OWINGS MILLS – Checking their watches before peering intently at the words of a script, actors and actresses read aloud and paced as they awaited their turn during a packed casting call.
Inside the Hyatt Place hotel near the Baltimore Ravens’ training complex, they’re about to audition for a director and her discerning executive producer: Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs.
Suggs is the president and CEO of a small, independent Maryland film company called Team Sizzle Worldwide, which has produced the short film “Sisters” and other brief productions.
With the NFL mired in its first work stoppage in nearly a quarter-century after the players’ union decertified, the owners instituted a lockout and the two sides duking it out in federal court, Suggs has remained busy without football to occupy his time.
“It’s a Catch 22, it’s a double-edged sword because I don’t get football right now,” Suggs told Ravens24x7.com. “I get my little workouts in the morning, and then it’s film all day. It’s pretty fun. I love it. I’m definitely trying to build something that’s special, like a dynasty that I can pass onto my children.”
It’s not a surprise that Suggs has gotten heavily involved in the movie industry.
For several years, the small television that sits in Suggs’ locker room stall has operated as a mecca for teammates eager to watch the latest DVD releases, usually action movies, before and after practice.
Growing up in Chicago and Minneapolis before the family settled in Arizona, Suggs and his family always watched movies together.
“You start with the sports movies like ‘The Program’ or ‘Blue Clips’, and ‘Above the Rim’,” Suggs said. “That’s what we did as a family, me and my dad and my brothers.”
A four-time Pro Bowl selection on the football field, Suggs is also extremely serious about film.
His company presented “Sisters” at the American Black Film Festival last year in South Beach, Fla., and it was well-received by critics.
Monica Mingo, who worked for acclaimed director Spike Lee on the film “Miracle at St. Anna,” created a movie about two sisters going through an “emotional period of discovery, self realization and redefined love,” according to the movie’s press notes.
“That was big,” Suggs said. “Monica actually wrote it. I read the script and it was short and to the point. People really loved ‘Sisters,” and accepted it.”
Working in tandem with Mingo, along with other directors and managing director Tarik Dickens, Suggs has overseen the production of other short films.
That includes “Marco Polo,” a take on interracial romance, “Commitment,” a story about a man with a past who gets into a violent altercation with a neighbor and “When Beautiful People Do Ugly Things,” which is described as “Twenty-four hours surrounding a wedding. Twelve beautiful hours before. .. Twelve ugly hours after.”
Suggs said he has no aspirations to do anything on a grand scale at this time, preferring to keep the company’s focus relatively small and concentrated.
“I like it that way, because you can get good quality out of the fact that it is so small,” Suggs said. “You can find rare talent. It’s a process. We started with the shorts, and we graduated to low-budget features. Now, who knows what we’ll do after this?”
Suggs has been casting in Maryland, Los Angeles and Phoenix for “The Coalition,” which will be the company’s first full-length feature.
What’s the plot?
“We can’t really talk about it yet,” Suggs said. “Industry secret.”
Suggs laughed when asked if he’s gone Hollywood now that he spends a lot of his days watching reels and supervising shoots.
“At the end of the day, I’m always going to be Terrell,” Suggs said. “I’ve got to go home to my kids. That’s humbling. There’s no football player or filmmaker there. It’s just daddy.”
Meanwhile, Suggs said he’s not worried about the labor dispute. He expects the impasse to eventually get resolved with no games missed.
“One day, it’s going to end,” he predicted. “This is America. What’s America without football?”
Suggs’ agent, Gary Wichard, died in March at age 60 from diabetes and pancreatic cancer. They were very close, and Suggs has yet to hire new representation.
Wichard negotiated Suggs’ six-year, $62.5 million contract that included $38 million in guaranteed money.
“I don’t really need an agent right now, so I’m going to wait it out,” Suggs said. “Gary was my boy. He’s probably up there in the sky bargaining my next deal right now. He was more than an agent to me. We were definitely close. We were like family.
“It’s very unfortunate. I had talked to him before he died and it was the same, old Gary. I got the call one morning that he had died, and it was really unexpected.”
As for his burgeoning film career, Suggs’ ambitions are emblazoned on the company website: TeamSizzle.
It states a strong passion for film and a determination to make high-quality films, “that are entertaining and provocative in thought.”
Suggs is aiming high with his film company, emphasizing that this isn’t a mere diversion for him while he waits for football to return.
“I’m shooting for the moon,” Suggs said. “If I miss the moon, at least I’ll be among the stars. I want it to be as big as possible. I want to work with new talent, and I want to work with some of the legends. We genuinely love film.
“It’s not just because we see it as an avenue where we can generate revenue. That’s always a positive. It doesn’t matter if it’s big budget or small budget, we’re going to do it 110 percent and do everything in our power to try to do something great and do something special.”