Earlier this month saw the premiere of Losers, a new 8-episode documentary series on Netflix. The creator behind the show is New York’s Mickey Duzyj, an illustrator-turned-filmmaker whom first caught our attention with his delightful animated doc shorts The Perfect 18, and, in particular, The Shining Star of Losers Everywhere.
Inspired by the same themes he explored in Shining Star, Duzyj’s new series explores the concept of losers in sports and dives deep into historical stories about famous failures. Centering on figures from across different disciplines and countries, the show, through revealing interviews, meticulous archival work, and wonderfully stylized animated sequences, casts a humanizing eye upon these great “failures”, and finds portraits that challenge popular conceptions. Sports, with its obsession with victory and its habit towards romantic mythologizing, proved to be a ripe subject for this sort of subversive reconsideration, and we were delighted by how much we enjoyed the show.
We called Duzyj up to talk more about the series and the path he took towards getting it made. When these kind of success stories hit, the most common questions we receive are from our community of filmmakers—”how do I that?”. So I try to be fairly linear and thorough with Mickey in describing the steps he took up to the series release. Mickey was very generous with his time, and the following is a lengthy, but lightly edited transcript of our conversation, starting with his background and early forays into documentary filmmaking, then diving more into Losers in the back half. Enjoy!
I. A Pivot to VIDEO
Hi Mickey! Thanks for chatting with me today.
Good to speak with you, dude. It’s been an exciting weekend.
I can imagine. Have you been getting a bunch of love from unexpected places—all sorts of people you haven’t heard from in years being like, “Mickey, this is amazing?”
Yeah.Some people from my hometown that I haven’t seen in decades were like “We always knew you’d go on to big things!!” It’s pretty funny. But having a series released in 190 countries, it’s just a unique experience that even artists 10, 15 years ago wouldn’t have. I’m trying to enjoy it. It’s pretty overwhelming. I think it’s really validating to our team who worked so hard on this this year.
Let’s get started with your background. Tell me a little bit about coming up through art school and transitioning into being an illustrator before getting involved with some of these sports properties.
Sure. Yeah. My career started as an editorial illustrator, doing drawings for magazines and newspapers. The subject matter was pretty wide ranging. I would do political drawings. I would do drawings for entertainment magazines. Did a lot of work for Rolling Stone, and sometimes I would do work for sports publications, which I always enjoyed because before I came to art school, I was a high school athlete. I played a lot of tennis and even aspired at some point to go to college to play tennis as well. I did that for seven or eight years, just constantly working around the clock to hit magazine deadlines. It was very fun. I always liked to do a drawing and then a couple of days later see it on the newsstand. There’s something really appealing about how immediate that was.
After doing that for a number of years, I really wanted to get into more storytelling.I always aspired to be a graphic novelist, but never really found a venue to do it where I’d also get paid.
You have a very distinctive art style, which I find kind of unusual for the editorial magazines that you were working for. Coming from Seattle, which is the hometown for the Fantagraphics store, I saw similarities to that school of art, and was always trying to piece together where your inspirations were maybe coming from. I saw a lot of Dan Clowes in your work. Is that something that you’d developed fairly early on, or was it a process of finding your artistic voice through your working career?
Well, certainly the Fantagraphics artists, I would say Dan Clowes, Chris Ware, Charles Burns were influences. That era of Fantagraphics was hugely influential when I was in art school. And it’s not just the linework and graphic qualities, which I love and can obsess over in my own stuff, but also the subject matter, telling unusual and beautiful stories that don’t necessary tie up in a bow with Hollywood endings. I was also really inspired by the nonfiction work in the era too, specifically Joe Sacco and all the Harvery Pekar stuff. I wanted to make things in that universe. But then when I got out of art school and needed to make money to stay in New York City, I found it really difficult to find venues that’d pay me to do these types of stories. Even if I would develop relationships with art directors at magazines and tell them, ask them “Hey, give me a half page and send me to the Westminster Dog Show. I’ll do a little story and you don’t even have to pay me more.” But no one was really open to that, so it was frustrating.
“I was so frustrated that nobody I was working with in an editorial illustration capacity was giving me an opportunity to tell stories, so I just started to write and illustrate things from my website for my blog.”
