Kelley O’Hara On Executive Producing Her First Short Film ‘Ripe!’ and Keeping Teamwork Central After Her Professional Soccer Retirement

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Professional soccer player Kelley O’Hara has added executive producing to her resumé as she plays her last NWSL season before retiring from the sport.

Luke Anderson, a close college friend she met freshman year in the same dorm on the same hall, reached out to the two-time Women’s World Cup champion in February 2023 to ask for her partnership in backing Ripe!, a short film from directing duo Tusk — Olivia Mitchell and Kerry Furth. Anderson co-founded the creative agency Juxtapose Studio, and the short will premiere June 8 at the 2024 Tribeca Film Festival.

“[Luke] signed on as an executive producer and was basically like, ‘I need to find somebody as a good partner in this.’ And when he thought about it in terms of somebody who understands queerness and football, he was like, I’m calling Kelley,’” O’Hara told Deadline. “So he called me. I told my partner Kameryn [Stanhouse] about it, and she was really interested as well. We had a meeting with Luke and Tusk and they took us through the project and the short, and we got off the call and Kameryn, who knows a thing or two about creatives and pitches, and that sort of thing, was the like, ‘This is one of the best I’ve ever seen. I want to do this with you.’ And so from that, we signed on and we have since created OHouse Productions as our own production company working on different projects.”

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Tusk recognizes O’Hara’s athletic prowess and team player spirit in her role as executive producer on the project, which tells the story of two young women who develop feelings for each other after a competitive moment in pickup soccer where Sophie (Raina Landolfi) pushes Gloria (Rita Roca) down and Gloria’s arm breaks. Gloria’s truce to forgive Sophie involves Sophie cooking Gloria dinner.

“There is nothing more surreal than being championed by a literal world champion. The joyful, sparky, resilient Kelley we’ve all seen on the soccer field is exactly her spirit as an EP,” they said. “She deeply cares, pumps us up when we need it, and has this down-to-earth sense of humor and authenticity that we really vibe with. She’s the perfect teammate.”

O’Hara gave insight as to what her role involved, her partner’s contributions as an executive producer, the scene she most relates to and her plans post-retirement below:

DEADLINE: I read in the press notes that you FaceTimed into production to coach the soccer scenes. How did you arrive at the corner fakeout scene?

O’HARA: Kameryn went over to Spain the week that it was shot, which was really cool to have her on set there the entire time. She would call me, fill me in. I would FaceTime in just to hear how things were going and that sort of thing. But when we were shooting the soccer scenes, it was really important to me to make it feel right and be done right and look right. I think that shooting football is really difficult. I don’t think anyone has done it really, really well personally. But with the style of how this short is shot and the fact that it was pickup [soccer], I think that it allowed us to be a little bit more creative.

I gave direction on how it makes it look more realistic and you can understand what she’s trying to do in this trick play corner and that she’s [making] this decoy run to the front of the box and she leaves it, she tricks Gloria, and then the ball gets to her teammate and her teammate’s able to score. So I was just kind of teaching them what I would do in that moment and in ways that little mannerisms that play well on camera can paint the picture more and also are true to the actual playing of football.

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DEADLINE: Do the girls’ playing styles reflect like how they act in real life?

O’HARA: I think Tusk did a really good job with this and the contradiction between their off-field personalities and their on-field personalities which is so interesting, because I feel like that actually happens a lot in the world. You’ll have somebody, like I feel like I’m known to be super aggressive on the football field, but then I’m like pretty — I guess people might say I’m still aggressive off the field, but I enjoy having a good time. I’m a happy-go-lucky type of person, but they did that actually on purpose to have Sofie more reserved off the field, but then on the field, she’s aggressive and that’s where her personality and — I think — a little bit of her confidence and strength can play out, and you see that happen when she ends up fouling Gloria and that’s what leads to Gloria breaking her arm. I really enjoyed that they were able to use on-field personality and kind of characteristics to portray a different side of the characters.

