Jason directed the Emmy award-winning seriesĀ The Last Dance, chronicling Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. It was the most-watched documentary in ESPN history and is already regarded by many as one of the best sports docs ever made.
He discusses his never-ending quest to find out what makes the greatest athletes on earth human, the obstacles his team had to overcome to finish all 10 episodes on-time, and what it was truly like interviewing Jordan.
Jason is a world-class storyteller and I know youāll enjoy hearing his behind the scenes anecdotes about the production ofĀ The Last Dance.
2:22 – Following His Dream.Ā āI wanted to either be a movie director or a sportscaster when I was a kid. I wanted to be Bob Costas or Steven Spielburg.ā
5:17 – Interviewing Elite Athletes.Ā āYou canāt be starstruck from a professional level because theyāll smell that on immediately and you lose all credibility. ā¦ The will to do the best possible job overtakes any sort of awe that you have around these athletes.ā
9:35 – Gratitude.Ā āI still feel incredibly lucky. When Iām on a plane, I still have butterflies that Iām going to make a movie and shoot and meet someone new and help shepard the telling of their story. It sounds really cheesy, but I honestly feel so lucky to be doing what Iām doing.ā
10:02 – Comfortable With Uncomfortability.Ā āI still have a large amount of imposter syndrome,ā Jason says, despite being one of the top documentarians on the plant. āI didnāt go to school for this. I was an English major and I learned at the feet of some really talented people at HBO and NBC. I tried to do what they would do. I lied my way into a lot of jobs. I started interviewing people because I said āIāve done it before.ā Thatās the same way I became a bartender when I was 18 or 19. I always just kind of smiled, went home, and looked it up and faked it ātil I made it.ā
12:37 – MakingĀ Ā a Reality.Ā Jason explains how he was brought in to directĀ The Last DanceĀ and how the project came to be after nearly two decades in the making. āIt took years [for all the parties involved] to come to the table.ā
16:00 – Working at Light Speed.Ā On average, an hour-long documentary takes roughly a year to produce, according to Jason. He and his team produced 10 hours ofĀ The Last DanceĀ in about two years. āWe were working at quintuple the pace with a pretty small staff. We only had 10 of us who were working on it full-time.ā
17:28 – A Big Surprise.Ā Jason initially signed up for an 8-hour documentary, and only found out that ESPN planned on it being 10 hours after the production ofĀ The Last DanceĀ was publicly announced. āWhen the lights came up [after the first teaser trailer to advertisers] they announced it would be 10 one-hour parts, which is two hours longer than I was aware of. It was breaking, shocking news to me.ā
18:54 – David Stern.Ā Jason and Will talk about the life and legacy of NBA Commissioner David Stern. Check outĀ Sternās appearance on the very first episode of WHOOP Podcast.
21:41 – Chronicling the Best.Ā āIām inspired and eternally curious about iconic figures and what makes them human. What separated them? All of us walked into the first day of third grade, all of us went to gym class, all of us did these basic things that you do. Where did they deviate and what caused that deviation? Iāve always been really, really interested in that.ā
23:41 – Dealing with Critics.Ā āNo criticism is wrong. If you didnāt like it then it wasnāt for you. I donāt fault anyone for saying that. If itās going to be for everyone then itās going to be a maximum of a B+.ā
30:29 – Breakthrough Moment.Ā Jason shares how a question he asked Jordan about the partying ways of the Bulls in the 80s served as the foundation for the rest of their discussion. āThat was the breakthrough moment for me.ā
33:54 – First Interview Success.Ā āI was so nervous that day that it wouldnāt go well. Thatās probably the most relieved and elated and just energized, invigorated, Iāve ever been. After we finished, the crew and I all went out and we did a shot of tequila. There was this pool overlooking the ocean and I said, āEvery single person who was here tonight, from the makeup person to the caretaker of the house, weāre all coming back the next time because we have lightning in a bottle and we need to duplicate this exact scenario the next time.āā