You were doing work for the ESPN family with Grantland, and you get your first opportunity to do this kind of longer story telling that you had been wanting to do. If I’m correct, that’s The Perfect 18?
Yeah. The way that the storytelling thing started for me was just that I was so frustrated that nobody I was working with in an editorial illustration capacity was giving me an opportunity to tell stories, so I just started to write and illustrate things from my website for my blog. I didn’t do that many of them, I think I did three, and they would go around on social media. From that I was introduced to an editor at ESPN.com’s opinion page called Page 2. He asked me if I’d be willing to do the same kind of thing I was doing on my site for them, and that opportunity changed my career.
People started to come to me asking, “Hey, do you have any ideas that you would want to turn into a written and illustrative thing or an animated thing?”And actually the first film I directed was a story I originally pitched as a written and illustrated blog post. It was 2013 and I had just done some animated sequences for an ESPN 30 for 30 doc about Bo Jackson called You Don’t Know Bo. The editor I pitched the story to had seen that film and loved the animation, so asked me if I’d be willing to turn it into a short film instead of the blogpost. I never really aspired to direct, but I’d had a good experience on the Bo doc and thought it’d be exciting to try. Also it didn’t hurt that they were offering me 10 times more money than I’d make on the blogpost, so I just said “What the hell let’s go for it,” and over the next four months made my first film, called The Perfect 18.
II. A Shining Star For Losers Everywhere
That leads directly into The Shining Star of Losers Everywhere. Was it the same story? They just came up to you and were like, “Hey, do you have a new idea? We loved this previous work?”
Well, at that point I had been doing so much work for them in a variety of capacities. I had contributed to that Bo Jackson 30 for 30, which when it came out on ESPN, at that time, I think even still, it was their highest rated documentary ever. It had a massive viewership. A lot of people saw it. So that was very high profile. I was doing a lot of illustration and design work for Grantland—for their books, for their website, and then I had just now done this short for Grantland which came out and got a lot of attention. It brought me to the ESPN offices next to Central Park, and there they asked me if I had any other ideas—they were excited about the work that I was doing.
In that meeting, I pitched the Shining Star story, not really knowing what the making of that story would entail. I just thought, “Wow, what a brilliant and unique story that would never have happened in America. And they agreed, and they said, “Okay, go and make that one.” I walked out of that meeting really excited but had no idea what I had gotten into. Looking back, it was a moment of extreme naïveté because I’d not reached out to the subjects or even done some basic legwork to see if the story was make-able. I eventually figured it out, but yeah I just went in with the story like “Wouldn’t this be great film?” And they said “Yes. Make that film.”
Well, it is a great story, and there’s a long history of Americans being fascinating with what’s big in Japan. That’s really cool. Now, this was a story … how did you come across it? It was something that you’d had in an old notebook for a long time, I think I read.
Yeah. I had originally read that story in the Guardian in 2003. I’ve always collected interesting sports stories, so that was one that I had read when I was still in art school. At the time, I must have thought that it was something that I could do something with, because again, I always wanted to work on stories in some way. So I held onto it, and kept it in a drawer until 2013, when I started to realize that “Oh, there’s a way to get some of this out and quote/unquote ‘develop’ them. So I started looking closer into all my insane drawers.
Honestly, a lot of the stories in this current series were things that I’ve sat on for a long time too. It was just a matter of me figuring out a way, finding a venue that would fund the project and also give me some creative control to do it in a way that I felt was different and dignified.
“Oh, I’m sorry. Haven’t you heard? Ten years ago, that racehorse was basically abducted from our racetrack, and collectively we’ve all agreed to never speak to the media about the story ever again.”
You mentioned that you feel, looking back, that you were fairly naïve when you were pitching The Shining Star of Losers. In the actual making of that, I imagine you found yourself stretched and challenged in trying to work within this longer story-telling medium that you didn’t have as much experience with. Could you talk me through a little bit about some of the challenges that you had in adapting your workflow, or the new skills that you were having to learn?
