Trying Out for the US Open Ball Crew

“Ball People” is a captivating short film that peels back the curtain on the unsung heroes of the tennis world, taking us on a journey through the eyes of a group of applicants who aspire to join the ball crew at the prestigious US Open tennis tournament. Directed by tennis enthusiast, Scott Lazer, who stumbled upon this intriguing world, the film offers an intimate and insightful look at the tryouts, the selection process, and the experiences of those who make it into the tournament.

What sets this documentary apart is its exploration of the unique nature of the US Open’s ball crew program. Unlike other Grand Slam tournaments, the US Open boasts a distinct feature – no upper age limit for its ball people. This inclusive approach opens the door for people from all walks of life, regardless of age, to vie for a coveted spot on the crew.

“Ball People” is a heartwarming tribute to the tireless individuals who keep the game of tennis rolling smoothly. It’s a reminder that behind every breathtaking serve and awe-inspiring rally, there are dedicated individuals who share an unwavering love for the sport. This short film not only captures their passion but also serves as a celebration of the indomitable spirit of those who choose to be the unsung heroes of the tennis world.

“Ball People” sheds light on the US Open Ball Crew’s overlooked role. What inspired you to spotlight this team, and how did you recognize their significance?

The ball crew is visible in nearly every shot of a tennis broadcast, but little is known about where these people come from, why they want to be a ball person in the first place, and what the process to get there is like. These are the questions that led me to make Ball People.

The title suggests the crew’s competitive nature. How does this competitiveness add depth to their role, and what examples in the documentary highlight their dedication?

It provides the dramatic question of the film: will these applicants make the team? That tension plays out both to comedic and emotional effect. It defines all of the characters’ motivations.

The film captures the crew’s passion and journey. Could you share a specific story that embodies their dedication to the sport?

The amount of time alone that being on the Ball Crew demands is a huge commitment. First, they have the tryouts. Then, their attendance is required for nearly a month from qualifiers through the actual tournament. Some of the matches go late into the night, too.

“Ball People” aligns with GQ Sports’ focus on athletes’ off-field lives. How does this documentary contribute to the broader vision of showcasing sports culture?

I love tennis. I grew up watching and playing it, and I still play every week. Having followed the game for so long, I’ve watched it go from niche and even nerdy to fashionable and cool. So I’m just grateful for the opportunity to contribute such a particular viewpoint of the sport during this period in its history.

Documentaries require authentic storytelling. How did you capture the crew’s interactions and emotions to present their experiences genuinely?

By mic’ing our characters and keeping the cameras rolling at all times.

The documentary merges sports and camaraderie. How did you balance these elements to engage both sports enthusiasts and wider audiences?

A ball person is a pretty well-known position – even for those who don’t watch tennis. For instance, we’ve all seen viral clips of ball people who take a dramatic spill on the court. This cultural awareness provided an opportunity for me to tell a story that I think both tennis fans and those less familiar with the game can appreciate.

Filming documentaries often comes with challenges. What obstacles did you face while making “Ball People,” and how did you overcome them?

Finding our characters was a challenge, albeit a really fun one. I had the idea for the concept before I knew who our characters were, so during the tryouts, we were casting as we were shooting. Sometimes, we found our characters; sometimes, they found us.

What key messages or insights do you hope viewers will take away from “Ball People”?

As Bryan Auerbach, one of the Ball Crew supervisors, says in the film, “Every ball needs to be gotten.”