they took in the advance screening of The Miracle Season last Wednesday (April 4) at Cineplex Langley.
The true story follows the emotional 2011 journey of Iowa City’s West High School girls’ volleyball team, which banded together to win a second straight state title after its 17-year-old star setter Caroline ‘Line’ Found is killed in a moped accident.
Spartans players cast as volleyball extras in the film included Jessica Bailey, Alexis Jonker, Katie Devany, and Rowyn Neufeld. The movie was shot at various Metro Vancouver locations in July and August 2016.
Hofer has a non-speaking role as the rival team’s coach, and Bailey portrays a member of the West High School squad.
Hofer explained how he and the Spartans players became part of The Miracle Season: “A curtain call came out looking for athletes, so I sent it to my athletes. Then I sent them (the production company) an email back saying, ‘If you happen to need any coaching help, or any other assistance, I’d love to be involved.’”
It turns out, the company was in fact seeking coaching help and coaching extras, so Hofer sent a bio and information about himself, setting the wheels in motion.
In the film, Hofer said “you’ll just see me in the background, shaking hands a little bit. They didn’t use a lot. They asked me to be a little more emotional at certain times, so I’m getting all excited and angry at times. I thought there’d be a few of those (scenes) in there but in the end you just see a few eye rolls and standing around, and walking.”
Hofer did put in some valuable work behind the scenes, however, utilizing his years of coaching knowledge to help one of the main characters polish her setting skills.
“She was off in the corner just setting to herself, and she’s obviously not a volleyball player, and I thought, ‘let’s just see if she needs any help,’” Hofer related. “I asked her if I could help her a little bit and she said ‘Yes please.’ We ended up setting the ball back and forth and I gave her a few tips. We ended up doing that for 10 or 15 minutes.”
Later, the actor’s mom approached Hofer to thank him for helping her daughter.
However, Hofer learned a hard lesson, if he ever decides to dip his toes into any future film productions.
He approached veteran actor Helen Hunt, who portrayed Iowa City West head coach Kathy Bresnahan, with some friendly advice which, it turns out, was a big no-no.
“She was crossing the attack line and you’re not allowed to do that (in volleyball),” Hofer said. “One of the reasons I wanted to be involved in the movie was I wanted to make sure volleyball was done right. At one break, I said, ‘Hey Helen, I don’t know if it matters but you can’t come across that line.’ She thanked me for telling her.”
Afterwards, another extra gave Hofer a stern warning.
“You can’t do that,” she told him. “You don’t talk to the talent! Had I done that, I’d be fired!”
Hofer came away from the experience with huge respect for Hunt.
“In one of the scenes Helen Hunt addressed the crowd and talks to them about Caroline and her personality and how she wanted to be friends with everyone that she came in contact with,” he shared. “She challenges everyone in the crowd to get out of their seats and introduce themselves to those around them. It is an incredible scene that she did about three times and each time it moved me to tears. She was so good at creating the moment and delivery an outstanding performance.”
‘Very, very big honour’
A graduate of Surrey’s Pacific Academy, Bailey said taking part in the film was “an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up, just because it was such a unique situation.”
While she didn’t have a speaking role, Bailey was front-and-centre in many of the volleyball scenes.
“I was there to make the volleyball look good,” said the 20-year-old middle blocker.
Bailey was floored by how much screen time she received.
“A ridiculous amount,” she said. “I was kind of shocked because I didn’t think I was in that many scenes but when I was watching the movie I could vividly see myself in very, very evident spots. Usually I saw myself when there was volleyball involved, either I’d be on the court or on the bench, but it was mind-blowing, honestly, to see myself up on the big screen.”
Bailey said she was “extremely honoured” to be cast as a West High player.
More than 200 players auditioned in the original tryouts, so Bailey said to be cast as a team member “was a very, very big honour.”
The message of The Miracle Season impacted Bailey.
“It’s such an amazing story,” she said.
Bailey said meeting Caroline’s dad Fred was an emotional experience.
“The power of the story resonated even more, just because of how amazing he was, and even though he had gone through so much tragedy, somehow he could still smile and make everyone around him so happy,” she said.
And while Bailey has a minimum three more years to go at TWU, studying human kinetics with a psychology minor, is a career in show business in the cards?
“I’m thinking about doing more background work in the summer,” Bailey said. “Obviously acting isn’t the most consistent thing and I’d have to very much pursue it and not possibly be in school if I wanted to take it very seriously. A part time thing is a better situation for volleyball and school, and for my future, I think.”