For the last five years, I’ve been in a friendly fantasy football league. Fantasy football works like this: you have a team of a few players–my league’s format is 1 quarterback, 2 running backs, 3 wide receivers, 1  tight end, 1 kicker and 1 defense. Each week, players at those positions accrue points for what they do in the real-life NFL games.  My league is head-to-head, so my goal is for my players to score more combined points than the team I’m matched up against each week.

It’s a lot of fun.  It’s mostly luck, but there is a little skill involved–or at least, I’ll claim there is, because I won my league a few years ago, and it’s more fun to brag if I can say it was because I am a football expert.

So, I started thinking: for what other activities could you make up this sort of game? And I ultimately settled on movies.

Like many people, I like to imagine my “dream all-star cast” for movies. But anyone can do that. Fantasy film-making needs to have an element of strategy and resource management.  So, I came up with some rules.

The format of the Fantasy Movie Cast/Crew is as follows:

  • 1 Director
  • 1 Lead Actor
  • 1 Lead Actress
  • 1 Supporting Actor
  • 1 Supporting Actress
  • 1 Screenwriter
  • 1 Cinematographer
  • 1 Composer

Yes, I realize it takes a lot more people to make a movie, but as with Fantasy sports, there have to be some constraints.

Another constraint: you are only allowed to have two Academy Award-nominees per “team”.  That is what brings out the strategic element–it forces players to prioritize where they want the proven talent.  That’s not to say only Academy Award nominees are any good, but again, as with fantasy sports, you have to know how to find under-valued talent to succeed.

Also, you can’t cheat and use one nominee in multiple slots–no written by/directed by/starring the same person.

Finally, the selection is limited to living people–so no building All-Time teams with Stanley Kubrick directing Peter O’Toole or something.

So, here’s my team:

Director: Mike Leigh. Using one of my two Oscar slots right off the bat.  I figured having an established presence at the helm would be important. He also has experience directing in theater as well as film, and I think that versatility would be useful.

Others I considered: Sir Kenneth Branagh, Rian Johnson.

Lead Actor:  Roger Guenveur Smith. This is what I mean about under-valued talent.  I have seen Smith perform live in his one-man show Juan and John, and he is a marvelous actor. Why isn’t he more widely known?  Beats me.  He is excellent at cycling through a huge range of emotions, and can create all different kinds of characters–often in the space of a few minutes.  He also has a distinctive voice and memorable presence.

Others I considered: Ewan McGregor, Joel Edgerton, Ralph Fiennes

Lead Actress: Natalie Portman. Yeah, yeah; long-time readers probably knew I would pick her the minute they read the description of the game.  Well, she’s a great actress with a wide range, and a particular knack for dark or tragic roles.  Besides which, for a movie to succeed, it helps to have at least one big-name lead.

Others I considered: Rachel Weisz, Sigourney Weaver, Felicia Day

Supporting Actor: Stephen Colbert. People know him mainly as a talk-show host, but he does have a background in acting, which you could see sometimes on The Colbert Report when he would really dial up the crazy.  I read once that he said he always wanted to play Richard in Robert Bolt’s A Man For All Seasons. Just the fact that he said that earns him some acting credit, in my book.

Others I considered: Jeff Lewis, Hugh Laurie

Supporting Actress: Sara Kestelman. Like Smith, I first heard of Kestelman when she was voice acting in the game Knights of the Old Republic II. Since then, I’ve seen her perform in all sorts of things.  But it’s still her KotOR II role that best showcases what a terrific actress she is. While the writing is terrific, I think  Kestelman’s acting also made Kreia into one of the greatest characters in gaming history.

Others I considered: Rashida Jones, Tina Fey

Screenwriter: Anthony Tambakis. His work on Jane Got a Gun and his novel Swimming with Bridgeport Girls impressed me enough to take a chance on someone with a relatively small body of work.

Others I considered: None. There aren’t too many active screenwriters whose work I like.

Cinematographer: Steve Yedlin. I’ve only seen one movie on which he served as cinematographer: The Brothers Bloom. But it had something I really, really liked: color. Not just muted greens and greys and browns, but honest-to-goodness colors. This has fallen out of fashion for some reason, and it’s annoying. So, on the basis of his willingness to accommodate the full spectrum of colors, I choose him.

Others I considered: Dick Pope.

Composer: Lisa Gerrard. Another talent I first discovered in Jane Got a Gun. Since then, I’ve heard her work in the band Dead Can Dance, and I was hooked.

Others I considered: Clint Mansell

As for what the movie would be about–well, we can sort those details out later! That’s how the big studio producers do it, after all. As for scoring and head-to-head competitions, those also can be determined later.

How would you build your ideal movie cast and crew?

Against my better judgment, I’m in a fantasy football league again this season.  my team is much stronger this year since I decided to abandon my “contrarian” strategy of last year and go the more conservative route of doing what the fantasy experts recommend.

Even so, it’s scary to me how addictive it is.  I never understood how anyone could be addicted to gambling, but I’m starting to see.  You get a thrill when some random player you picked off of waivers does well, and are frustrated when you 1st round pick under-performs.  But it’s not like there’s anything you can do about it.

I suppose it’s more like stock picking than  gambling per se.  There’s some element of skill to stock picking; you have to have a decent grasp of business and the economy to be able to have sustained success.  But after that, both stocks and fantasy football are all about 90% luck.  And when you consider that everybody in my league is reasonably knowledgeable about football, that’s practically the equivalent of it being 100% luck.

Case in point: everyone knew Peyton Manning would, barring injury, be good this year.  He’s been good basically every year of his career.  But it’s not like it was unreasonable to think, back in August, that Aaron Rodgers might be better.  No one could have expected this record-shattering pace from Manning.

It’s an amusing little diversion, don’t get me wrong.  It can make watching the games more interesting.  But from the perspective of a video gamer, who has heard that his pastime is “unproductive” and “a waste of time”, I can at least say that with video games, you can influence the outcome–that seems like it’s a bit more worthwhile then spending time trying to win a competition you have no control over.

Moralists rail against most forms of gambling,

Their fingers they wag, and implore us and beg us

To see to it we never decide to go rambling

In places like Monte Carlo, or, Lord help us, Las Vegas.

But the most sinister game of chance that I’ve seen

I was able to play in my home by myself.

It’s referred to as “Fantasy Football”, and I mean

To say it’s as bad as some dice or cards on a shelf.

Well, I picked out my players in the pre-season draft

After poring o’er pages of prognostic palavers;

But by the third week, all my choices looked daft,

My runners were hurt, and all my receivers on waivers.

All the “experts” whose advice I naively did seek

Told me that I’d win based on the stats they projected

Which were based on what happened last week—

But things never, oh never, went as they expected!

Oh, you should rather pull slot machine levers

Or hit on 19 in a game of Blackjack,

Than go out and start  “hot” wide receivers

Or pick up the alleg’d “workhorse running back”.

I tried to get clever in order to trick ‘em

And my strategy became downright contrarian,

When I heard a name and was told “never pick ‘em!”

I’d snap him right up, dropping the stars I was carryin’!

But my efforts all were completely for naught;

My “sleepers” got stuffed by opposing noseguards

While the star I had dropped then went out and caught

17 passes for well over 200 yards.

I’ve had quite enough of this mad game of chance,

I don’t think knowing the sport helped me out in the least;

I could go and play baccarat or roulette in France

And I think my odds of success would be greatly increased!