Family & Companions
Former slick-fielding, light-hitting minor league infielder Ron Shelton first tried his hand at sculpture before establishing himself as a screenwriter in the early 1980s and as a leading writer-director by the end of the decade. With his literary values, sharp ear for naturalistic dialogue, and penchant for strong, interesting female characters, Shelton has become Hollywood's premier purveyor of the sports film. His character-driven scripts have emphasized acting far more than any formal attributes, and he has used the rehearsal process to discover the right behavior before blocking for the camera. Though he has not limited himself exclusively to sports, Shelton has returned again and again to athletics as a rich source of metaphor and analogy.
Shelton attended college on a baseball and basketball scholarship and signed with the Baltimore Orioles upon graduation. He worked his way up the ranks of their farm system, eventually reaching the Rochester (NY) Redwings, a Triple-A minor league team just one rung below 'The Show'. Deciding that he lacked the ability to make it to the majors, Shelton quit baseball and went to graduate school at the University of Arizona, earning an MFA in sculpture. Moving to L.A., Shelton enjoyed some success with his art--"large, movable, theatrical pieces"--including a one-man exhibition at the Space Gallery.
Shelton next began writing fiction and screenplays. He found a valuable early mentor in Roger Spottiswoode who directed Shelton's first two produced screenplays, "Under Fire" (1983) and "The Best of Times" (1986). The former was a taut, intelligent political thriller set in Nicaragua while the latter was a sports comedy-drama with Robin Williams and Kurt Russell. These projects not only demonstrated Shelton's breadth but also afforded him an opportunity to get behind the camera as a second unit director. He established himself as an adept writer-director with the 1988 sleeper hit, "Bull Durham," a witty and literate insider's account of both love and minor league ball. Shelton was also responsible for the ambitious but underperforming biopic "Blaze" (1989), based on the notorious relationship between Louisiana governor Earl Long and famed stripper Blaze Starr. The film did provide the first major leading role for Lolita Davidovich, who would go on to become the director's real-life love interest and appear in several of his films ("Cobb," "Play It to the Bone," "Dark Blue" and "Hollywood Homicide" among them).
Shelton scored a solid hit with the street basketball comedy "White Men Can't Jump" (1992) but stumbled with his subsequent sports-related projects. He served as executive producer and provided the screenplay for William Friedkin's "Blue Chips," a surprisingly unconvincing college basketball drama, but fared a little better as the writer-director of the biopic "Cobb" (both 1994). Sort of a "Raging Bull" with a baseball cap, the film told the somewhat one-note story of baseball legend Ty Cobb--embodied by an over-the-top Tommy Lee Jones--whose viciousness on and off the field exceeded his considerable athletic skills. The interplay between Everyman Robert Wuhl (as sportswriter Al Stump) and rabid Jones made this character-driven movie well worth watching.
Shelton has tried to repeat the success of "Bull Durham" and to a lesser degree "White Men Can't Jump," but the far from foolproof winning formula has eluded him. As co-writer (along with Tony Hendra) of "The Great White Hype" (1996), he failed to deliver a knockout punch in a look at the fight game which put all too much pressure on a good cast to bolster shoddy material. "Tin Cup" (1996) shifted the sports focus to golf, reuniting writer-director Shelton with "Bull Durham" star Kevin Costner as a washed-up pro who rediscovers his mojo while romancing a therapist (Rene Russo) and confronting his old rival (Don Johnson) , but the amusing and amiable romantic comedy failed to ignite excitement on par with Shelton and Costner's previous collaboration. In 1999 Shelton again took on the world of prizefighting as writer and director of "Play It to the Bone," this time attempting to explore two quirky boxers (Woody Harrelson and Antonio Bandaras), best friends and rivals who scramble to road-trip to Las Vegas for a potentially lucrative showdown in the ring, with their girlfriends (Lucy Liu and Lolita Davidovich) complictaing matters along the way. Although released for one week in Los Angeles to qualify for Oscar nominations, the film was a mxed bag and failed to generate much critical buzz or box office dollars.
After a brief hiatus, Shelton returned to feature films with a vengeance in 2003, helming the intense cop drama "Dark Blue," based on an original story by noir master James Ellroy and set against the backdrop of the 1992 Los Angeles riots. While Shelton steered Kurt Russell to great heights as a corrupt L.A. detective coming to grips with his dark reality, the initially absorbing film faltered toward the finish line and shifted into a conventional thriller. Shelton also had a hand in the screenplay for the big-budget sequel "Bad Boys 2" as one of three credited (and over a dozen uncredited) writers on the film. In the summer of 2003, Shelton also delivered his first project as writer-director in a long while, the crime drama "Hollywood Homicide" starring Harrison Ford.
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Moved to L.A. (date approximate)
First feature work, as associate producer of "The Pursuit of D.B. Cooper", directed by Roger Spottiswoode
First produced script, co-writer on Spottiswoode's "Under Fire"; also served as second unit director
Directorial debut, "Bull Durham"; also scripted
Wrote and directed "Blaze", based on the relationship of Louisiana governor Earl Long and famed stripper Blaze Starr
Executive produced a short film entitled "Sharkskin"
Scored big hit as writer-director of basketball flick "White Men Can't Jump"
Stayed with basketball, providing script for William Friedkin's "Blue Chips"; also served as executive producer
Returned to baseball with "Cobb", writing and directing film based on sportswriter Al Stump's experiences with Ty Cobb during the last year of the legendary player's life
Co-wrote (with Tony Hendra) "The Great White Hype", an unsatisfying look at boxing and its promotion
Wrote and directed the golf-themed "Tin Cup", which fell short despite the presence of "Bull Durham" star Kevin Costner
Helmed the boxing-themed "Play It to the Bone"; played one-week Oscar qualifying engagement in L.A.
Directed the intense cop drama "Dark Blue" from a story by James Ellroy
Shared screenplay credit for "Bad Boys 2"
Wrote and directed the crime thriller "Hollywood Homicide" starring Harrison Ford