Sundance: Docu filmmakers hit ‘Linsanity’ jackpot

Deal nearing on the right place, right-time Sundance docu

When director Evan Leong and his crew first approached Jeremy Lin during his senior year at Harvard, the hope was to get enough material for a web series that might interest Asian-Americans, Christians and other fans of the obscure NBA journeyman.

What they did instead was catch the documentary filmmaker’s version of lightning in a bottle — and wound up at Sundance with a film that’s a buzzer-beater away from closing a distribution deal.

“We pursued this with Jeremy and his family declined numerous times,” said Brian Yang, a producer on the film. “They just didn’t want the attention, and he’s a conservative guy. They really didn’t understand, they were like, ‘Why would you want to put a camera on Jeremy? He’s just a kid playing baskeball at Harvard.'”

When Lin was selected for the NBA, the idea made more sense to the family, and the filmmakers started tracking Lin during his rookie year with the Golden State Warriors. During that time, a member of Lin’s sports management team became involved with the filmmaking team, and the player and project became firmly intertwined.

“The idea was to make a modest, simple webisode series,” said Yang, “just to tell his story of what made him who he was.”

Then, last February happened.

Having played sparingly and on the verge of being cut by the New York Knicks, Lin was thrust into a starting role and led a remarkable seven-game winning streak that generated a global following known as “Linsanity.” Suddenly, Lin was being bombarded with requests from major directors and media outlets to capture it all — but the family remained loyal to the ones who’d been with them all along.

“Everything changed,” Yang said. “We went from making an eight-part webisode series to a feature-length doc in a real hurry. People were like, ‘How did you know this was going to happen?'”

Yang and his fellow producers, many Asian-American basketball fans who had been tracking Lin since his earliest days at Harvard, knew all along how lucky they were to have exclusive access during a truly global viral sports phenomenon.

“There is footage from that period, when he was just getting hounded and stalked by the media,” Yang said. “There are definitely scenes in there where you’re like, ‘Wow, that’s what this was really like.'”

Pic, which preemed Sunday at the Marc in Park City, also screens this evening at 6 p.m. at the Temple Theatre in Park City and again on Saturday at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center in Salt Lake City.