Billy Corben on The U Part 2: "It's About How the University of Miami Got Their Swagger Back"

The U Part 2 director Billy Corben.
The U Part 2 director Billy Corben.
Photo by Stian Roenning

This Saturday, Miami-based film director and University of Miami graduate Billy Corben will debut the sequel to his 2009 hit ESPN 30 for 30 film, The U. Airing just after the Heisman Trophy presentation, The U Part 2 picks up where the original ended, taking viewers from the unstoppable 2001 Butch Davis-led squad all the way to the the Hurricanes' loss to Pittsburgh last month. The U Part 2 promises to run the gamut of Canes fans' emotions.

Riptide caught up with Corben this week as he sat in an editing room putting the finishing touches on his film. He told us more about this new Canes documentary, his take on Nevin Shapiro, and the time the 2001 Hurricanes got inspiration from Rocky Balboa.

New Times: Some people seem surprised The U Part 2 covers the team all the way to the Hurricanes' recent loss to Pitt. Was it your initial intention to fast-forward to the present, or did the Hurricanes' recent struggles kind of take you there in regards to the Nevin Shapio ordeal and how things have progressed since then?

Billy Corben: It follows the same arc as the first movie -- it's a rise and fall. The downside, so to speak, of the first movie was that it was a rise and fall that ended around 1992-ish, but we knew, and anyone in the know knew, the team would rise again, and that is what we never got to in the first movie. That's what I'm most excited about being able to do this time. I use this line: "The thicker and fatter the dynasty gets, the harder it falls."

The list of Hurricanes players and coaches your crew interviewed for The U Part 2 is loaded with interesting people. Was there a particular story that stuck out in the filming that you had never heard?

The biggest bummer about this movie is we started filming it on May 16. I would have loved to have had the time to schedule interviews with more guys, but the guys we did interview were incredibly fascinating. One fun deleted scene centers around [former Hurricanes center] Brett Romberg. Here's a Canadian dude who came down to Miami blindly. He didn't even take a campus visit! He just said, "I'm leaving my country and going to Miami." Then he married a Latin woman and has never left; it doesn't get more Miami than that! He's like the snowbird who never left.

Another deleted-scene story involves Clinton Portis and the 2001 team. Clinton would buy the entire offensive line dinner every time he reached a minimum threshold each week, stats- or goals-wise. He would buy them all dinner. I think that year he spent something ridiculous, like $2,000 or something crazy.

Another fun story: It was Joaquin [Gonzalez] or somebody -- I'll have to double-check -- but they, you know, were big fans of Rocky 4 at the time and they had seen Rocky training with the logs in Russia. They had chopped down trees for him in the movie. So some of the offensive line guys got FPL, or they all went somewhere where FPL logs were at, and they trained like Rocky in Russia.

 

The original The U documentary was incredibly popular, earning one of the highest ratings for a 30 for 30. Why do you think even as the team struggles, there is still so much interest in the program?

Well, first of all, I think the best sports movies are not about sports, and I think that's why the first one did well. It was less about sports, more about Miami. I think the second one is more about sports at first, more about football -- the first half is anyway. The second half is where it gets really interesting, and I'm excited for it to air. I think that's what was so appealing about the first film. The most flattering thing people told me about the first movie was "I don't even like the Hurricanes" or "I don't even like football" or "I don't even like sports, but I love that documentary." I think that was the appeal for the most part -- you're appealing to people outside that sort of target demo.

The U Part 2 takes on the Nevin Shapiro saga, when the Ponzi schemer and UM booster accused the program of all kinds of problems. What is your take on how he affected those Hurricanes teams?

It wasn't like during the quote-unquote "Nevin Shapiro Era" that the team was winning. People try to taint the 2001 team with the stench of this guy, but that's not fair. Shapiro only got involved with the university in 2002. He only got involved to jump on the coattails of the team's success. Shapiro really didn't have anything to do with those guys in any meaningful way. It's not as if Nevin Shapiro was involved in an era when they were winning. If they were cheating when he was involved, you'd have to say they weren't any good at it, because they weren't winning.

Sequels are notorious for not being as good as the original. What are some of your favorite and least favorite sequels of all time?

Wow. You gotta say Godfather 2, Star Trek 2, Superman 2, and The Raid 2. Those are a couple of sequels that I would say are as good, if not better, than the originals. As far as the worst? Almost every other sequel is the worst, even in the series I've mentioned some are the worst: Superman 3 and 4, Godfather 3, those are just terrible. There is no shortage of bad sequels. I like the ones that are different, the ones that continue on with the story, like The Empire Strikes Back.

Here we knew we were telling the same story, but it was a continuation of the previous story. The first one was very much about the era. It was very much about Miami in that era. It was very much about what you could get away with in college football in that era. So this is a completely different time period, and it's really just about guys doing it with a little more class, doing it the right way. It's a lot about how the University of Miami got their swagger back.

The U Part 2 airs immediately following the Heisman Trophy ceremony on ESPN this Saturday, December 13, at 9 p.m. Follow Billy Corben on Twitter.

Follow Miami New Times on Facebook and Twitter @MiamiNewTimes.


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