Jack White loves a cohesive team; on ice or in film
Originally from Windsor, Ont., Jack White moved to Los Angeles in the ’70s to pursue an animation career. While there, he set up hockey clinics to help share the game he loved in a relatively new market.
White would eventually become one of the premier hockey technical directors in Hollywood, working on movies like The Mighty Ducks and Youngblood. He last served in that capacity for the hockey scenes in the 1998 family holiday film, Jack Frost. That project would lend a touch of symmetry to that stage in his life, as he had started by working with title actor Michael Keaton on 1986’s Touch and Go.
Now a security offer at Eastern Florida State College, White got his break into the hockey side of Hollywood when one of his friends brought him to appear in a Budweiser commercial.
“It was a Wednesday,” he remembered. “All of the players were excited and shooting pucks. I went over near a few guys reading some notes, and got picked to be in a fight for some referees to break up, because the commercial was about the refs.”
From there, he would use his relationships to work with actors on their skating and eventually the hockey. While White was training Keaton to skate for Touch and Go, one of the producers was looking for a storyboard artist. Because of White’s background as an animator, he was able to do the job and add some input to the script.
Training actors how to skate is a delicate process, White explained. You needed to train them quickly but had to keep them interested and motivated.
“With Michael, I never had him on the ice alone,” he said. “I always had someone out there with him so that he never felt alone. And I could give a signal to his training partner to ask to redo something if Michael wasn’t doing it right.”
Working with Keaton wasn’t difficult, because he took a liking to the sport, and spent some time playing with White’s celebrity team.
“He’s a great guy, worked really hard,” White said. “One time, he took us out to feed us sandwiches and forgot to take off his skates. So they sparked up as he walked across the parking lot, and we called him Sparky.
“He kept playing hockey after the movie. We played a game in Pittsburgh, and everybody from Mr. Rogers came to watch. He used to operate the train on Mr. Rogers.”
With all of his stripes in the genre, White inevitably watches hockey movies differently than the average viewer. And he never misses a new hockey movie when it comes out.
“(I’ve seen) pretty much them all,” he said. “Just to see how it was staged, how they created angles. With The Mighty Ducks we tried to shoot low to create a cool angle.”
The most recent mainstream hockey movie to come out was Goon: Last of the Enforcers, the sequel to 2011’s Goon. While he enjoyed it, White didn’t think it reached the bar of his favorite, Slap Shot.
“I loved the main character, but it was too slapstick,” he said. “I loved the team thing in Slap Shot. It just wasn’t the same.”
But in terms of the best pure hockey choreography he’s seen, White went in a different direction.
“Miracle, because they tried to do a play-by-play on it,” he said. “Nathan West, we used as a goalie on Ducks, played an Olympian (Rob Maclanahan). We used him on the Iceland team. You know, we were some of the first to shoot on the (Anaheim) Pond, were out there on the ice, in a huge arena. It was great for the kids.”
For the most part, White is happy with how hockey movies are being shot. But he would like to see more locker room scenes, and to see the inner workings of the teams.
When it came to actors he has worked with and their skating ability, White said that the late Patrick Swayze, a Youngblood supporting player, had a figure skating background which helped him learn the hockey style of skating easier.
White worked with legendary stunt director Steve Boyum two on the Mighty Ducks sequels. Boyum later worked on Mystery, Alaska and directed the 2002 Slap Shot sequel.
While he didn’t take away any major lessons in stunts from Boyum, White did learn some important life lessons.
“I did storyboards with him. He’s an unbelievable guy,” he remarked. “He had such a great attitude on how to treat people.”
Part of the reason that there wasn’t much to learn, stunts-wise, on set was because of how little hockey players need to learn to do stunts.
“We did a thing with Michael J. Fox for a (Late Show with David) Letterman segment. They would give personalities 40k for a short film. His was on hockey, and I made the storyboards. We shot two nights in a row for him, and he would travel with my celebrity team for the deal. He was happy because he didn’t need to pay tons of money for the ice time and actors.
“Michael J. Fox was stunned at their ability. Hockey players are great at stunts, just from the nature of the game. I had friends I used on commercials for EA (Sports), and we did a segment where he was supposed to get slammed into the glass. I had him hold the check for the money shot.”