King Richard isn’t like other sports films. Yes, it tells the true story of Richard Williams, father of tennis stars Serena and Venus Williams. But even though the film recreates many of the Williams’ sisters’ tennis matches, director Reinaldo Marcus Green was adamant that the film should not rely on the voices of sports commentators to tell the story.
“Cinematographer Robert Elswit and I talked about not wanting to rely on announcers to help us tell the emotion. At this point in the story, if we don’t care about these characters, then we have not done our job as filmmakers,” Green told MovieMaker.
“We were able to convince the studio that our way was the way. I’m very happy I stuck to my guns. They supported it, but it was certainly: You sure you don’t want to consider it? Nope!”
Not using sports commentators was a challenge for editor Pamela Martin, but it’s one she was up for. She’d already edited Battle of the Sexes, a 2017 film about the famous 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. So when Green asked her to edit King Richard, she wanted to make sure it was unique.
“The barometer is, ‘Do I want to see this movie?’ Because I have to spend a long time on it. So I look for things that are to my taste, and something that excites me, that I know I’m going to be passionate about when I go to work every day,” Martin told MovieMaker.
“I have been asked to do other boxing movies after editing The Fighter, and I always said ‘No.’ And I’ve been asked to do beauty pageant movies after Little Miss Sunshine, and I said ‘No.’ It’s tricky when you work with someone the first time, because you’re taking a risk when you go with someone who’s a little more green, or you don’t have that relationship yet. But I liked Rei’s personality, and I liked the script. A huge piece of the puzzle is the script, always. I read the script and thought it was very strong.”
Green said not using commentators was a challenge, but part of what makes Martin and Green work well together is their commitment to original thought.
“What was nice about this tennis movie is that it was approached differently than the other one. So that was a new set of challenges for me, particularly the fact that Rei chose not to do announcers—no commentator voices during the match,” Martin said. “Sports movies rely on it heavily, and I am guilty of that. I knew that was going to be hard. But in a way I was relieved to just let go of that and say, OK, I have to figure this out another way.”
Green said of their combined work ethic: “It’s amazing when you can actually have a conversation, and if you have any disagreements say, Hey, I see it this way, you see it this way, let’s try it. Pam has always been willing to try.”
According to Martin, in addition to its lack of commentators, what makes King Richard stand out from other sports movies is that it really isn’t about tennis at all. It’s about family.
“At the end of the day, just like Battle of the Sexes, King Richard is not a tennis movie, actually,” she said. There’s tennis in it, but it’s a movie about a family and real people.”
Martin and Green’s full coversation about the making of King Richard can be found in our fall print issue, on newsstands now.
King Richard arrives in theaters and on HBO Max on Nov. 19.
Main Image: The Williams family heads to a match in King Richard. Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros.