Ravens defensive end Trevor Pryce was walking through a suburban mall one day, holding the tiny hand of his daughter, Khary, when she asked him a question that shaped the second act of his already unique American life.
Stopping at a mall fountain, Khary gazed down at the hundreds of pennies and wondered aloud what would happen if the pennies got mixed up and you got the wrong wish? Pryce laughed, not really sure what to say.
His daughter moved on to other things, but for Pryce, the idea lingered. Wouldn't a tale of mixed-up wishes make a funny children's movie?
He wasn't the only one who thought so. After tweaking the mixed-up wishes concept a bit, and after several rewrites, Pryce eventually sold it to Sony Pictures, which has plans to turn it into a film in late 2009, he said.
At 33, Pryce is still playing at a high level on the field, and he will be an integral part of the Ravens defense when it takes on the Miami Dolphins in a wild-card playoff game Sunday. But Pryce is also thinking of life after football.
How his daughter's question led to a movie script is, well, the stuff that movies are made of. Pryce mentioned the idea one day, almost in passing, to his agent, Peter Schaffer, and Schaffer passed it along to his friend and producer Mike Fleiss, a big football fan and creator of The Bachelor. Fleiss loved it and uttered the four words every Hollywood neophyte yearns to hear from a big-time producer.
Write me a treatment.
"I didn't even know what a treatment was," the soft-spoken, 6-foot-5, 290-pound Pryce said recently, crouching low on a wooden stool in front of his locker. "I Googled 'How to write a treatment' and it didn't seem too hard. It didn't seem like rocket science. I thought, 'I can do this.' "
Plenty of athletes would have stopped there, promising themselves they would tiptoe into the murky waters of the Writing Life upon retirement. It would be difficult, one could easily assume, to be passionate about both writing and football without robbing something from one to give to the other. But Pryce finds that kind of sweeping generalization about the life of NFL players to be somewhat false.
"Everyone has a passion outside of football," Pryce said, pointing around the locker room in the direction of several teammates. "Just not all of them are interesting. For Jarret Johnson, he loves to hunt. Bart Scott loves fashion and clothing and things like that. [Justin] Bannan likes to eat. Haloti [Ngata] likes to sleep. For me, it just happens to be movies."
Pryce - a four-time Pro Bowl player whom Rex Ryan called "the best defensive player in football" in 2006 - wasn't satisfied with just writing treatments. (A treatment is essentially a three-page outline of a film.) He wanted to tackle the true craft of screenwriting and labor over his words as any artist would. And so he lugged his laptop around, pecking away at the keys while the kids were off at school or whenever football wasn't calling.
"The more I did it, the more I started to enjoy it," Pryce said. "Once you get one idea, that bug kind of bites you. You start seeing ideas everywhere. They start coming out of you real fast. Inspiration comes from a lot of different places, but it also comes from the question: What do I want to see?"
Pryce sold a second screenplay - which he would love to talk about but says that, contractually, he's not supposed to discuss - and finished a third that is still being shopped around.
"The third one is actually the best, I think," Pryce said. "But it's still out there. It's funny how that is sometimes."
On the field, he's still playing at a high level. Although Pryce doesn't put up monster statistics anymore (4 1/2 sacks this year), his value to the Ravens is unquestionable.
"Trevor is one of the most important pieces of this defense," said Ngata, a Ravens defensive tackle. "He's been around the league so long, he's just been so helpful giving us his wisdom. I feel so lucky he's on our team. He can rush the passer, stop the run and he helps guys out off the field. He's a great guy and a great leader."
Pryce, who was raised in Florida and graduated from Clemson with a degree in communication, never quite bought into the idea that football needed to consume every hour of his day. He laughs off the idea that filmmaking might be a distraction from his real job.
"It's just time management," he said. "A lot of people don't realize how much downtime we have. I don't think about movies when I'm here [at the Ravens complex], but I don't think about football when I'm home."
Music used to be the outlet for his passion and a likely second career once it was time to hang up his cleats. His home in Denver, where he played for the Broncos for nine seasons, contains a 500-square-foot recording studio, which was the home for his label, Outlook Music Co.
But Pryce - who doesn't read music but can play the guitar, the bass and the keyboard, among other instruments, and is a maestro at the mixing board - has incredibly high standards. He felt it was becoming too easy, in the digital age, for musicians to put out albums and the entire market was getting watered down. The business was changing and so was his passion. He felt it was time to shift those high standards to another medium.
"I realized I'm a real tough movie critic," Pryce said. "I've walked out of 30 percent of movies I've ever gone to. I like something that will keep my attention. The more you begin to understand how movies are made, the less willing you are to sit through a bad film. If I didn't know what goes into writing a screenplay, I probably wouldn't have walked out of those films. But because I do know what's coming next, it's like: 'I'm just not enjoying this.' "
Pryce isn't the only player in the Ravens locker room obsessed with filmmaking. Linebacker Terrell Suggs has a newly formed production company and is constantly peppering Pryce for advice and information about the business. Suggs even has a television in his locker where he watches movies any chance he has.
"I'm asking Trevor stuff all the time," Suggs said. "The other day, he sent me like 20 scripts. He was like, 'Before you start writing stuff, you need to learn how to actually do it the right way.' I'm just interested in the entire creative process: casting, directing, lighting, how to motivate your actors, everything behind the scenes."
Neither Pryce nor Suggs has much interest in making a sports movie, though. They both recognize how much the sports film genre gets bogged down in cliches while at the same time suffering for lack of believability. Perhaps the most famous NFL movie, Any Given Sunday by Oliver Stone, doesn't get very good reviews in league locker rooms.
"It was kind of insulting," Suggs said. "You want to believe that stuff goes on, but it really doesn't. I've yet to see like a big party with drugs and models and stuff like that. When I was in high school and it came out, I thought, 'I can't wait to go to the NFL.' Then when I got here, I realized this is work. This is a job. We're here for seven or eight hours."
Said Pryce: "It was like watching Network. It was a heightened reality that was so heightened, it was almost cartoonish. But there are only 1,000 NFL players in the league at any one time, and 200,000 people saw the movie. [Stone] wasn't making it for us, trust me."
In addition to movies, Pryce also is working on a few television pilots, both family-oriented stuff and adult fare. He has had stuff rejected, bounced back to him and tweaked, just as any other writer has. But the cutthroat world of Hollywood seems relatively tame compared with life in the NFL.
"I always tell movie executives, you don't understand how the NFL works," Pryce said. "If you're a quarterback and you can't throw the 10-yard out, you're going to get cut. But the difference is, they're not going to invite you back next year to see if you learned how to throw it.
"In Hollywood, I've had my agent send screenplays and they say, 'We don't like this one, but come back with your next one.' "