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Ellis makes hockey scenes authentic in The Love Guru

by Shawn P. Roarke

Mark Ellis does not have an extensive background in hockey, but he has certainly proven himself capable of making a great hockey movie, which is why Mike Myers (above) was so thrilled to have Ellis working on his new movie, The Love Guru.
By his own admission, Mark Ellis doesn't have much of a background in hockey. But that doesn't mean he can't film a heck of a hockey movie.

In fact, he already has. Ellis was the hockey coordinator for Miracle, the 2004 release about the 1980 United States men's Olympic ice hockey team that pulled off the "Miracle on Ice" by winning a gold medal in Lake Placid.

That movie's action sequences were among the most realistic in sports movie history, and Ellis was the man responsible. He recruited and cast the players and choreographed the action.

That success put Ellis at the top of Mike Myers' wish list when the comedian decided he wanted to incorporate hockey action into his new movie, The Love Guru.

Set for release on June 20, The Love Guru stars Myers playing Guru Pitka, his first original character since Austin Powers. Pitka is an American who was left at the gates of an ashram in India as a child and raised by gurus. He moves back to the United States to seek fame and fortune in the world of self-help and spirituality.

In the movie, Pitka's unorthodox methods are put to the test when he must settle a rift between Toronto Maple Leafs star Darren Roanoke (Romany Malco) and his estranged wife. After the split, Roanoke's wife starts dating Los Angeles Kings star Jacques Grande (Justin Timberlake) out of revenge, sending her husband into a major professional skid -- to the horror of the team's owner, Jane Bullard (Jessica Alba), and coach Cherkov (Verne Troyer).  Pitka must return the couple to marital nirvana and get Roanoke back on his game so the team can break the 40-year-old "Bullard Curse" and win the Stanley Cup. 

Needless to say, a movie about hockey needs some good hockey scenes, and Ellis made it his mission to make that happen.

"The experiences in making Miracle certainly helped me in making The Love Guru," Ellis said. "I knew that the authenticity has to be on. The one thing I learned with Miracle is that you can't fool hockey people. They are crazy about the game and notice every little detail."

So, Ellis put his mind to getting every little detail right in the film.

First, he had to find all the extras he needed to make the hockey scenes work. He traveled to the Toronto area and held an open casting call that drew more than 3,500 applicants. After whittling that group down to 75, Ellis convened a training camp in Oshawa, Ontario. Most of the players that made the cut were former junior or college players, although a few ex-NHLers made it onto the extras roster.

Former Detroit heavyweight Bob Probert, journeyman defenseman Jamie Allison and current Kings defenseman Rob Blake all show up in the movie.

Ellis, who is considered the preeminent sports authenticity producer in Hollywood today, has made 35 films in 15 years. He remains shocked at how easy hockey players are to work with on the set.

"I do a lot of the big sports movies in Hollywood," he said, "and there is nothing like the culture of hockey. These guys are just so much fun to be around and they are always ready to work hard. It is a unique environment and one I enjoy tremendously."

According to Myers, a lifelong fan of hockey in general and the Toronto Maple Leafs in particular, the enjoyment shows through in the final product.

"Mark did an amazing job," Myers said. "I have a community of hockey people to answer to that this film be authentic; and I really wanted this film to be authentic and Mark Ellis did an amazing job."

Ellis was so detailed that he would choreograph every hockey scene down to the smallest detail, sketching out what happened in the run-up and conclusion of the action, as well as the play itself.

Ellis also worked with many of the actors in the movie, some who had never laced on skates before.

Malco had never skated before. Timberlake also had never been on skates. Yet both look like credible hockey players in the movie. In fact, Myers lauded Timberlake's "amazing Tony Espo-like butterfly stance" he flashes throughout the movie, channeling the on-ice style of legendary Chicago goalie Tony Esposito.

Teaching others to skate shouldn't be too much of a challenge, considering Ellis taught himself the same skill when the opportunity to do Miracle arose. At the time, he was based in South Carolina and his exposure to the game was limited to stories passed on by his father, who was originally from upstate New York.

"I never played the game," says Ellis. "But, when the opportunity came to make the movie, I literally grabbed a pair of skates and learned how to skate.

Being that The Love Guru is his first hockey movie, Myers, who is a huge hockey fan himself, was adamant that all of the hockey scenes in the film were going to look good and real. 

He also spent a lot of time hanging around with the local minor-league team, the Columbia Inferno, to get a feel for how hockey players think, act and look.

All that acquired knowledge was lovingly transferred into the hockey scenes in The Love Guru.

Allison, who played 11 years in the NHL, was shocked to see what Ellis could do. He remembers showing up for the filming and seeing Malco struggling to skate and wondering what he had gotten himself into if the movie's star was one step removed from ankle-bender status.

"The first day I was on the set, I looked at a friend of mine and said how are they going to do this," Allison said. "I didn't think it could be done. It actually was amazing, from the first time I saw him to when we started filming.

"(Malco) worked hard. For us, skating all our lives, it is one thing. I guess you could compare it to one of us going out and driving an Indy car without ever having done it. He made some big strides and he did very well."

It was the attention to every detail -- like Malco's skating stride and Timberlake's goalie mask -- that most impressed Allison.

"The big thing was that Mike Myers is such a big hockey fan and with him doing a hockey movie for the first time, he was adamant that it was going to look good and look real," said Allison. "They took a lot of time and effort to make sure everything looked good."

Ellis said that the specter of Myers and his passion for hockey looming over him pushed him to greatness. Plus, Myers stepped in and made helpful "suggestions" for improvement if Ellis did happen to go astray.

"Every point Mike made was right on," Ellis said. "You would look at something that he pointed out and his idea and it would be right on. It always made the scene better.

"All the hockey scenes went through his eyes. I knew immediately I was setting myself up to really please him or I would be out of there."

In the end, Ellis pleased Myers beyond belief. In the days leading up to the movie's release, Myers couldn't stop raving about the authentic feel of the movie's hockey scenes.

"This is all Mark Ellis, he was so thorough," said Myers. "He did an amazing job."

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