An Interview with Nick Lewis: Film Maker of “Rise & Shine: The Jay DeMerit Story”

In the summer of 2010, millions around the world were glued to their televisions to watch what was pegged to be the “most-watched television event in history.”  Over miraculous plays and screams of “GOAL!” viewers watched the drama that was the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

While many began following the World Cup, its teams and its players closer in time to the event itself, California attorney Nick Lewis had his eyes set on the composition of the United States team for some time.

Lewis attended the University of California at Santa Barbara to obtain his undergraduate degree.  There, he became friends with Ranko Tutulugdzija.  Eventually, Tutulugdzija would transfer from UCSB to the University of Illinois at Chicago.  While at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Tutulugdzija played soccer with a man by the name of Jay DeMerit.  In visiting his friend Tutulugdzija at school in Chicago, Lewis also became familiar with DeMerit.

While Tutulugdzija and DeMerit played soccer together in college, DeMerit had dreams to play soccer professionally after finishing college.  To pursue this dream, DeMerit sought opportunities to play in professional leagues domestically.  However, after college, no professional teams in the United States offered him a spot on their rosters.  Thus, with young ambition, DeMerit packed a backpack, rounded up $1,500.00, grabbed his passport and flew over the ocean to Europe to pursue his dream of playing soccer professionally.

Upon reaching Europe, DeMerit would knock on huge soccer clubs’ doors and ask for tryouts.  He would sleep on floors, since his money was tight.  He played in park leagues and on London clubs.  Eventually, though, his audacity and determination paid off.  DeMerit was given a tryout which ultimately led to him playing in the English Premier League–the biggest league in the world.

Throughout this time, Lewis recognized that a story worth being told was taking place before his eyes.  Lewis notes that in terms of storytelling and film making, he has “always enjoyed film, but hadn’t done anything formally but write some screenplays.”  In fact, after graduating from UCSB, Lewis attended law school at the University of San Diego.  When his friend, DeMerit, was about to receive the opportunity of a lifetime, Lewis was practicing law in California.

However, upon realizing that DeMerit was about to make the United States’ roster for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Lewis knew that he needed to work telling DeMerit’s story into his schedule.  “About six months before the World Cup, I talked to Tutulugdzija and said we needed to document this story.  It was a chance of a lifetime–you can’t go back and recreate these events,” said Lewis.

Ultimately, DeMerit made the United States’ World Cup roster and started for the team in South Africa.  In the meantime, Lewis and Tutulugdzija  decided that film was the best media to use to tell DeMerit’s story.

“[Tutulugdzija] and I were just going to oversee the project.  We talked to Jay and he was on board.  We didn’t know much about film and directing, so we found someone else who was going to do it and we were going to oversee it.  One week before the project, the director pulled out because he had family issues and couldn’t do the traveling, which required travel to multiple locations.  We didn’t have time to find another director–we didn’t know another director.  So we did it ourselves–we ended up directing it,” said Lewis.

Together, Lewis and Tutulugdzija would write, direct and produce the film.  While Lewis had penned a couple of screenplays previously, including a coming of age piece based on his travels in Europe, the two were largely unfamiliar with film making.  Along the way, they hired a cinematographer,  Zach Salsman.

Film maker Nick Lewis

Filming for the movie, Rise & Shine: The Jay DeMerit Story–which is now playing in select theaters–spanned 40 days over the course of six months.  The film was shot in Green Bay, Chicago, Connecticut, Vancouver, England and finally, at the World Cup in South Africa.

Lewis and Tutulugdzija maintained their day jobs during the course of making the film, with Lewis working as a practicing attorney and Tutulugdzija as an accupuncturist.  “I worked full-time.  I would juggle.  I worked for myself so I was somewhat flexible, but I didn’t sleep much,” said Lewis.  While filming the movie, Lewis worked at least 30 hours per week as a lawyer.

However, both Lewis and Tutulugdzija were able to travel to all but one of the locations where the film was shot.  Neither Lewis nor Tutulugdzija traveled to the World Cup for expense reasons.

The film initially was financed by Lewis and Tutulugdzija.  “We’d get paychecks, put them in [to the film’s budget] and drain credit cards.”  Eventually, the pair would turn to outside sources of income to finance the film.  Lewis and Tutulugdzija relied upon the website,, which in Lewis’ words is, “a newer concept called ‘crowd funding,’ where you reach out to other people to pay to complete your project.”

Lewis and Tutulugdzija needed a significant amount of money to finish the film.  Not only did the filming of the project require extensive travel, but to properly make the film, sports footage was required to be licensed.  “Sports footage is the most expensive footage you can find in the world.  It costs $ 20,000.00 per minute at the low-end,” said Lewis.

Through, the film found many people across the world who shared Lewis and Tutulugdzija’s passion for sharing DeMerit’s remarkable story.  One fourteen-year old in Texas went door-to-door to raise funds for the film.  Celebrities, like Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo and funny guy Seth Meyers also contributed funds.

Ultimately, Lewis and Tutulugdzija fundraised $250,000.00 and were able to complete the film.

“There’s such symbolism and correlation between Jay’s story and how this film came about.  Once we started, we didn’t know what we were doing or what was going to happen.  Once saw what we had filmed, though, it really hit home.  It was like, ‘wow, this is very captivating–it’s a real story.’  We saw that there was real potential, so we dug in,” said Lewis.

On Thursday, Rise & Shine: The Jay DeMerit Story premiered in 133 theaters.  Major League Soccer has thrown its support behind the film by airing the trailer on the big screen at games nationwide.  Lewis hopes that the film attracts large audiences.

“It’s a ‘soccer story,’ but it’s so much more than that.  It’s an American underdog story of someone who wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer and really fought relentlessly to achieve his goals.  For [DeMerit] to get to the World Cup–the most watched event in the world–the way he did, is remarkable and something that should inspire others,” remarked Lewis.

To find Rise & Shine: The Jay DeMerit Story in a theater near you, click here.

There’s such symbolism or correlation between jay’s story and how this film came about.  Once we started, we didn’t know what we were doing or what was going to happen.  Once we started and saw what we had filmed, it really hit home.  It was like, wow, this is very captivating, it’s a real story.  it was something we could make a real film out of.  we saw that there was real potential, so we dug it.  We wanted to tell a story that deserved to be told, but I’m not someone who starts something and doesn’t want to finish it right.  We didn’t just film the footage, we produced it, we marketed it. 

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