Yogi Roth was racing through life as a writer, author, coach, sports analyst and motivational speaker when he realized the important things in life were flying by him. And, he wasn't dealing well with the fact that his father, Will, was battling prostrate cancer. Yogi decided to fly home to Pennsylvania and present his father with a ticket to Spain to take a pilgrimage along the centuries old Camino de Santiago, one of the more famous walks in the world.
Roth, a former Hermosa Beach resident who now makes Venice his home, hired two cameraman to follow them on the 140-mile journey, which honors St. James and culminates at the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. What culminated was the documentary “Life in a Walk,” which has screened all over the country and recently at the Old Town Music Hall in El Segundo.
“When I set out to make the movie, it was just going to be a home movie for my dad and I and my family,” recalled Roth. “Then when we created an Indiegogo.com campaign ... I heard from people in multiple continents, dozens of countries. So, wow, we created a conversation. Then when we started showing the movie, we're on to something, maybe we'll start a movement.”
“Life in a Walk” follows their journey as Roth questions his father about his past. Roth discovered many things that he did not know, while broaching painful subjects, from losing a child to his father's prostrate cancer. Every day, Roth went through a different decade of questions about his father's life.
“After the first couple of days we sat down and went through a different decade of his life and that's when I got to look him in the eye and truly connect,” Roth said. “You didn't have the ability to look away or to stop and tie your shoe or to go take a picture of something. You're there, you're grounded, you're committed to the question and answer session. It was uncomfortable, which I love. I try and get uncomfortable every day.”
The journey was about “Listen, Learn. Discover,” which is also the tagline for “Life in a Walk.”
“I don't care how old you are, to look your dad in the eye, or your mom in the eye, and say, 'When you leave, how do you hope …. your story is reflected in your wife, your children?' That was hard,” Roth said.
When Roth returned home, he started watching approximately 120 hours of film footage.
“I was like, 'I know I could create a short film and it could be powerful,” Roth said. “But the point of this is to share my dad's story with my family now, my kids in the future, their kids, their kids and their kids. 'This has to be a feature film.' That inspired it early on.”
But Roth loves to compete and be out of his comfort zone, so he began assembling a squad of friends who had never worked on a feature film, including Redondo Beach resident Ed Borneman, who “came in for the longest haul.” Borneman helped edit a trailer, which helped launch the Indiegogo campaign, raising $55,000 to help produce the feature film.
Borneman said the trailer hit “all the emotional marks,” but he was unable to edit the feature film due to work commitments. Roth brought in Sam Young who “put together a really great rough cut,” according to Borneman.
“We basically went through with a fine tooth comb, and said what works, what doesn't work, what's resonating with people, what's falling flat,” said Borneman after he returned to help edit the final cut. “When I was cutting the trailer, I had seen every single piece of footage. I was like, 'What about this? Let's put this in.' We just shined it up ... it was in great place to start though.”
Borneman's father died while he was in the middle of editing “Life in a Walk,” so the message of the film resonated with him even more.
“A lot of the times you go to the movies to escape,” Borneman said. “We wanted our movie to be different. We want people to get lost in it and as you're watching the movie, think about how it impacts their lives and 'Hey, maybe I should call my mom more.' We always talk about nudging people to action, to me that was the hook.”
Borneman added, “It's not so much the journey from 'A' to 'B,' but it what comes in between. We really kind of flushed that out and really set the tone for the piece to be more about connecting with the people that you love.”
Borneman spent hours away from his family to help with Roth's vision. Some nights they would edit from 8 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. while they were still working their day jobs.
“When he gets excited about something it gets so contagious and you want to be involved,” said Borneman of Roth.
Tackling the score
When Rory Modica moved from Boston to Hermosa Beach in 2007, Roth was one of the first people he met. Modica hadn't seen Roth in a couple of years when he randomly bumped into him at a friend's bar in Santa Monica.
“He was talking to me about how he had this film he was going to do and he's asking me about music, how he should be going about doing the music,” recalled Modica. “He had a list of artists and songs he wanted to use, but I think they wanted to charge him an arm and a leg.”
Modica had been a musician for years and had played in a number of bands, but he had never scored anything in his life.
“I said, 'Yogi let me do this, give me a shot at this. It will be more costly if you use multiple artists. It will all be original music, give me a shot,'” Modica said.
In November 2014, Modica finished 25 compositions during the month.
“I broke it down to emotions,” Modica said. “If Yogi thought a scene needed some sort of music, he kind of threw an emotion at me. 'Can you make this somber?' That could mean anything from one little guitar line to a traveling upbeat song as they're walking down the Camino.”
He added, “My approach to music is less is more. I feel you can get the message across with music with little to no instrumentation instead of having 20 tracks of different instruments coming together.”
With his family living on the East Coast, Modica said the project hit home for him.
