On tour to promote the 20th anniversary of his 1993 classic film “The Sandlot,” which includes the release of a new DVD/Blu-ray combo pack, director/writer David M. Evans took some time between ballparks to talk to me about how the film has spanned generations and what props he was able to keep after production. He also told me about the “most important piece of direction” he gave actor Chauncey Leopardi (Squints) on the day he was scheduled to shoot his famous swimming pool kissing scene with actress Marley Shelton (Wendy Peffercorn).
When you were making “The Sandlot” back in 1993, did you think you were making a movie that would resonate with audiences 20 years later?
Well, I think you always hope for something like that. But to actually consider that it would happen, no. There is absolutely no way you can know or predict anything like that. If it’s a good story and well told, then you have a chance even though the chance is still astronomically small. But it ends up coming down to the fans. It’s well into its third or fourth generation of fans now who love it as much as when it first came out – probably more.
It must be an amazing feeling to see adults who loved the movie when they were kids now going back and sharing it with their children.
Oh, definitely. It’s a big deal. I think I’ve done about eight or nine screenings on this tour and at the one in Springdale, Arkansas at Arvest Park, I had a grandfather come up to me – maybe in his late 70s – and buy 12 copies of the 20th Anniversary DVD. He said, “OK, Mr. Evans, please sign this one for me. Please sign this one for my wife. These are for my children. These are for my grandchildren. And these are for my great-grandchildren.” It was an awesome moment. It made me cry.
When was the point where you thought, “Hey, maybe this movie is going to have longevity?”
The first time I had any indication was right around the apex of the VHS revolution. I think “The Sandlot” sold just about a million units in the rental market, which was remarkable. You didn’t see that happen for a non-animated Disney movie or a non-tent pole movie. It was just this little movie about friendship and baseball. I really knew it was here to stay when the DVD revolution hit in the mid to late 90s and everything went crazy. Millions and millions of units were selling all over the world all the time and it never showed any signs of stopping. I thought, “Wow, this movie must really mean something to people.” That’s probably when I knew it was a phenomenon and had a life of its own.
Do you own “The Sandlot” on VHS?
I definitely own it on VHS. Not only do I own it on VHS, I’m probably the only guy in the world that owns the movie on every single format. I have an anamorphic 35mm print. I even have the laser disc.
What props were you able to keep from the film?
I have some of the most important props. I actually used to have all the Beast puppets, but they were stored in a warehouse that burnt to the ground, so I lost them all. But I do have a couple of Beast paws for those shots where the dog was grabbing the ball. I have a lot of the stuff that was inside Mr. Mertle’s (James Earl Jones) baseball room. I have Squints’ original glasses. I have a bunch of baseball gloves. You name it and I’ve got it. It’s in the design phase right now, but I’m going to open up my own bar and grill. All of that stuff is going to go inside there. One of the best things I have is the original photo of all the boys that was mounted on the wall inside the announcer’s booth at the beginning of the movie. I took that photograph on the last day of production after the last shot. We lined them all up and took that. It was a bittersweet moment for me. That’s going to go into the restaurant…unless someone offers me half a million dollars for it. (Laughs)
What are you thinking about calling the restaurant?
I don’t know yet. Maybe something like DME’s American Sandlot. I mean, nobody’s going to build me a museum, so I’ll build one for myself.
I can’t even imagine how many times people quote the movie to you.
It’s very gratifying that all of that has made its way through our lexicon. I’ve had people from Paris, Australia, Japan, all over the world, that I meet and they’ll quote the movie in their own language. That’s a trip. Imagine “You’re killing me Smalls” in Japanese!
I know you’ve had a chance to connect with some of the original kids for the anniversary. Are you going to get to see all of them again during some point of this tour?
I really hope so. I haven’t seen a lot of them in quite a long time. In Trenton, New Jersey, I saw Tom Guiry who played Scotty Smalls. He came over and hung out with me at the ballpark where we were having a screening. Patrick Renna (Ham Porter) and Chauncey [Leopardi] (Squints Palledorous) have come out with me to a couple of the big venues like Target Stadium in Minneapolis and Arlington Stadium in Dallas. Over the course of the next 15 or so events they’ll come and go. But there is a big event happening that the Utah State Film Commission put together because that’s where we shot the movie. They’re having a dedication ceremony right on the piece of land where we shot the movie with a big granite historical marker and a bronze plaque and photo. The governor’s going to be there. I’m going to be there. And I think most of the original cast is going to be there.
You’ve told this story before, but can you tell me about the day on the set when you shot the scene at the pool where Squints kisses Wendy Peffercorn?
Sure! First of all, you have to understand, these are all 12 or 13 year old young men. You remember when you were that old? Only one thing mattered, right? (Laughs) So, there are these nine 13-year-old guys full of piss and vinegar and they’re going through that change in life. They’re in a movie and it’s kind of like summer camp and it’s tons of fun. Then, of course, there are no girls. There are no girls in the movie except for the mom (Karen Allen). Chauncey (Squints), of course, knew that we were going to shoot the scene on this one Sunday. So the closer we got to the date he was like, “Are we going to shoot that scene today, Mr. Evans? Are we going to shoot the scene?” He was getting really anxious, which I loved as a director. I didn’t have to tell him anything. He was already strung tighter than a piano wire. Finally, the day comes and we go to the pool and he was ready to do it but we didn’t get to the scene. We were scheduled to go to the pool for three days. So, the next day we go back and I told him, “Yeah, we’re definitely going to get to it today.” This guy was vibrating. He was so anxious. At the end of the day I was like, “That’s a wrap. I guess we’ll get to the scene tomorrow.” So, the next day is the last day at the pool, so he knows we’re going to do it that day. So he gets ready and we do the scene and he pretends he is drowning and we get him up on the deck and I yell, “Cut!” and say, “Chauncey, come here.” Now, Marley Shelton (Wendy Peffercorn), beautiful girl, was 18 at the time. Of course, all these guys are running around with their tongues hanging out. She was like a goddess to them, especially to Chauncey. Off screen, he was not a goofy kid. He was a little player. He had a lot of confidence. Anyway, I called him over and said, “OK, we’re going to do the scene now.” He was like, “OK, I understand.” Then I said, “So listen now. This is going to be the most important piece of direction you’re going to get your entire life whether you continue to be an actor or not.” Now, he’s staring at me and I’m trying not to bust out laughing. So, I tell him, “When we do this scene, you keep your tongue in your mouth.” I expected him to start laughing, but he was serious and said, “OK, sir. Yes, sir I will.” (Laughs) We understood each other and he did the scene and it was great. He gave that great grin. I was like, “That’s it, man. It ain’t gonna get any better than that.”
So, honestly, are P.F. Flyers really as cool as the movie makes them out to be?
Oh, heck, yeah. Greatest sneaker in the history of mankind. Did you know P.F. Flyers is our sponsor on the tour? Also, this year is P.F. Flyer’s 75th anniversary. In celebration of their 75th anniversary and “The Sandlot’s” 20th anniversary, they put out a special edition of the P.F. Flyers in a vintage 1962 shoebox. The shoe itself is classic high-top black, but the insole of the shoe says “The Sandlot” and there’s a tag on the inside that says “The secret weapon.” They made 1,000 pairs. They sold out in three days. I auctioned off a pair the other day for charity and a guy bought them for $1,000. That’s how incredible they are.