Column: ‘The Last Dance’ director credits Michael Jordan for letting his guard down
Jason Hehir, the director of “The Last Dance,” conducted 106 interviews over three years for the 10-part docuseries on Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. But what is arguably the most poignant moment of the film came within the first 45 minutes of his first interview, when Jordan got emotional while talking about how he had treated his teammates.
It was a side of Jordan few people outside of his close friends and family had seen before, and it naturally led to questions about how Hehir immediately developed such a strong bond with Jordan.
Hehir, 43, met Jordan just a few months earlier. He said there wasn’t a personal bond then, nor is there now.
“You’re seeing Michael’s personality come out,” Hehir said. “We’re sitting down with him in a relaxed setting. It’s a credit to Estee Portnoy and Curtis Polk, his two closest advisors, for putting me in front of him a few times first, before the cameras rolled, so we could develop a bit of a rapport.”
Hehir said he has not spoken to Jordan since the documentary first aired last month.
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“It’s completely professional,” Hehir said. “I’ll probably never speak to Michael again after this. That’s not the relationship that we have, but he needed to know that he could trust me and he needed to know that we were in a safe space when we had these conversations. What you’re seeing there is comfortable Michael.”
The documentary was originally scheduled to air between NBA Finals games in June but was fast-tracked to run during this five-week stretch when most of America is at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“On Jan. 1, 2020, we had zero episodes completed,” Hehir said. “That went up to three episodes by March 16 when everything shut down.”
Hehir and his team of five editors had to finish the final episodes of the documentary from their New York apartments because two employees at their editing facility tested positive for COVID-19. The final two episodes, which will air Sunday, were done remotely.
“I could normally walk down the hallway and stop in an editor’s office and say, ‘Let’s try this song and let’s try this shot,’ ” Hehir said. “When you’re at home, those discussions are on Zoom and then a file gets sent to me and I get it via email and I download it via Zip drive and I have to upload it to Vimeo and then I’ll watch it and I’ll make my notes and we meet again. A process that would have taken three minutes takes three hours, and sometimes a couple of days.
“If you extrapolate that by the hundreds of decisions, we have to make every day, it makes it exponentially longer. I really feel like Episodes 9 and 10 are two of the strongest episodes of the entire series and they were done entirely from our apartments, but I don’t think we’ve lost an ounce of quality.”
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Those circumstances played a role in the first eight episodes being leaked online last month. That was not the case with the final two episodes. Episode 9 was being locked in when Episodes 5 and 6 aired on May 3, and Episode 10 was being locked in when Episodes 7 and 8 were being aired in last week.
“If you wanted to cheat and watch an unfinished version of the show, you could find it,” Hehir said. “The reward that people get by sticking around and waiting a few days is they get to see the finished version as we meant it to be seen, and they get to share in those moments with their friends and family in person or online or Zoom. They can all watch it together and at the same time as if it’s a live sporting event.
“It’s disappointing some people watched the unfinished product. They’re taking the cake out of the oven when it’s still raw. I can’t stop people from doing that, but I’m looking forward to people watching the final finished version on Sunday and experience it with the rest of the world. We don’t have many moments of connection that we can enjoy together these days.”
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