5 Questions: ‘The 60 Yard Line’s’ Ryan Churchill

ryan churchill wisconsin film festival

“I have personally watched relationships melt down because of being too into the Packers. We need to find balance.”

In news that should shock absolutely no one, there’s a Packers movie playing at the Wisconsin Film Festival; even the film guide description is written with a tangible sense of “Let’s be real here.” If you’re thinking about getting tickets, jump on that now because here’s another shocker: The 60 Yard Line is the biggest hit this year with the festival announcing an extra screening due to high demand.

Lovingly made by Packers fans for Packers fans, the romantic comedy was destined to resonate with Cheeseheads everywhere. Superfan Ben “Zagger” Zagowski (Ryan Churchill) hits the jackpot with a chance to own a house right next to Lambeau Field, but a life-changing move for one football freak might jeopardize his engagement to Amy (Kimberley Crossman), who’s realized that her own binge-drinking, tailgating days are numbered.

It’s not all fun and gamedays, though. While The 60 Yard Line‘s popularity is impossible to ignore, less certain are the motives of director Leif Gantvoort and co-writers Churchill and Nick Greco (who also stars). The level of one’s Packer fandom may determine just how charming they find cameos from former players, and the film’s portrayal of serial tailgater Vanessa as the group “Gong” is more than a touch questionable. Ultimately, this transplanted Vikings fan wants to give the benefit of the doubt to these beer-addled Packer Backers, so keeping the “stockholder” jokes to myself, I reached out to Churchill with “5 Questions:”

1. You’re the lead actor in The 60 Yard Line, playing Ben “Zagger” Zagowski who embodies his own home brew of good and bad qualities — and eventually, he goes down some pretty dark roads. To what extent are you hoping audiences identify with Zagger’s character?

I use my own experience in life and what I see happening to others in their lives as we sometimes go down roads that we think are best or make a quick decision on what we think is best for our loved ones. But what we think in certain moments will be awesome “She’ll love it” are really selfish and not well thought out. I am of the opinion that men simply don’t think. We react. Whether that’s from ego or how we were raised, I don’t know. But we make mistakes. And that’s what my character does. He doesn’t really think. He reacts and makes decisions as to what he thinks is best in that moment, but really isn’t thinking. In my opinion, we all do that. We all get lost down some dark tunnels at times and have to get kicked in the head in order to turn around and walk back out of that dark tunnel.

Another reason is that from my own experience, as simple as it may seem, we get way too wrapped up in our sports fanaticism at times. Especially being a Packers fan. I have personally watched relationships melt down because of being too into the Packers. We need to find balance. And I hope the audience will learn from Zagger’s ability to find balance between his team and his personal life.

2. This story takes place in 2009, which Packers fans will remember as the season Brett Favre started at quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings. Was there any implication for using that season?

There were a couple reasons for this. First, yes, it’s a very crucial season and heartbreaking with Favre going to Minnesota, paralleling Zagger’s heartbreak. It was also the year that Aaron Rodgers turned the corner and showed he had potential, much like Zagger at the end of the film. Kuhn and Tauscher were playing a lot together that season and we had them attached [to the film].

3. You’re also a credited screenwriter on the film, so I want to talk about Vanessa. Dana Daurey does some tremendous character work here but her role isn’t always the most um, sex positive let’s say. To the film’s credit, you give her a moment to push back on the running joke about everyone banging “The Gong.” How mindful were you of her character during the story development?

Extremely mindful. We always wanted to show that Zagger is the underachieving loser and in his relationship with Vanessa, he would have never met the players if it wasn’t for her. She was the brains behind the success of tailgating and basement parties. She’s the one using Zagger at the end of the day. She’s a tough girl simply wanting to have some tailgating fun, and she uses Zagger for that, among other things. She’s the strong smart one.

We were overall very, very conscious about how we portrayed the female characters. So often in film, especially in guy-driven comedies, the women get pushed down to the dumb damsel in distress. We did the opposite. The women in this film are all much smarter and much more successful than the men. All three women characters are high status in career and life. Even Mindy Sterling, who plays my mother, Linda Zagowski, runs the family welding shop and tries to keep her two boys on track. The women run the show in The 60 Yard Line which is very true in my real life.

4. This is a movie made by Packers fans for Packers fans, and tickets are already at “rush only” status for one screening. What is it specifically about The 60 Yard Line that festival-goers are responding so well to?

There’s finally a movie about their lives. There’s not another tailgating fans sports movie out there, especially one that surrounds the world-renowned and unique Packers fan lifestyle. There are plenty of movies about sports teams. There are plenty of movies out there about pro athletes or athletes of any level but very few about the fans.

5. There’s a rumor that an actual cow might show up to the premiere. Care to comment?

Yes! The cow, Reaction, will walk the red carpet. Don’t worry, she comes with her own poop and pee tender bucket.

  • The 60 Yard Line plays on Sun, Apr 2 at 7:00p in the Barrymore Theatre and Mon, Apr 3 at 7:00p in the Union South Marquee.