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‘Boys in Blue’ director Peter Berg on whether the Doc series has changed his view of police work


For years, filmmaker Peter Berg had nothing but fond memories of his college days in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. “My memory was just one of happiness and genuine joy, and it felt extremely diverse and inclusive,” the Macalester College alum tells me. THR – until decades later, when the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin shook the nation to its foundations. “When I first saw the murder, I was shocked,” he says. “And I was even more shocked when I realized it was in the Twin Cities.”

Peter Berg

Phillip Faraone/WireImage

The aftermath led Berg to explore how the community had changed in the decades since he left. Eager to do something constructive and enlightening, the director-producer of the Friday night lights film and TV series traveled back to helm the four-part documentary series Boys in bluean in-depth look at the football program at Minneapolis North High School, set in an already troubled community now turned upside down in the wake of Floyd’s murder – especially since the team’s coaches were also Minneapolis police officers.

Berg found himself describing the confusion and complexities facing the community and its relationship with law enforcement, as well as the inspiring aspirations of the young athletes and the adults who seek to help them create a path to a brighter, brighter future.

“Unfortunately, something very tragic and horrific happened,” says Berg. “Our best quarterback, Deshaun Hill, who was simply one of the most beautiful, most gifted young men I’ve ever come across, was killed three days before we wrapped up the shooting.”

Berg joined THR to discuss how he and his crew managed to advance and complete Boys in bluewith the community’s blessing, the lessons he learned from the experience, and the deeper understanding he hopes to convey to viewers.

There’s a candor that everyone – the kids, the coaches, the police, the teachers – shared, even in such a confusing time for all of them. How did you gain their trust?

I’ve done work in space that involved people dying: Sole survivor, Patriots Day, Deep waterr Horizon. I’ve experienced going into communities and saying, “We want to tell the story of the lives of your loved ones.” These are often tragic stories. But early on I said, “If you let us in, I promise we’ll give you the very best, and we’ll be as honest and truthful as possible, and we’ll help you tell the story of your life.”

(The community) let us in and we developed very deep relationships with these families. Our film crews were deeply entrenched, not only in Deshaun Hill’s family, but also in the coaches and in the other players. When Deshaun was killed, we were very confused – it took us three days to stop shooting. Our whole crew gathered and they were very traumatized. I said, ‘We’re going to finish the story. Now this is part of the story. It happened during the time frame that we all agreed we’d be there to film.

Charles Adams, the head football coach at North Community High.

Charles Adams, the head football coach at North Community High.

Thanks to SHOWTIME

I said, ‘Let’s not try to make sense of it. I don’t know if it’s something you can understand. Let’s put it together, tell the story. And before we do anything else, let’s show it to Deshaun Hill’s parents. We will show it to the community, we will listen and gauge what they think about it.” That’s what we did. Tuesday Hill, Deshaun’s mother, said, “I want people to understand who my son was, and I want people to understand that this is happening every day across the country.” People will know Deshaun’s name, but so many young men have been murdered in this country and we never hear about it. She said, “Go ahead and finish the movie – please.”

Tell me how you navigated as the crutch for the crew, and everyone, as the leader of production.

I was gutted. I knew the pain I felt was nothing compared to the pain parents, siblings, and teammates felt. It inspired me to work harder. The pain of that community fed me and everyone else. We were able to channel our pain into work and anger. We were angry that he had been killed. We were angry with the person who killed him (30-year-old Cody Fohrenkam, who was sentenced to more than 38 years). We used those emotions to tell the best story we could and make sure Deshaun Hill was presented in a way that was true to who he was.

Minneapolis Police Officer Ricky Plunkett and a player on the North Community High School football team that Plunkett coaches

Minneapolis Police Officer Ricky Plunkett and a player on the North Community High School football team that Plunkett coaches

Thanks to SHOWTIME

Do you have any idea how this project ultimately changed you as a filmmaker and perhaps as a person?

The first scene of the movie is a scene in Deshaun Hill’s living room, and Tuesday talks to us about her worst fear, that her son will be killed when he leaves school and goes to the bus stop. I really didn’t appreciate her saying to us, “Help. Will someone please help? This is damn real. This is not a joke. I’m telling you I’m afraid my son will be killed walking to the bus.’ Well, her son was killed walking to the bus. After that happened, my understanding of how dangerous life is for young men in so many parts of this country hit me much, much harder. I understand how dangerous it can be to be poor in America. That to me was something I didn’t fully appreciate before making this and something I’m very aware of now: how much help people need to break this cycle of poverty. It’s just not right. It’s not fair. We should all at least acknowledge that it is very real.

You’ve worked with topics involving all kinds of law enforcement. Tell me about the effect this project had on your relationship and the way you feel about police work.

I know a lot of cops. I’ve seen horrible cops who should never have been badged. I’ve met some high quality police officers and know many who I think are the very best examples of what police work can be – officers who have empathy and decency and try to do the right thing and try to help. It didn’t surprise me that I admired agents like Agent Adams and Agent Plunkett. These are, I think, good men and great cops. I remain vigilant for agents who are not. In Boys in blue, we’re looking at the very best of police work in an honest way that doesn’t obscure it, that doesn’t present these men as saints, as people beyond reproach, but as real people doing their best for these kids. I haven’t radically changed my opinion: Agents like Derek Chauvin should be locked up, and agents like Agent Adams should be respected and, I believe, applauded.

Interview edited for length and clarity.

This story first appeared in a standalone May issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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