By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — When he launched the project, UVa alumnus Kevin Edds figured it would take six months to complete. He can laugh about that now.
Four-and-a-half years after Edds began, the Arlington resident’s work is finally done. Edds wrote, produced and directed a documentary titled WAHOOWA: The History of Virginia Cavalier Football, and it’s a film from which even the most hard-core UVa football fan will learn something.
Like his wife, the former Adrienne Wichard, an executive producer on the film, Edds is a 1995 graduate of the University. He owns and operates a production company called Daedalus Creative and has been a writer, producer, and creative director for various Discovery Channel networks for more than 15 years.
After he became interested in making a film about the history of a program that dates to 1888, Edds met with Craig Littlepage and, later, Jon Oliver to discuss the project. With the blessing of the athletics department, which encouraged him but provided no financial support, Edds proceeded. He says he received invaluable assistance along the way from such staffers as Todd Goodale, Gerry Capone, Luke Goldstein and Kris Seale.
“Those folks were so great in helping me get the things that I needed to make it,” said Edds, who had a double major at UVa — economics and rhetoric and communications studies.
Edds declined to disclose how much the film, which was independently financed, cost to make. “But we put the same production budget and production standards into this as the highest-quality historical documentary that you will see on the Discovery Channel,” he said.
“My goal is to one day maybe make my money back, but there are so many other things that can come out of this, that it’s about more than just money. If I didn’t go to UVa, then I maybe would not have done this, because I would look at it as maybe a break-even proposition. But because I went to UVa, and because I’m such a lover of history, I wanted to capture this.
“These stories and these people that lived this are passing away. If I didn’t do it, I didn’t think anybody else was going to do it, and I thought this is something that just has to be captured on camera. And so I really looked at it as making a historical document, and it’s something that needed to be out there.”
For more information about the film or to purchase the DVD, visit www.uvafootballhistory.com.
In an interview with VirginiaSports.com, Edds discussed his motivation for making the documentary and some of what he learned during the process. Here are some highlights of that Q&A session:
JW: What prompted you to undertake this project?
Edds: Well, this is a story that just had to be told. I’m a huge fan of Ken Burns’ Baseball. And when I researched UVa’s football history, I saw many of the same types of fascinating stories that dealt with the development of a brand-new American sport: eccentric characters, inspirational heroes, amazing on-the-field successes and heartbreaking tragedies. It frustrated me when I spoke to people who didn’t give credit to UVa football’s successes and were unaware of the history of the program. Virginia does not get its just due when it comes to being one of the most influential programs in the history of college football, and I want to change that.
JW: When did you start?
Edds: In 2006, after spending over a decade as a producer at Discovery networks, I decided to start a production company. I wanted to begin developing my own series and create things I was really passionate about. And one of my biggest passions was UVa football. I thought it was going to be fun and easy and that it would take me about six months to complete. After I got into the research and kept finding these fascinating stories, I realized it would take a little longer — and now, four-and-a-half years later, I’ve finally finished.
JW: How difficult was it to juggle the making of this film with your paying jobs?
Edds: Despite leaving the full-time position I had at Discovery, I ended up doing a lot of the same work for them as a freelance producer. At first it was easy to take a day or two off each week to go to Charlottesville and do research at the Small Special Collections Library, or the stacks in Alderman, or the Library of Virginia in Richmond. But once we started shooting interviews it got a little harder. As opposed to having Discovery’s budget, we were paying for the entire production ourselves: camera operators, equipment, sound technicians, grips, production assistants. It was challenging, bringing everyone down from D.C. for each shoot, but fortunately many of UVa’s star players still live in Charlottesville. We shot in New Orleans with Jim Dombrowski, and in Boston for an interesting interview I won’t give away right here, and we got Matt Schaub in Houston, Ronde Barber in Tampa, Thomas Jones in Kansas City, and Heath Miller in Pittsburgh. But almost everyone else was in either Charlottesville or Richmond.
We did do one shoot in D.C. with four of the great players from the 1990 team. Shawn Moore had not yet become an assistant coach [at UVa], so he was still living in the D.C. area. I reached out to Shawn for help getting Herman Moore, Chris Slade and Terry Kirby to all come together for a group interview. Shawn was great. He’s just a true leader, no matter whether it’s leading UVa to the 1989 ACC championship, or sending out an e-mail to invite his teammates to come to D.C. He was encouraging them and motivating them to find the time in their schedules to attend, and he just led the charge. Herman, Chris and Terry all flew in at their own cost for the interview and wouldn’t accept reimbursement. They were so willing to help in any way to tell the story of UVa football, and I’m so grateful for their generosity.
JW: When the film was finally finished, what was your dominant emotion?
Edds: Relief. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. It consumed me every waking moment of my life for the past year-and-a-half. I would watch my family go on vacations while I stayed home and worked. I had no social life or free time. I jokingly told my wife I felt like a Chilean miner being reintroduced back into society once we finished the film. And then when it was over, it was like something was missing in my life. This documentary was like a guest in my house, and then one day, the guest was gone. I’m sure I’ll look back fondly on this time one day, but I’m so happy we’re done. I saw my youngest son go from a 1½-year old to a 6-year-old over the course of the project. He was saying, “Dad, are you done with the documentary?”before he even knew what a documentary was.
JW: If you knew how much work would be involved and how long it would take to complete, would you do it again?
Edds: Well, I definitely would have thought twice, but there’s no doubt I would do it. One of my main motivations was that I wanted to capture the stories of the older players on camera while they were still with us. My grandfather served in the Army in World War II and fought in France and Germany, but he passed away before I became interested in history and thought to ask him questions about it. I feel like I lost a piece of history by not hearing his story, in his own words, for me to pass on to my children. And I didn’t want the same thing to happen with the people who actually lived and experienced some of the amazing chapters in Virginia’s history. I’ve had so many people thank me for getting Bill Dudley’s and Howard Goodwin’s stories of the 1938-41 seasons before they passed away. And I can’t wait for people to see what they had to say.
JW: What was the most rewarding part of the experience for you?
Edds: I loved getting to meet Dr. John Risher, who played in 1931. He celebrated his 100th birthday this past May. He drove all the way from Lynchburg to Lambeth Field by himself for our interview. It was like getting into a time machine when I heard him tell stories about UVa football games during Prohibition, how the rules of the day called for a 15-yard penalty for an incomplete pass, what it was like to hear President Alderman lead a pep rally, and to see William Lambeth jump up on his desk to illustrate a lesson while teaching a class in “Hygiene.”
And also the shoot with Shawn Moore, Herman Moore, Chris Slade and Terry Kirby. I was star-struck seeing them all play my first year at UVa in 1990, and now here I was directing them in a “dinner for four” shoot where we just threw out topics and let them talk amongst themselves. It was the most fascinating, funny and reflective dinner conversation I’ve ever heard. The roller-coaster of emotions that the 1990 team experienced was unbelievable. I think this interview was cathartic for them in many ways as they discussed the emotional loss to Georgia Tech in 1990 and whether they should have gone for the touchdown on fourth-and-goal late in the game.
JW: Are you as avid a UVa football fan now as you were going in?
Edds: It’s interesting, because now I look at the current team and Coach London through a much bigger historical perspective. Before I only looked at the program through the vantage point of the 1988 season through today. So I was very spoiled as a UVa fan. I thought what George Welsh was doing was normal and I got frustrated when it seemed like we hit a ceiling. But now that I know the history of the entire program, and the challenges that come with playing football at Mr. Jefferson’s University, I have a greater appreciation for what Frank Murray, Art Guepe, Welsh and Al Groh have done. And after interviewing Coach London, I can tell that he is very aware of the history of the program, and he’s trying to learn from the past in order to help guide the future of Virginia football.
JW: Is there anything you would do differently if you were starting the project now?
Edds: Actually, I wish I had started the project 10 years earlier so that I could have interviewed Art Guepe. He was one of the most interesting and innovative coaches I’ve ever read about and I wish I could have heard his story in his own words. But if I were starting today, I would probably have planned to make it a four-hour film. As it is, the documentary is a whopping two-and-a-half hours with 40 interviews — which is long for even me to watch in one sitting — but I would have shot even more interviews. There are so many stories about players and coaches we weren’t able to include: Gene Edmunds, Coach George Blackburn, D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Billy McMullen, Ray Roberts, Wali Lundy, Gary Cuozzo, Bob Kowalkowski, Rock Weir, Gene Schroeder, Henry Jordan, James Farrior, Tommy Vigorito, Gene Arnette and Scott Secules. To those guys, and every other former player and coach we could not mention, we hope the entire film honors their contributions to the program.
JW: What was it like for you to see your work on the big screen in Charlottesville at the Virginia Film Festival last month?
Edds: That was a real thrill. I’ve seen my work on television since 1995, but to sit in a theater and see everyone ooh and ahh in the right places, and even laugh and sometimes cry, it was an unbelievable feeling. Afterwards an audience member came up to me and said, “Yes, that was a great film, but you’ve just created a lasting piece of history that the entire University will cherish for a long, long time.” I swear I’m not making that up. I think I hugged her.
JW: How difficult was the editing process, knowing that some interesting parts would not make the final cut?
Edds: Very tough. When I started off, I basically wrote the entire story out as if I were writing a book, and it came out to about 30,000 words. And that was without one single interview quote. After transcribing all of our interviews it was about 250,000 words, so we had a lot of material to work from. It was tough, because I was trying to be a budget-conscious producer, but the fan in me kept saying, “We need to keep this story, and that story, and we have to interview more people.” I probably drove my production partners crazy, but I didn’t want someone to watch this and say, “Why didn’t they talk about Seal the Dog urinating on a Penn cheerleader’s megaphone in 1949?”
JW: What’s next for you professionally?
Edds: I’d love to do something a little more socially or politically conscious like Food Inc. or Waiting for Superman, or something quirky like The King of Kong. But I love history so much, so there would probably be some historical aspect to it. I’m developing a few ideas now, and hopefully I’ll get started soon. If I find another story that includes a dog urinating on a megaphone, though, I’m all over it.