UT alumnus Rich Middlemas got accidental inspiration for his Oscar-winning documentary, Undefeated, while keeping up with the Volunteer football team.
A self-described “crazed college football fan,” Middlemas was reading a Memphis Commercial Appeal story in 2009 about the 16-year-old left tackle O.C. Brown of the Manassas High Tigers team.
Middlemas shared the story about the young man’s challenges with his friends and fellow filmmakers Dan Lindsay and T.J. Martin, with whom he shared the stage last night at the 84th Academy Awards.
Middlemas, Martin, and Lindsay won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. It was their first nomination.
He received a bachelor’s degree in 1997 and majored in broadcasting in the College of Communication and Information. He moved to Hollywood soon after graduating.
The production team apparently struck gold after meeting Coach Bill Courtney and shooting the underdog Tigers’ winning 2009 season and first visit to the playoffs in the school’s 110-year history. The film evolved from the story of an individual player to one of the team and the volunteer coaches’ dedication to the young men’s future.
The three producers also became involved in the high school students’ lives while filming at the school. They taught video production to the advanced history class and helped them make their own documentary, which Martin described on his award questionnaire as one of his most rewarding life experiences.
Middlemas’s father, Bill, received his undergraduate and master’s degrees in business administration from UT. He has served on the college’s board of advisors and is a current member of the UT Development Council.