“Ted Lasso” is a hit, but getting the soccer scenes right would have been a miss without some creative thinking. We’ll get to all of that, but let’s start with the pitch. This story is, as you’ll see, all about the pitch.
The Many Meanings of ‘Pitch’
One of the many things that makes the English language both compelling and frustrating is the way one word can be saddled with so many meanings.
Take the word “pitch.” In baseball, it’s the action that gets play going. In British football, aka soccer, it’s the field the game is played on. In show business, it’s the meeting in which film makers attempt to get monied types to greenlight their project. In music, it’s a single sound in a range of sounds. In architecture, it’s the slope of a roof.
We could go on, but our effort to pitch you this story would be at risk.
The Pitch for ‘Ted Lasso’
Apple TV+’s “Ted Lasso” is an All-American product created by American screenwriter Bill Lawrence with American actor/comedian Jason Sudeikis as Ted Lasso in the title role. Lasso is an ever-upbeat American college football coach hired to coach an English soccer team as a way for the team’s owner to one-up her ex-husband. (Sudeikis had created a character of the same name in an NBC promotional campaign for its airing of the English Premier League in the U.S.)
At the same time, it’s an All-British show, filmed in the U.K. about a sport that helps to define what it means to be British. In the show, the American Lasso is being asked to coach the fictional AFC Richmond in a sport about which he knows precious little.
A couple of years ago when Lawrence pitched the “Ted Lasso” idea to director Zach Braff, Braff had little experience in shooting sports action of any kind. Braff’s underlying, if unspoken, supposition during the conversation between the two was based on being able to get all his cameras, equipment and crew onto the pitch for game and practice action.
About that. For the AFC Richmond training facility used in the show, Lawrence struck a deal to use the SkyEx Community Stadium/Beaconsfield Road in Hayes, the home of Southern League Premier Division South team Hayes and Yeading, located north-northeast of London’s Heathrow Airport.
Lights, Cameras, but Not on the Pitch
It was only in prepping to shoot the first on-field scenes for the second show in the series that Braff discovered just how seriously the British take the health of a soccer pitch. A discussion with the show’s cinematographer brought that up, briefly flummoxing Braff.
In a conversation with Vanity Fair, Braff said the conversation about how the shooting would go took an abrupt turn when the cinematographer told him, “Oh, and by the way, they’re so precious about the pitch and its perfection that we’re not allowed to bring any equipment onto this actual field.”
Braff briefly felt himself falling off that pitched roof, professionally speaking. He wasn’t going to be allowed to get any heavy equipment on the Beaconsfield pitch. Cameras, monitors, tripods, lenses and lens cases are essential in any kind of filming for the screen, and those items can have some serious heft.
For the Beaconsfield pitch minders, having actors playing soccer on the stadium’s grass was an acceptable part of the process. But having all that equipment dig into the pitch was something else again.
There is not much more precious to the grounds crew working at Beaconsfield Road than the grass, the pitch that Braff described as “pristine and perfect.” There are gardeners around the world that have no trouble understanding that feeling. And no amount of negotiation could shake the no-heavy equipment-on-the-field edict.
So, it was up to Braff to find a different way to make it work. He did, with a little concession from the Beaconsfield Road crew.
From the Beach to the Soccer Field
He told Vanity Fair that he got together with the key grip (the head of the team that positions equipment on a TV or film shoot) and the cinematographer (who directs the show’s photography and camera work) to find a way.
“We put this rig that had a remote head on sort of a rickshaw that was on giant rubber inflated tires that weren’t heavy,” Braff told Vanity Fair. “It’s a kind of thing they use on beaches, on sets, because you can roll it on sand. So, we put a remote head on that and it was light enough that they allowed us to put it on the pitch because it didn’t have an operator on it.
“The operator would operate from the sidelines and then the key grip put on cleats (in the UK soccer cleats are known as football boots, by the way) and he would sprint with it. And that was our makeshift dolly that allowed us to get some really cool shots. That was the rig that they ended up using for the rest of the season.”
Staying True to the Game and Even the Grass
As fans of the show will attest, the solution was pitch-perfect. Sudeikis’s character might be a fish out of water, albeit with an irrepressible can-do attitude, but the soccer portrayed on screen was spot-on.
The show’s game sequences are shot not at Beaconsfield Road but at Selhurst Park, the home of Crystal Palace F.C. of the Premier League, due south of London. In the show, it’s called Nelson Road Stadium. For the purists, the Selhurst Park/Nelson Road pitch is Desso GrassMaster, used by the bulk of stadiums hosting high-level British football squads.
The team Lasso coaches is nicknamed the Greyhounds, so it comes as no surprise that they play their games on a pitch that is known to fans as “the dog track,” a nod to Richmond area’s long history with the sport of greyhound racing. The area around the pitch is known as “the dog pound.”
Life’s a Pitch
Away from the practice facility, much of the show’s filming is done in Richmond, including the street on which Lasso lives and his favorite pub, known in the show as the Crown and Anchor. The pub used for the filming is the Princes Head, which, by the way, is a six-minute walk from Beaconsfield Road and has become something of a tourist attraction for fans of the show.
Lawrence’s vision for “Ted Lasso” came into focus in that pitch meeting with Braff, whose crew found a workaround to not being able to get any of their heavy equipment on the pitch.
And “Ted Lasso” became a hit. On both sides of the Atlantic.
How on-pitch is that?
Main Photo Credit: Downloaded from Apple+ Ted Lasso Media Page