Nate Boyer has lived the type of life that movies are made of.

In 2004, a magazine article about genocide in Sudan inspired him to move to the African country and volunteer as a relief worker. Upon his return, Boyer enlisted in the Army and was accepted into the Green Berets, serving multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan over a six-year period. At the age of 29, he enrolled at the University of Texas and, despite never having played a down of organized football, walked on to the team.

Boyer eventually became the Longhorns starting long snapper and made enough of an impression to be signed as an undrafted free agent with the Seattle Seahawks. Though his NFL career ended after three months in August 2015, his impact stretched well beyond that. During the historic 2016 season, Boyer advised Colin Kaepernick to kneel rather than sit during the national anthem, leading to what would become the quarterback’s revolutionary peaceful protest.

© Derrick Zellmann
Photo by Derrick Zellmann

But when a 2018 lunch conversation between Boyer and his friend drifted to writing a movie script, it wasn’t his life that served as the focal point. The two had just come from the latest session for Merging Veterans & Players (MVP), a non-profit supporting a community of combat veterans and former athletes that regularly meets at local gyms across the country for training, mentorship and therapeutic group discussions.

“He said, ‘I think you need to tell this story,” recalled Boyer, who founded MVP in 2015. “For people who served in the military, no one thinks they can relate to our experience. So we realized it’s important to show how that unique connection has been made between veterans and athletes through MVP.

“At the time, I didn’t fully understand what I was getting into. But looking back, it’s probably better I didn’t stop to consider all of that. I just dove right in."

Boyer’s latest leap of faith has paid off. The film MVP, which Boyer directed, co-produced and starred in, features Sylvester Stallone as an executive producer, the NFL as a partner and a host of athlete cameos and celebrity supporters, from Tony Gonzalez to Randy Couture to Michael Strahan.

Ahead of this week’s free film’s screening during the Super Bowl festivities in Los Angeles, Boyer discussed the rewarding process and lessons learned involved with bringing MVP to life.

What was the genesis of MVP, the non-profit, and how did the movie come about?

I was having conversations with my good friend [FOX Sports NFL insider] Jay Glazer about the two worlds of the military and sports. We went down to the veterans’ homeless shelter on Sunset Boulevard one day and one guy stuck out because he wanted to talk to me and was interested in hearing how this football thing happened for me. At the same time, I could feel this anger and so much emotion built up inside of him. He emailed the next day and said sorry that he seemed standoffish and that he was dealing with some things, like how he had tried to take his life a few months earlier.

We went to lunch and talked life, and I ended up asking Jay if I could bring some of the vets to his gym to train. After they trained, guys were just opening up about all they were going through. Jay joined us the next time and brought Tony Gonzalez and Randy Couture. The story Tony tells in the movie is the same one he told us on the mat that day about how lost he felt when transitioning from football. And to see these vets sitting there, thinking they’d never have anything in common with a Hall of Fame legend, it ended up being a powerful moment. Now seven years later, we’re still building that community and working to make a difference.

So when I shared that with my good friend after he went to the MVP session, he was like, ‘You have to tell this story in a scripted movie.’ I had never thought about that, but he came back with a draft two days later. It set the foundation and I took the reins on it from there to craft the story and dialogue based on the stories and experiences we’d had during our sessions. Most of the cast ended up being actual vets and MVP members.

To see these vets sitting there, thinking they’d never have anything in common with a Hall of Fame legend, it ended up being a powerful moment. Now seven years later, we’re still building that community and working to make a difference.

Nate Boyer

Being that you had so little experience in filmmaking, how did you go about bringing everything together?

After I graduated from Texas and was training for some NFL tryouts in 2015, I did an internship at Film 44, which is Peter Berg’s film company. I was making copies, listening in on calls – just a straight-up intern at the age of 34.

Learning then about how the development process works and how you formulate it was invaluable. I still had a great lack of experience, but I was able to bring people on who knew the ropes and could help bring the project together.

Mo McRae, who co-starred, is a director himself and obviously a very experienced, talented actor. At Film 44, I met Braden Aftergood and now he runs Sylvester Stallone’s production company, so to have them both on board is huge. I had other friends who helped with production and cinematography. And then to have the vets and others working for next to nothing – all they really asked for was lunch (laughs) – that meant a lot. And in a weird way, COVID kind of helped because, since so many businesses were shut down, they opened their doors to us for filming.

It was definitely a learning process throughout, but I was confident in the theme we had and everything was very collaborative.

What advice would you give an athlete who’s interested in making films?

Write what you know. That doesn’t mean you need to write about football. We all have a lot of different experiences. That’s your currency. People will take stock in that because you lived it. And I think that’s invaluable in the athlete community because you have a platform and you outworked the world to get to where you are.

It doesn’t matter how old you are or what experience you have. Most people aren’t willing to start from scratch and try something new, but athletes are already that type of person. My biggest fear is regret and not going for it. I don’t want to have any of that feeling. So just embrace it and go for it.

Main photo credit: Derrick Zellmann

Merging Vets & Players (MVP) Foundation

MVP was founded in 2015 by FOX Sports NFL insder Jay Glazer and former Green Beret and Seattle Seahawk Nate Boyer. They wanted to address the challenges that combat veterans and former professional athletes face in transition once the uniform comes off.

MVP empowers combat veterans and former professional athletes by connecting them after the uniform comes off; providing them with a new team to assist with transition, promote personal development, and show them they are never alone.

Players: Tell us your "And"

Share your story

Partners: Connect to the "And"

Explore how we serve as a resource to help partners & players develop best-fit connections for a variety of marketing needs

Get in touch