DEADLINE: Is there a scene that you relate most to in the film after seeing the full cut?

O’HARA: I think that the moment of them having this vulnerable conversation and transparent conversation on the rocks at the beach, and obviously there’s been a lot of things building up to that moment between the two of them and also individually in each character. I just think that the line that Gloria says ‘It’s hard to be real. No?’ I think that a lot of queer people will probably relate to that moment in that line. I think it’s beautiful. I think that they did such a good job of bringing out so many different emotions in that scene and speaking to a lot of the journey that sometimes people have with their sexuality.

DEADLINE: This film takes place in Spain. Did the context of what happened after Spain won the Women’s World Cup and the coach kissed Jenni Hermoso and caused outrage factor into the setting of the story?

O’HARA: No, the reason it’s shot in Spain is because Tusk — Kerry and Olivia — were actually over in Spain, and they met Rita, while in Spain. Rita inspired them to write the character of Gloria and then she later starred as Gloria. It was just a coincidence that Spain won the World Cup last summer. You know, obviously U.S., we tried to do it, but they were just better. I think that it’s a great backdrop to the story and football as the global game, and it’s such a connector between people and cultures.

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DEADLINE: This is a new chapter for you and just the beginning. What else are you hoping to do that this experience has opened your eyes to after retiring?

O’HARA: We want to build out OHouse productions. We want to be part of more films and projects and help to tell stories that we want to be played out and we want people to see. So going to continue down this road in the production space and the entertainment space. I will continue to be closely tied to soccer and women’s sports whether that’s in broadcasting, or just hosting a show and coverage. I just feel a really big responsibility to continue to help grow the game of football and also the space of women’s sports as much as possible because I feel like I’ve spent the last 15 years fighting for equal pay in this area and also visibility and investment, and I want to continue to do that.

DEADLINE: Sue Bird and Megan Rapinoe are adapting that Cleat Cute story. I don’t know if you have spoken about that at all, but do you envision that becoming a trend as athletes get this huge platform and then move on from their sport?

O’HARA: I think that it depends on what you’re interested in. For me, I know the sport and the film world are global unifiers. I think that you’re able to tell stories across the globe and connect people across the globe through these two different areas. They bring people together and I think that that’s what I love about it and the ability to impact so many people is really really cool. I think you’ll see more athletes doing it but I also think that you know, even when people move on from their sport and retire, it’s about them, hopefully finding what they’re most passionate about and being able to do that.

DEADLINE: Are you hopeful for more content like the Netflix docuseries about the most recent USWNT and Women’s World Cup?

O’HARA: I want to see more premium content around women’s soccer and women’s sports. I think that the audience is fiending for it. Honestly, I don’t know a better way to say it. And I think that if you go and look at Netflix or Amazon Prime. It’s all-male sports and male athletes that have premium content coverage. It’s high time that we give women, female athletes, and women’s sports the amount of coverage and content, that they deserve. A lot of it is the people in the room, the decision-makers who greenlight these projects and back these projects. So getting into that, that’s part of why I want to continue down this road is because I think it’s really important and I want to be a decision maker in the room that is highlighting women’s soccer and women’s sports.

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DEADLINE: Are you going to be in Tribeca for the film’s premiere?

O’HARA: The premiere’s already sold out. It sold out within seconds. I was tasked with getting tickets for a lot of us and didn’t get them so it’s kind of wild. I will be in town for Tribeca, which I’m excited about, being able to attend the premiere. Somehow the schedules aligned. We play LA in the morning, which is a 12:30 game which is so random and then the premiere is that night. We’re getting the whole, the whole team out here to be together and to just celebrate this moment. And then also, the purpose of the short is to get a feature made. Tusk has already written a feature and so our next step is finding funding and getting that financed. So that’ll kind of be the focus of Tribeca and also to just enjoy the moment and go see other amazing stories being told.