For sure—and to be clear, I barely had a workflow to adapt. I’d done a seven-minute doc that had taken me four months, and now I was tasked with making an international documentary in a language I didn’t speak. It was tough. I started my own production company, which is just basically me, then when I reached out to the subjects saying, “On behalf of ESPN, we’d love to tell your story,” the replay I got back, from all the people who worked at this racetrack and experiences the story of Haru Urara firsthand, was, “Oh, I’m sorry. Haven’t you heard? Ten years ago, that racehorse was basically abducted from our racetrack, and collectively we’ve all agreed to never speak to the media about the story ever again.” I was off to a great start.
So did you bring a producer on board or something like that? Did ESPN assign somebody to help you with that process?
No. I wanted to use a completely new team for a variety of reasons. So I started my company and had a friend who recommended a producer named Mona Panchal, who at the time was working at Fusion. She would occasionally take on freelance projects. She had some experience making more ambitious documentaries, and she is really the one who helped me find a producer in Japan who could help me. None of the subjects spoke English, so just in terms of doing all the logistics of planning and doing a shoot in Japan, she really managed that. We also had a local DP who was like a one-man band in shooting and doing sound. I used the same editor that I had used from The Perfect 18, but he doesn’t speak Japanese either, so it was a challenge to cut a short in a language that neither of us speak. So we had to have translators. It was a huge challenge.
Also just in terms of drawing it, I ended up drawing half of the film on paper. It was taking me forever to do. The drawings were just piling up all around me. It was only when the film got accepted into Sundance and I had something like six weeks to draw the second half of the film that I was like, “Fuck me, I got to figure out another way of doing this.” And I figured it out. I was just like, “I have to draw this digitally. I just have to draw right into a tablet,” and I figured out some new moves that sped up the process a ton and allowed us to get the film done by Sundance. Everything took off from there.
I go to Sundance every year, and I meet plenty of filmmakers whose first Sundance it is, and it’s overwhelming enough for them who maybe have had the idea of showing at Sundance circled on their personal dream board for years and years and years. I can imagine that for someone who wasn’t a self-identified filmmaker up until that point, that going on the festival circuit must have been a really surreal experience.
Yeah. I knew nothing about it. I was aware of Sundance and South By Southwest, but I knew nothing of the circuit. I knew nothing of how competitive it was. Very new to this world. Being accepted into Sundance was incredible. They premiered our short at the end of the main documentary program on opening night at the historic Egyptian Theater. They do events for directors, where I’m sitting in a room with Robert Redford and Werner Herzog, and I was just like, “How did I end up here?” It just happened out of nowhere, which was just shocking and beautiful.
I have to say, though, I did have some friends who were working on documentaries. I had become friends at that time with Ezra Edelman through a mutual friend who, at that time, was working on the O.J. documentary that went on to win the Academy Award. I had a few friends who showed me the ropes and who would look at early cuts of my film and be really encouraging and give me really smart notes, and who’d tell me, “You don’t know this now, but people are going to really connect with this story.” That gave me a lot of motivation while I was making the thing. It took me over a year to make. Adding to the drama of the moment, I basically had no money and a new baby, so the idea that I’d put everything behind the story of a loser racehorse from Japan… there were moments when it seemed really stupid. But then there were moments where these amazing friends that I have were really encouraging and said, “No, man. Just wait. Not only is this going to go out into the world, but the festival circuit will love a story of resilience and perseverance like this.” Like, “Believe in it. Keep going.”
“You don’t know this now, but people are going to really connect with this story.” That gave me a lot of inspiration and just motivation while I was making the thing.
That was all validated when we got to Sundance, when we were accepted into South by Southwest. We ended up winning best short film at Hot Docs, and it just really changed everything for me. I’m very grateful for that support and obviously glad that I stuck it through.
III. Pitching Losers
So you have a film that is this successful on the festival circuit. It goes online. It ends up becoming a big hit. I imagine you had a lot of inbound interest at that point in terms of you as a creative and people-
You didn’t have your phone going off the hook, being like, “Wow, this is great. What do you got cooking?”
No, I did not.
That’s very interesting to hear!
