Defender Tackles the Big Screen: Rise and Shine: The Jay DeMerit Story Chronicles the Unique Journey of the 2010 FIFA World Cup Veteran
U.S. Men’s National Team defender Jay DeMerit rose from playing non-league soccer in England to the heights of the Premier League and the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, where he played every minute of the USA’s memorable run to the Round of 16. The Green Bay native’s unique story is chronicled in the upcoming film Rise and Shine: The Jay DeMerit Story, which will play at theaters around the country this Thursday, Nov. 3. ussoccer.com caught up with DeMerit during the offseason in Vancouver to ask about the process of putting his story on film and the incredible support he’s found in the soccer community.
ussoccer.com: What made you want to get involved in making this movie and telling your story?
Jay DeMerit: “Originally I wasn’t supposed to be that involved. I got approached about the idea about six months before the World Cup by two of my friends, one who I played with for two years at UIC. They’ve always been a fan of the story, and they’ve always been a fan of trying to get it out there. I think they understood the message behind it, and that, essentially, is where the story is. When you get approached about these ideas, it’s always a little bit strange, but thinking about it for a while and finally agreeing with them that it is much bigger than me, I decided to get on board.”
ussoccer.com: What was the point where you saw this developing beyond just a cool idea and a cool story into a fully fledged project with your life onscreen?
JD: “Once we started to do it and market it, more or less based on social media, and raise money through Kickstarter and all the rest of these things. Also knowing it is a story about my life, and I should definitely be as involved as I can, because I take my story very seriously, and I want it told in the right way. Those guys really have been on board with having me have the final say on everything so far. It’s really been great. They always said, ‘This is a story that needs to be told, this is a story that needs to be told,’ and eventually, I got on board because it’s true. It is a story in the soccer world that needs to be told because many kids that have been in my position can now see that these types of things can happen."
ussoccer.com: You mention hesitation at first but when did you ultimately decide it was the right time to tell this story?
JD: "I think for me it was when I got back from the World Cup, and I was on a little bit of a break. I hadn’t found a team yet and was trying to figure out my next move. That was the first time I started to watch the footage and really reflect on everything that had happened over the last eight and a half years, if you start from the beginning. That was the first time I took a step back and really started to realize what I had done. I think it was at that time where I really started to get on board more and really believe that this story needed to get out there."
ussoccer.com: You’ve always been forthright about your career and how it’s been a journey moving forward, from the lower divisions through the Premier League and all the way to the World Cup. Was it weird to pause and take that step back?
JD: "I think that’s exactly it; that’s the whole point. You look at an eight-and-a-half-year period, and you think that at some point, you would stop and be comfortable. And I guess for me, it was shocking that I hadn’t really looked back. And it wasn’t until I saw footage of what Ray Lewington said when he first saw me play when I was on trial. I never even asked him those questions, or what my parents thought about when I left for Europe the second time, still with no job. I never even asked them at that point, “What do you guys really want me to do: should I stay here, or should I come back?” I never really asked those questions. So, finally, to see those clips and to see what they thought was really interesting to me considering the time that had gone by."
ussoccer.com: Numerous steps and stages are required in making a movie. How was that process new for you and your collaborators?
JD: “Any project like this is definitely a process. First an idea is spawned, next you think about how you’re going to make a movie with two guys who have never made a movie before, and then you think about how we’re going to get footage and music and actually make this into a legitimate film. You think about how much money it takes to do that, and then you think about how we’re going to make that money since none of us have enough to make a movie happen. It’s all coming to fruition based on all those things coming together and people getting behind the project. Again, every step along the way has been a new way of thinking and a new way of just seeing how unbelievable the soccer community is.”
usssoccer.com: As you tried to tell your story and sort of retrace your steps throughout your career, you were able to get in contact with some of the people who helped you along the way. What was it like reconnecting with them and getting them to take part?
JD: "I think that’s been the best part about this. It’s been a community project the whole time. You’re getting guys taking up their own time to give interviews. And Ray Lewington—who I hadn’t spoken to in a few years—I call him up, and he’s more than happy to accommodate guys he’s never met to come into the Fulham training ground to tell this story. I think the people who have gotten behind this understand what the story means and what the story is. It’s been a team effort the whole way, and I’m just proud to be a part of it as well, just being the guy that the story’s about."
ussoccer.com: You were an Art & Design major at University of Illinois at Chicago. How did that background influence you or help you as you took part in this project?
JD: "When you grow up in creative environments, and especially go to school for them, these types of things and the process that goes along with them interest you. You have to be creative, not only in creating things like this, but just developing everything that comes along with a project. We’ve designed t-shirts for people who have donated to the project. All those types of things have been really fun, and it’s all been part of the process. Being from a creative background has allowed me to enjoy it more and it’s been easy to be a part of it."
ussoccer.com: What would you want people to take away from this movie when they watch it?
JD: "Just to have people believe it. Their capabilities are much more than, a lot of times, they think they are, or they can be. That’s kind of what this film shows from the start to the end. They’ll understand in the beginning that there isn’t that much of a difference between me and any other kid out there. I suppose that this film shows that I chose to take a different path, and that sometimes when you do take a punt or take a different path, it can work."
ussoccer.com: There’s been a great reaction from fans around the country as we get closer to the premier. Has it been rewarding to see how much people have identified with this story?
JD: "I think that’s been the best part about the whole project, the fan interaction and the people in the soccer community that have gotten behind this film based on nothing outside of themselves, trying to get behind it, and really putting themselves out there. These are people that I’ve never really met before, most of them. So to see the soccer community get behind the film has been my favorite part about the whole project. I’m so appreciative of everyone’s support and it’s very humbling to be a part of the story."