The Pitt News

‘Life in a Walk:’ Alum directs personal documentary

By Chris Puzia / Sports Editor

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Have you ever wondered whether you are spending enough time with loved ones? Yogi Roth did, and after a seemingly simple walk through Europe with his father, he feels more satisfied with his answer to that question.

“We had a great relationship, but I still didn’t know 95 percent of the things I found out [about my father],” said Roth, who graduated from Pitt in 2004 after playing four years as wide receiver on the football team. “To have that setting on a purposeful trip, I still haven’t had a better two weeks in my life.”

The walk culminated in a documentary that Roth directed, called “Life in a Walk.” When Roth’s father, Will, found that his prostate cancer that had been diagnosed years before was not all gone, Roth became determined to spend more time with his father. The documentary details conversations the two had while walking along the Camino de Santiago in Spain in June 2013.

The urgency brought by the diagnosis compelled him to turn his enthusiasm for performance, both on the football field and in broadcast, into film. But Roth was quick to point out that while there was no longer a threat to his father, that was not his motivation for making the film.

Roth walked on to Pitt’s football team as a freshman and earned a scholarship a year later. After graduating with a degree in communication rhetoric, Roth traveled west to become a graduate assistant coach with head coach Pete Carroll at the University of Southern California. While working in various media outlets like ESPN, Fox and Pac-12 Networks, he co-authored Carroll’s book “Win Forever.”

“Playing football in front of thousands of fans, I just fell in love with the art of performance,” Roth said. “When I got to USC, I saw the other side — of people conducting the performance.”

The documentary has raised more than $29,000 on Indiegogo as of Thursday for post-production costs. The film is Roth’s first directing experience, which he said was more exciting than intimidating.

“I get to be Paul Chryst on the film, and that’s something that I’m really proud of,” he said.

The Pitt News talked with Roth about his experience making the film and his motivations behind it.

The Pitt News: You walked onto the football team and earned a scholarship your sophomore year. Was that why you came to Pitt — to pursue football?

Yogi Roth: It’s probably a pathetic story. My whole life, I grew up a Notre Dame fan, and I always wanted to play there. I went there over the summer with another kid, and they ended up choosing him over me, and I literally said, “OK, who plays Notre Dame?” I came to Pitt on my visit when we beat ND in the final year of Pitt Stadium, and I knew that moment that I was coming. For me, I wanted to prove I could play at the highest of levels, and I knew this place would give me the opportunity to do it.

TPN: You didn’t have a film background at Pitt, yet you still got into documentaries. How did that happen?

YR: I grew up as an actor. I went down the road of athletics, and that was kind of my performance … When I was broadcasting college football games, I realized that my job for three and a half hours was to celebrate the game and coach the viewer, but do it while telling the story.

TPN: So that’s kind of how sports ties into making a documentary, in the storytelling?

YR: Sports, still to this day, tell the best stories. As a broadcaster, I know I have three and a half hours to tell a bunch of stories, but they all have to have the same theme … For the last six years I’ve produced documentaries. This is the first one I’ve directed.

TPN: In the film, you walked in Portugal and Spain. Why did you choose those spots for the film?

YR: My father, who had been diagnosed with prostate cancer years earlier, found that [the cancer] wasn’t all gone. So I sat there, and I thought that I never want to say the sentence, “I wish I’d spent more time with my dad.” I walked up to him and said, “Let’s go for a walk.” He said, “Sure, where do you want to go?” Probably thinking we’re going to go around the corner or something. Instead I said, “Why don’t you meet me in Portugal?” He was blown away, and away we went.

TPN: You must have been keeping in mind that on this personal walk, there would be cameras following you. Were there any challenges keeping the dialogue authentic, knowing that it would all be put into a documentary?

YR: Not at all. When we partnered with this crew, the one thing I said was that I’m not going to change. Capture whatever you want, but nothing’s going to alter. I’ve been around the camera enough now where it doesn’t bother me … nobody hammed it up, it was as honest as you could get, and we had a small crew, only a 10-person production crew.

TPN: Your father must have been a major motivation behind the film.

YR: There were only two motivations for the film when I started, and now there’s three. The first was to make sure my kids, and their kids, have something really cool to remember this guy by. The second element of the film was I wanted the viewer to be as uncomfortable as possible when watching it. I hope when you watch the trailer, you think to yourself, “Oh man. Am I spending time with the people I care about?” Now that we’ve launched into crowdfunding, another goal is also to spread it.

TPN: Anything you would say to someone watching the film who wanted to take their own “walk,” whether it’s literal or metaphorical?

YR: I’d say just ask. As we get older and more mature, the depth of our conversations lessens … If we don’t ask the questions, or ask them to go for a simple walk, we’re never going to learn it.

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‘Life in a Walk:’ Alum directs personal documentary