I had always wanted to do a series exploring international stories of failure. That was the idea when I initially pitched to ESPN in 2013, which they loved and asked if I had any specific stories. The first and only one I told them that day was the Shining Star. And they said, “Great. Make that as the proof of concept, and then we can talk about doing the longer series after.” After the film came out, and what I thought was a successful run, I met with ESPN again, and for a variety of reasons, they decided not to go forward with the series. But credit to them, they always told me that if they didn’t want to move forward with the show that I could take the package and shop it elsewhere. But even after that, it was still a hard sell. I think because the show…it needs a lot of archival footage. A lot of the stories are international. It wasn’t the cheapest series to produce, especially as shorts, which is what I thought it was going to be. Shining Star was something like 18 minutes. I thought I would do all of these stories on that scale, but it wasn’t the cheapest thing to do. I think for that reason, I took it around for an entire year, and nobody wanted to make it. I was about to abandon the project right before Netflix got involved.
Was this concurrent with the festival run for Shining Star, or was this after?
It was concurrent, but after the major launch.
I think I went back to ESPN right after we won Hot Docs, which I thought…was supposedly good luck?
Yeah. One would think.
But I’m not entirely sure why they didn’t do the series. ESPN has gone through a lot of changes with regards to their original content. Things are changing. I think it’s for them to say why they passed. I would’ve loved to make it with them, but again, credit to them for letting me take the idea and shop around and see if we could make it elsewhere.
Describe Topic’s involvement, because they’re producers on this, right?
Yes. Topic was a new entertainment division of First Look Media, which does a variety of things. I think their identity primarily before this new Topic Studios was to do investigative journalism. They fund and run The Intercept, and they worked with Laura Poitras to do Field of Vision.
They were looking to expand their brand, and to have an entertainment division that does a wider variety of subjects. They actually hired my producer on Shining Star, Mona Panchal, right after we won Hot Docs. Mona was like, “Oh, you got to come in and pitch the series here.”
Again, I’m new to this world and don’t have an agent or manager or anything. I know basically nobody. Just the fact that a production company would have a meeting with me and to want to represent this idea, taking it to distributors seemed like a great idea. They did an option where they would have exclusivity over the show in taking it to distributors for a period of time. That was actually the year that we couldn’t find a distributor for the show. And I wasn’t a part of those negotiations, which was a little bit frustrating to me. The show was trying to be sold, and I would just hear that places would have interest, but then the deals would spectacularly fall apart. I was just feeling like, “Oh, this is kind of development hell that everybody talks about. This is what I’m going through.” It was wildly frustrating.
I was just feeling like, “Oh, this is kind of development hell that everybody talks about. This is what I’m going through.”
But right at the end as the period of time where they had exclusivity over the show, they said that some Netflix executives were coming to town for Tribeca and that they had loved Shining Star. For the first time, Topic invited me to come and pitch the series myself. At this hotel, I met with Ben Cotner, who was at that time … he’s no longer at Netflix, but he was a longtime major producer there in their documentary division. We sat down, and right from the jump, he was like, “What is this show actually about?” We had an incredible conversation. He himself started as a director and made some films that I love, so we really, really connected. We never looked back. There was a period of developing the stories after that, where they wanted to see what the arcs were a little bit more substantively, and man, they got the show from the beginning. They got the show, they got what was unique about my work, what animation could bring to it, and it’s been a really great partnership with them ever since. So I’m very grateful to Topic for connecting us.
You’re batting 1000. That’s amazing. You only got one meeting in the room, and you hit it out of the park. That’s incredible.
No, it was a great day.
IV. The Making of “Losers”
Let’s get into to Losers! When I first started going through the series, I was a little bit surprised by how flexible this concept of noble failure ended up being for you. In Shining Star this horse is objectively a loser and is sort of spectacular for how much of a loser she is. But then I see some of these other portraits. I see someone like Surya Bonaly, who’s a multi-time world champion. I see the curling piece…
Not world champion.
Oh, right. Only silver at the world’s, correct?
Noted. Well I see the one about curling, where you start off with Pat Ryan and this devastating loss, but then it kicks off a decade-long reign of utter domination. I think that’s pretty interesting as well. Talk a little bit about the concept and the flexibility within the concept into your own mind that it can incorporate people whom a lot of folks would say, “Wow, these people have been really successful,” and yet they’re still this kernel of failure that you think is central to their story or their self-conception.
