In my recent Miami New Times review of the new documentary Screwball, I praised the filmmakers’ decision to incorporate children in their reenactments of events behind the MLB steroid scandal and its connection to Miami. Earlier, when I spoke to the documentary’s Miami-based director Billy Corben ahead of the film’s Miami premiere at Miami Dade College’s Miami Film Festival* for the Miami New Times, he admitted that he has wanted to use child actors in his movies with his partner at Rakontur, producer Alfred Spellman, for many years.
Corben revealed the seed was first planted the late ‘90s when he saw the Spike Jonze-directed music video for Biggie Smalls’ “Sky’s the Limit,” which was produced after the rapper’s death. Then, about 10 years ago, he saw Kyle Jarrow’s “A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant” off Broadway, a musical about the founding of Scientology performed by children. For a time, Corben wanted to use the musical numbers as a framing device for a Scientology documentary. “This was long before anyone was allowed to make Scientology documentaries,” he said with a laugh. “Now they’ve been all the rage in recent years, but nobody would touch this.”
So no Scientology documentary by Rakontur. However, then came Screwball, a documentary about the doping scandal in Major League Baseball. Corben said the stories told by the film’s two main subjects, mastermind and former owner of the South Florida-based “rejuvenation clinic” Biogenesis Tony Bosch and Porter Fischer, a former customer of Bosch’s who started marketing for his company, were so vivid, they could be acted out and lip-synched by actors. He didn’t want just any actors, however, he wanted child actors.
First, he had to convince Spellman this would work beyond some kind of funny gimmick “It works on so many levels,” said Corben. “That’s how I think I was able to convince Alfred that we should do it,” he added with a laugh. “If it was just a funny idea, he may or may not have agreed. If it was a funny idea and it worked in the movie, he might have not have agreed. If it was a funny idea and worked for the story and it had sort of multiple layers of meaning, I think that’s what ultimately kind of drove it home.”
That deeper layer speaks to something quite disturbing that ultimately put Bosch in prison. He not only juiced famous ball players like Alex Rodriguez, he was convicted of juicing still-developing teenage high school athletes. Corben admits he could care less about steroids tainting the “sanctity of the sport” of baseball. “The most significant of the crimes committed here is the idea that he was injecting high school kids with God knows what and more disturbingly in my opinion, that those children were being brought by their parents and coaches to do that,” Corben said. “No 15-year-old kid came off the street to Tony Bosch. “
The documentary goes into Congressional hearings about the MLB, following the steroid scandal. However, Corben, also noted there is something beyond the reputations of celebrity ball players at stake and even more so the juicing of children. He said there are still plenty of “rejuvenation clinics” in South Florida, and some of those customers are police.
“The real, to me, national security emergency or real public health and safety issue that Congress should be looking into are the cops, for crying out loud,” he said. “Tony Bosch admits to having at least a hundred cop clients from departments all over, at least two counties, I think, you know, certainly Miami-Dade, and that to me seems really problematic that we have these public officials with guns and badges and a license to kill all ‘roided out on our streets, and why isn’t Congress having hearings about that?”
The Bosch case was certainly high profile, but his arrest and conviction doesn’t mean all of these clinics are closed. “People are always saying to me, well, where’s the new place? Who’s the new guy?” said Corben. “Well, now that Tony Bosch is shut down, there’s other people in town, there’s other places and clinics and anti-aging doctors or whatever they may be. And I say, just drive around Hialeah and look for the cop cars from different departments parked in some strip mall storefront, mirrored window spa that says ‘clinic’ out front or whatever the sign is. That’s how you will find the next spot. You see cop cars parked someplace like that, but they’re from three or four different departments. That’s the new guy.”
To read more of my conversation with Corben, jump through this headline from the Miami New Times:
*Screwball went on to win the Audience Award at the Miami Film Festival. It opens theatrically this Friday, March 29, at MDC’s Tower Theater and O Cinema Miami Beach. At O Cinema, following the opening night 8:35 p.m. screening, Film subject Porter Fischer and producers Alfred Spellman and David Cypkin will participate in a post-film Q&A. Tower’s Saturday March 30 Screening at 7 p.m. will feature a Q&A Session with director Billy Corben and subject Tony Bosch. Then, following the 8:35 p.m. screening on that same day at O Cinema Miami Beach, Corben joins Fischer in a post-film Q&A. Finally, on Sunday, March 31, after the 4:25 p.m. screening, Spellman will join Independent Ethos critic Hans Morgenstern in a post-film Q&A.