8 Great Filmmaking Lessons from 'A League of Their Own'

Credit: Columbia Pictures
They wanted their own league, and we got a cinematic classic because of it. 

What's a movie you quote all of the time? One with lines that just stick in your head and come up in everyday conversation? I think I read or hear something from A League of Their Own on a weekly basis, if not daily. I mean, how many times in your life have you heard, "There's no crying in baseball"?

My point with all this is that this movie entered our cultural lexicon and has been there for 30 years. 

Surely, we can find some excellent lessons filmmakers can glean from this masterpiece. I think about eight of them make sense. To do that, I recommend watching the movie so it is recently in your mind. 

If you want a quick refresher, check out the trailer below—and then let's look at the lessons.

8 Great Filmmaking Lessons from A League of Their Own

1. Documentaries make great narratives

The idea for the movie came from Penny Marshall watching the 1987 documentary about the AAGPBL titled A League of their Own on TV. Seriously, it came from just watching TV. Marshall had never heard the story before and knew it had feature potential. She contacted the film's creators, Kelly Candaele and Kim Wilson, to collaborate with the scriptwriters, Babaloo Mandel and Lowell Ganz. That script was passed on by a few studios but wound up at Sony who was excited to make the feature.

I bet you watch TV all the time. Have you seen any docs on a subject that you think could make a great movie? Reach out to the creators ASAP! 

2. Great Character Intros 

One of the things this movie gets right is how we meet all the characters. From the bookends of the movie to the introduction of Jimmy Dugan as a drunk, we really remember and understand each person as we meet them. That helps get a lot of information across in a very quick timeframe.

When you're introducing characters, you want the audience to understand what they're coming from and maybe get a hint of their arc. 

'A League of Their Own'
'A League of Their Own'Credit: Columbia Pictures

3. Let them Do Their Own Stunts

Look, I'm not talking about Jackie Chan here. I want to go on record in saying how impressive it was to me that this movie leaned into women who could play baseball.

Geena Davis talked about the women learning to hit and slide for the movie, and doing it all in the dress uniforms the characters have to wear.

When possible, ask your actors to give the whole performance. I don't think playing baseball is that dangerous. And casting women who could really play made the film feel authentic. 

'A League of Their Own'
'A League of Their Own'Credit: Columbia Pictures

4. Great Dialogue Is Succinct

I said it at the beginning. "There's no crying in baseball!"

But there are a lot of valuable quotes within the movie. And none of them are long speeches. They're just succinct pieces of dialogue that have lived on forever.

Think about that other Jimmy Dugan classic: "It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. The hard... is what makes it great."

My point is, don't be so concerned with writing a ton of dialogue, just make every line count. 

5. Put Effort into Location Scouts

Penny Marshall wanted this movie to feel authentic to the women and the time. Aside from the costumes and sets, they made the locations pop. She didn't settle for just any ballparks—they used real, historic ballparks that were around then and that sold the look and feel.

Now, I don't expect your budget to cover ballparks, but I do expect you to think about how locations fit into your story. Make sure they look and feel like the movie you want to make.   

6. What's True About the Sport? 

This probably piggybacks off having actors who can play the game but also incorporates a healthy dose of the theme.

What's true about baseball? It's a sport, a sport where you can measure how good you are playing it. The sport managed to match the ethos of the movie. This was about women finding self-worth and a calling and a place of respect. If this is truly America's pastime, then it's for both men and women.

What is your movie's theme? Are you really leaning into it? 

'A League of Their Own'
'A League of Their Own'Credit: Columbia Pictures

7. Leave them wondering. 

You can't talk about baseball without talking about the end of the movie. Did Dottie drop the ball Kit hit? Well, let's go straight to the source.

This 2017 anniversary story from The Ringer has Lori Petty (Kit Keller) giving her own answer, saying, "I kicked her ass!"

Now, the movie's star, Geena Davis, has her own theory. In a 2017 ESPNW oral history about the film she said, “I’ll say two things about that. Number 1: I know the answer. Because it was me, of course, I know the answer. And number 2: No, I’m not going to answer that question. I never have, and I never will.”

Look, I think she dropped it. But the point is that movie left us asking questions—what does yours offer? 

8. Spinoff possibilities that are endless 

It was recently reported that Amazon was going to reboot the story as a TV show. This was not a revolutionary story, since CBS tried it in 1993. We often see successful movies lead to TV.

If you are building a big world, or see the opportunity to do so, it's good to have a plan with what you could do to sell other versions of the idea. Sure, don't get too carried away, but if anyone asks, you should have an answer. 

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