Well, so many of these stories were hiding in plain sight I think. My way in was knowing from my personal life, and just as someone who’s a human being, that we learn so much more from our failures than we do from our successes. That idea doesn’t always manifest in the stories that we tell in culture. Many of these stories were 20, 30 years old, and just no one had ever thought, “Hey, why don’t we look back and see what’s happened in their lives, what they’ve taken away from this very public loss, embarrassment, humiliation, to see if there’s some value in their experience?”
I think the reason why the show was so wide-ranging is that no one had ever really tried to do this in a multi-sport way. I don’t exactly know why this had never been done, why this show had never happened before, even given the fact that sports documentaries is a very established genre. But my way in, through the experience I had with Shining Star, was that there could be a lot of wisdom in these under-reported stories of failure.”
“Hey, why don’t we look back and see what’s happened in their lives, what they’ve taken away from this very public loss, embarrassment, humiliation, to see if there’s some value in their experience?”
I honestly didn’t know if the concept was going to work when we out onto the field. I had reached out to the subjects, people like Surya, people like Jean van de Velde, and I just had conversations like the one that we’re having right now, where I would say to them that I felt like… take Jean van de Velde, who in pop culture is regarded as one of the greatest choke artists ever. He’s lampooned as being the wimpy French guy who couldn’t get across the finish line. I’ve seen so many insulting video montages of him crawling into that little river and everything. When I did more research about his life before and after that moment, I found that this guy was incredibly courageous in his career. He took a chance on golf during a time when golf was frowned upon in France, and in the tournament in 1999, the only reason why he was in position to win to begin with was because he was playing a high risk, high reward style of play. The fact that his courageousness and aggressiveness ultimately doomed him in the end seemed to obscure his heroics before and after. So when we contacted him, I told him,”I feel like you’ve been underserved, and I want to know the story, not only from your perspective, but from the perspective of the people that work closest to you.” And he just got it immediately.
But I had no idea whether or not the subjects were going to be very guarded in talking about the show and the themes of the show. You do need to build up a certain amount of trust to be able to ask people about some of the most traumatic moments in their life, their moments of their greatest professional failures. And credit to all of them, and what was so incredible to our team, is that so many of them saw their stories of sports failure in a much more healthy way—that they’d figured out a place where to put those failures, and they’d realized that life is about so much more than being a champion in your job. So many of them talk with and work with young people—they’ve had an impact in ways that we couldn’t have imagined, and they don’t wake up every morning with the shame of losing a tournament hanging heavily around their neck as maybe we would popularly imagine them to live.
So really, I was just hoping to give the subjects an opportunity to tell their story. Really, in the final versions, it’s their story in their own words. I didn’t feel like we necessarily needed to put the dramatic swelling string music to make things more dramatic than they already were. And also we didn’t need to contort ourselves to find the wisdom in the stories. It was all there. I admire all of the subjects for how they responded to the failures. I think just this weekend with the show going out, people are really connecting with it with regards to their own lives too, and that’s really validating for me because, as someone who was never a professional athlete myself, that was my way into the stories too. That’s what I felt so deeply about the stories. It’s nice when, as an artist, you make something and your audience experiences things in the same way that you experience. That’s a very beautiful thing.
I think that was one of the genius … you mentioned it a few minutes ago … it’s one of the genius moves of having some of these stories that are a bit older, because you allowed time and perspective to take a little bit of the rawness out of it. You also mentioned needing to earn their trust. Is there anything in the way that you approached making the subjects comfortable? Were there tips that you learned from other documentarians that you tried to employ to elicit that sort of honesty and realness from your subjects?
To say that there’s a formula would be lying. I’m still so new to this space, honestly. I don’t know how to operate in a way that’s not just trying to be radically empathetic towards the subjects and to say that we accept the pressure and responsibility that comes from telling your stories. We feel like there’s a dignity that has been hidden in your stories that’s important, not only for your legacy, but in a way that connects with a large audience. This is what we believed from the beginning. Many potential subjects that we reached out to did not participate in the series, so it’s not like we were batting 1000, just going in and earning the trust of everyone.