“As a kid or an adult, where you're trying to forge your own path and either you move away or fly out of the nest, eventually you come to realize, 'Oh, I really haven't seen my parents that much in the past five or six years,” Modica said. “It kind of makes you ask all those questions that a lot of people don't get to ask and they regret it when that time comes when their parents pass away or there's some unfortunate circumstance that drives the fact that you should spend time with the ones that you love.”
Roth was sitting around drinking wine with one of his closest friends and his wife, singer/songwriter Kate Voegele, when Roth mentioned he was looking for some music for a film he was working on. When Voegele played “The Crooked Road” that evening, he felt it sounded like she had written the song for the movie.
Voegele, who lives in Hermosa Beach, attended the El Segundo screening and saw the finished product for the first time. She told Roth, “I have so much respect for the fact that you stayed true to what you wanted to say.”
“The entire film as a piece of art,” she said. “As a story and as a friend and as a fan of what you did there, artistically I was blown away. It was so wonderful and so incredibly cool to see the culmination of all of this work.”
Voegele, who spent four seasons on “One Tree Hill” and performed 11 of her original songs on that show, said seeing her song in “Life in a Walk” was “one of the coolest experiences I've had as a musician.”
“I've written a lot of songs, I've put out three records, about to put out my fourth, which will have this song on it,” Voegele said. “But I think seeing your song placed into a story and paired with the perfect theme and edited in an amazing way and where a significant note comes and it cuts perfectly in time to a significant scene, that is a whole different experience entirely and it was just really awesome and humbling.”
Roth's Walk in Life
Born in Scranton, Penn, Roth was a walk-on at the University of Pittsburgh, where he earned a full athletic scholarship as a wide receiver. His first coaching job was on the staff of Pete Carroll at USC. He graduated Magna cum laude and earned his master's degree in communication management from the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. He coached four years at USC, reaching assistant quarterback coach under Carroll, who became his mentor.
“For whatever reason, when I was 19, he took me under his wing,” said Roth of Carroll. “When I got on his staff, I was sleeping in the office a lot, I was going to grad school … we would meet at midnight couple of times a week. I could count the amount of football conversations on my hands. We would talk about everything else.”
From coaching, he went into the media world where he was a college football analyst and host for ESPN, FOX and Pac-12 networks.
His first documentary was “3 for the Show,” which detailed the final year in college for Jake Locker, Cam Newton and Tyrod Taylor, for ESPN. He also hosted and produced the Emmy-nominated “Elite 11” documentary series for ESPN from 2009 to 2014. In 2015, he directed “Dear Football: The 2015 Elite 11 Story.”
His relationship with Carroll continued when Roth co-wrote his 2010 book, “Win Forever,” which was a New York Times best-seller. He also wrote his memoir, “From PA to LA” in 2010, but he said he wasn't confident enough to share his writing skills until his 20s.
“My whole life I’ve been able to write because it was always my closest confidant,” Roth said. “When I was an athlete, I had really big dreams, but it was hard to voice them.”
Roth is currently the college football analyst for the Pac-12 network, but he continues to work on documentaries, be a motivational speaker, acts, and formed his own production company, Life Without Limits, which “strives to make movies that highlight great stories and provokes audiences to give back to their community through the power of human connection, exploration and discovery.”
Roth said the journey, from the beginning of the walk, to his current road trips with “Life in a Walk” has “fed my soul.” Through Dec. 10, Roth will take the film to 10 more screenings from Winter Park, FL. to Chesterfield, MO., with one stop in Southern California, Beverly Hills on Dec. 9, in between.
One of the biggest changes in his life, Roth said, is his willingness to more emotionally available.
“I became a really open guy,” Roth said. “I think men specifically, if you're a jock, an alpha male guy, I consider myself that, we're taught it's okay to cry on the field or in a game, but not necessarily okay to be emotional in other elements of our lives. I have no problem saying this, I looked at my past relationships in life, men, women, whatever, and I become what my mom would say 'emotionally available', and I really love that. I cry all the time and I'm okay with it and I want to be that way. It's much more fun that way. It's more fun to not play it safe, not be constricted.”
Roth's one worry in life was that he would one day say “I wish I'd spent more time with my dad,” has changed somewhat since their walk on the Camino de Santiago and the fact that Will Roth is in good health. Roth never showed him a frame of the film until he was alone with his father and mother in a private screening room.
“I sweat through my shirt completely,” Roth said.
But he said his parents loved the film. An amusing outcome of the film is that “ladies swoon over this man,” Roth said of his father.
In the end, Roth hopes that people just start a conversation and maybe give them a “nudge” to stay in contact more with their loved ones.
“I want you to laugh, cry, whatever emotion comes up, embrace it, but way more importantly, I hope you get lost in the film and let yourself to open up,” Roth said.
“Life in a Walk” is currently available on pre-order on iTunes for $10. A link is available on the film's website at lifeinawalk.com.
A screening can also be requested through the film's distribution company, Gathr Films, by a Theatrical On-Demand release format. A “champion” of the film can build demand in their home town or local city by creating more champions. The more champions the film has, the more theaters will show the film.
For more information, visit lifeinawalk.com.