34:31 – Betting with Mike.Ā Jason tells a story about how Jordan started making bets with him shortly after meeting him for the second time. āWe got in the car, and I donāt even know if he knew my name at that point, and Iām sitting next to him in the back seat and he said, out of nowhere, āI bet we see 10 pairs of Jordans on the way to the arena.ā So he doesnāt know who I am, thereās nothing on the line, itās not for a dollar, itās not for a million dollars, itās for nothing, itās for bragging rights, but he needs to play a game at all times. That was really informative to me in scripting the interview for him. Keep him occupied. ā¦ Thatās where the iPad came from.ā
39:49 – Inspiration for the iPad.Ā Jason says he got the idea for showing Jordan interview clips on the iPad from his experience with Jordan watching a video of his playing days on a phone during a pre-interview meeting. āHe took the phone out of my hand and immediately locked in and started muttering these anecdotes ā¦ I was thinking, āThis is what I need to recreate.āā
41:49 – MJ the Storyteller.Ā āHeās an incredible storyteller. You donāt normally have the blessing of that when youāre a filmmaker that your main character [is such a strong storyteller himself] ā¦ It was a luxury.ā
43:50 – The Flu Game.Ā āI personally think that thereās absolutely no way it was [a deliberate attempt to get Jordan sick]. I do think that when you get the last pizza of the night at some random pizzeria in Salt Lake, pepperoni pizza thatās probably been sitting there for at least a day, and if you eat damn near the whole thing and you smoke a few cigars and probably have a few glasses of wine and youāre at altitude maybe not getting enough sleep, that concoction is not going to agree with your body. ā¦ I donāt think there was a conspiracy to bring down Michael Jordan for [the Utah Jazz] to win Game 5 [of the 1997 NBA Finals].ā
50:09 – Scottie Pippen.Ā āScottie was beloved by that team. Thatās what I didnāt realize. He was the good cop to Michaelās bad cop. We interviewed 108 people and they allĀ adoreĀ Scottie Pippen.ā
52:23 – Jerry Krause.Ā Jason and Will talk about Bulls GM Jerry Krauseās role in building the 90s Bulls and his part in their breakup. āHis tragic flaw was that he needed credit so bad that he wanted to blow the whole thing up and show people, āLook, I can do it with a blank slate. I donāt need Michael Jordan.ā But of course you need Michael Jordan.ā
56:49 – Phil Jackson.Ā Jason and Will discuss Phil Jacksonās approach to leadership and how he cultivated success with the Jordan-era Bulls.
1:00:24 – Fathers, Sons and Basketball.Ā āIt fascinated me so much how much the father-son dynamic played a role in all of the main characters in this doc. Michael is as competitive as he is today because he was fighting for the attention of his father with his brother, Larry. Dennis Rodman, according to him, doesnāt have a father. ā¦ Scottie Pippenās dad had a stroke, he was working for him, for the love to keep his dad alive. Steve Kerr, we know the story about him and his father from Episode 9 and how close they were and how he cultivated that love of basketball because Malcolm Kerr himself had a love of basketball.ā
1:04:05 – The End of Episode 7.Ā Jason discusses the most iconic moment ofĀ The Last Dance, theĀ Ā talking about his desire to win and how that may have affected his perception. āIn my experience with him, he had been a really nice guy. He had gone out of his way to be really respectful to the makeup woman and our camera crew. The few times I had seen him interacting around other people he was just a very decent man, I thought. So I really wondered if he was ambivalent about the persona that he had cultivated through the years of being this ruthless killer.ā
1:07:14 – An Unmatched Desire to Win.Ā āI think itās so telling that the only time that he actually starts to break down [duringĀ The Last Dance] is when heās talking about how much he wants to win and how much it means to him. He didnāt break down when he was talking about his dadās death and clearly that is something that left a hole in his heart. The only time he really got choked up and the only time he said, āI need a breakā was because he was so emotional in talking about just how adamant he is that you have to have that philosophy to succeed.ā
Connect with Jason onĀ Ā andĀ