It takes a certain type of person to be willing to trust someone like me, who is basically a nobody. I’ve never won these huge awards where my reputation precedes me. For them to trust me, it was very humbling. In the case on someone like Surya Bonaly, I was a huge fan of hers growing up. When I was 12 years old, I was at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit and stood in a crowd that absolutely lost their minds when she did the backflip. I’ve always considered her to be incredible and heroic. To be trusted to tell her story properly, that’s a huge responsibility. I don’t want to talk too much about my own struggle in making the show, but it was a fucking hard show to make. It was really, really, really hard. My entire team had to fight for it, and we fought really hard because the subjects gave so much to us. It was important to me to return that generosity that they shared with us with our best effort in making the films as potent as we felt they could be.
“someone like Surya Bonaly, who … when I was 12 years old, I was in Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. I watched her compete. I was part of everyone giving her a standing ovation. I consider her to be heroic and incredible. To be trusted to tell her story properly, that’s a huge responsibility.”
To pick up on a couple of threads that you mentioned earlier as well, the show is really unique because, we you mentioned, it’s a multi-sport survey. Then secondly, these are international stories. That, to me, seems brilliant when you think of whom eventually you were able to do the deal with, because that’s a huge part of Netflix’s business model.
I want to focus on the creative aspect. Now that it’s all over, is there any interesting insights that you picked up on or that you think that was interesting in hearing these stories that crossed athletic disciplines or crossed national borders, either commonalities or divergences that you found notable?
Well, the real answer to that is in the episodes themselves. I do think that different countries look at and deal with failure slightly differently. I was surprised to find that in France, for example, the media could be just as ruthless about winning and losing as it can be in America. That was a similarity that I didn’t really expect. I just want to say one thing about Netflix. Our main producers there, who are uncredited in the show, were Ben Cotner and Kate Townsend. Both of them really pushed us and pushed me personally to make this an international show. What that meant was taking out details that would be specifically known to Americans but not necessarily to an international audience. A lot of references fell out because we were trying to tell these stories to an international audience. Same goes with regards to archival—finding archival in the specific countries that the stories were in, in the case of Jean van de Velde, finding French archival. In the case of Mauro Prosperi, finding Italian archival.
Also just in terms of the subjects that we were talking to, I really feel like so many of the episode are strong because the voices in them are authentic, civilian voices. You look at an episode like the Aliy Zirkle dog mushing episode. We were not forced to have some sort of famous person come in to validate the heroism of Aliy’s experience. They really allowed us to tell these stories through the civilian voices that experienced things first hand. I think all of those things that Ben and Kate encouraged us to do really broadened the show, the feelings of the show, the scope of the show. Made it feel more international, more universal, and I think that the response that we’re seeing, not only domestically but internationally, is in part due to Netflix’s vision in that regard. Most of their viewers are outside the US, so they embrace the internationality of the show and were never afraid of subtitles or foreign archival.
To Netflix’s credit, they said, “As a first-time director, you will be surrounded by people who have much more experience than you.”
No, I think that’s really, really neat. I think that’s something that a lot of creators don’t think about, which is that this is a global audience with content being delivered over the internet. I’d say a solid 40 to 50% of the Short of the Week audience even is non-U.S. And yet it’s pulling teeth to get them to supply subtitles for the short films that we feature.
You mentioned your Netflix producers. We’re coming down to the end of my questions here. I wanted you to maybe shout out the team that you assembled for Losers. I know it was a pretty small, pretty tight team. Maybe talk a little bit about how you found these folks?
I have only nice things to say about my team. To Netflix’s credit, they said, “As a first-time director, you will be surrounded by people who have much more experience than you.” So I was the least experienced person on my team. Our field team were seven people. Our main producer was a guy named Adam Goldberg, who had done a lot of international sports documentaries and he had made a great 30 for 30. He had a lot of experience in the field. He actually helped with a lot of interviews also.
