Book of Manning opens film vaults for rare peek into family’s history

Filmmaker Rory Karpf (Photo courtesy of Rory Karpf)
Rory Karpf

ESPN Films’ The Book of Manning (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET), part of the “SEC Storied” documentary series, explores the personal and professional life of former NFL and Ole Miss quarterback Archie Manning. The film focuses on how the sudden loss of his father affected his life and the way he and his wife, Olivia, raised their three sons: Cooper, and NFL stars Peyton and Eli.

Front Row sat with director Rory Karpf to discuss how the film — narrated by actor John Goodman — came together.

How was the experience of working with Archie and how did the film evolve?
Working with Archie was great. This was a process that took over two years to come together. Archie was very hesitant to tell this story. He’s extremely humble and didn’t really want to be the focus of a film. In fact, he actually backed out once we had already begun production. It was heartbreaking. He called me and told me it was not happening. He said we could revisit it in a few months. I tried to be diplomatic about it but when we hung up, I was crushed. Luckily, [Archie’s wife] Olivia actually convinced him to participate and boy am I glad she did! She said people need to know Archie’s story. It all worked out in the end.

You were able to find a lot of home video footage that Archie shot of the Manning brothers as kids. How did that shape the direction of the film?
I was over Archie’s house in New Orleans and he opened a closet full of nothing but stacks of old VHS and Beta tapes. He said, ‘Take what you want. Just give it back to me at some point.’ I stuffed everything I could into a duffel bag and was off like a thief in the night! There was some incredible stuff in there. So much good stuff…really funny moments. And a few heartfelt ones, too. You get to hear Archie behind the camera and really get a sense how much he loves his boys.

What does the film cover that viewers may not know about Archie and the Manning family?
This is really a film about fathers and sons. We look at Archie Manning as both. He endured an unbelievable tragedy with the suicide of his father. It’s something I can’t even begin to imagine. We really explore what he went through with his father’s death and how it affected him … as both a son and later on as a father himself. Also, viewers will really get the opportunity to learn about Cooper Manning, the eldest son. Not much has been done on Cooper up to this point. I don’t think people realize what he went through and how it affected the entire family.

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