Our second producer was a guy named Aaron Ernst. He has a lot of news experience. He worked at Frontline and Al Jazeera, and was an incredible researcher. Our DP and our AC were guys in their 20s, Adam Uhl and Brian Tran. These guys are complete whizzes. They’re workhorses. Incredible. We were in places from Alaska with negative 40 degrees out to the desert in the Sahara, and these guys were just present, and creative, and incredible, indomitable. Our line producer Karla Zambrano kept an incredibly complex, international winter production in order while saving money on the back end for us to do the animation. Credit to her that it didn’t blow up.
Also a special person on our project was Danon Hinty, who was our post-production supervisor. Just like these stories champion so many under-reported, incredible people, so many roles on the TV show are so unheralded, people with credits buried deep in the credits, the show would not be anywhere near as good as it is without Danon and her work. We worked together for something like … I don’t know, 10 months, every single day. And post-production supervisors, their credits are buried. Totally buried. But she’s an incredible genius. She was there for me in ways that I’ll never forget and really helped me in the archive, the edit, the animation. We also had four incredible editors on the show. Andrew Romero was our lead editor. All of them have incredible experience, so I’ll just say their names. Andrew Romero, Michael Brown, Brad Buckwalter, and Alex Amoling. These guys were absolutely incredible. We had four edit rooms going at the same time, so there was never enough time for me to really spend all day in there with each of them. They all brought an incredible amount of creative ideas to their work, and it was just a real privilege to work with so many who invested in the show, who believed in the show, and would work well beyond what could be expected of them to make the show as good as it could be.
We had something like 14 people in our office, and then in total there were about 100 people if you add in all of the animation company, add in everybody out in the field. It was about 100 in total.
How was the team assembled? Was Netflix the one that was finding a lot of these folks, or did you have pre-existing relationships with any or most of them?
I didn’t have that many relationships myself. My first hire was Adam Goldberg, who was our show runner. From his experience out in the field and having worked on some prestigious sports documentaries, he had a Rolodex of people to reach out to. So he and I really built our production and post-production team. Yeah. We had something like 14 people in our office, and then in total there were about 100 people if you add in all of the animation company, and everyone out in the field. I would say Adam and I did that together.
Oh, man. So daunting. Such a-
I can only imagine, never been in a situation like yours with this kind of big-end production, so that’s really cool. Netflix obviously is very famous for not sharing too many details about a show’s reception, even among the creatives involved. I’m curious, now that’s it’s been three, four days now that it’s been out, how are you tracking the reception, and what have you been hearing even anecdotally from the world that’s discovering this work now?
I mentioned this before, but it’s been incredibly validating, because the show really had modest goals of dignifying these people who have never been looked at as having value. Nobody’s ever asked them questions like “What did you learn from the experience? What can you share that might be a positive that came from it?” So I felt like there was all this really hidden wisdom that could connect with average people in the same way that I connected with it. So to get emails, to get messages of people saying that these stories … they’re not necessarily athletes, they’re not even sports fans. To hear that it makes them reframe how they look at success and failure in their own lives, whether it’s in terms of relationships, in terms of how they look at their job, look at their career aspirations—that, honestly, is the most gratifying response that we got. It’s also nice that we’ve gotten some incredible reviews from huge outlets and newspapers. There are very famous people who are tweeting about the show, and all of that feels really nice too certainly, and it makes the subjects feel good.
But honestly, it’s how these stories connect with average people and maybe gives strength to those of us who maybe feel sometimes that we should be on these endless winning streaks ourselves, and anything short of that is just crippling failure, where we hate ourselves or don’t want to try things. There’s nothing more universal than things not working out perfectly, so I’m proud that the show is giving medicine to those who need to hear that it’s ok for them not to, and that things like having integrity is far more important than winning trophies, making money, or becoming famous. People get it, and I couldn’t be happier to have my life and all this work affirmed. Our team is just ecstatic. Like I said, this was a real labor of love and it doesn’t happen every day that you have a chance to create something positive and important. It’s also a dark time out there, so people need that message of hope and inspiration now more than ever.
That’s really beautifully said, Mickey. Thank you. You know what’s next already?
I don’t know. Yeah. We’ll see if Netflix wants to make another season. I certainly feel like there’s a lot more to explore, but the ball is in their court, so to speak. We’ll see.