ESPN’s “The Last Dance,” which reaches its climax May 17, focuses on Michael Jordan and the six-time NBA champion Chicago Bulls. In one sense, the show couldn’t come at a better time, filling the void caused by canceled live sporting events and delivering the exploits of a legend.
Production house Sim intended to assemble the hundreds of hours of footage of director Jason Hehir’s 10-part documentary series in much the same way as the Bulls fashioned their titles — all together, as a team.
“Many documentaries are edited in homes and apartments, with post facilities coming in at the end. This was not one of those projects,” says David Feldman, Sim’s senior vice president of film and television, East Coast.
When the coronavirus pandemic halted film and TV production, Sim was in the middle of its work. At the time the series premiered on April 19, most of the episodes were yet unfinished. “When everything was going to be shut down, we saw the writing on the wall,” Feldman says. “We had to be prepared to work from home.”
To ensure maximum security of the footage, all content was kept on a server at Sim’s New York location. Each worker’s home was then set up with a full finishing suite that was fed multiple encrypted streams to enable a seamless experience for editing, coloring and sound as each unit pushed the project along.
Stacy Chaet, the show’s supervising workflow producer, explains that post had been completed on just a few installments. “We had done three episodes with everyone in the same room,” she says.
The main source material for the project was 16mm film from the NBA. Player interviews, news archives and home video mixed to paint a full picture of the team that won the 1997-98 title. All of it still needed post work before it was ready to air.
Feldman praises editors Chad Beck, Devin Concannon, Abhay Sofsky and Ben Sozanski for paring the footage from more than 500 hours to roughly 200 minutes before handing it off to the Sim team. “The amount of footage was phenomenal. We were shielded from that,” he says. “What we received was already edited down.”
Feldman adds that colorist Rob Sciarratta had established the look of the documentary with Hehir, “so there was already a strong shorthand and trust,” he says. The director wanted to maintain the authentic archival look of the clips, which meant Sim “would just massage the footage rather than manipulate it,” the exec explains.
As Feldman speaks with Variety, he and his team are working on the upcoming series finale. “Re-recording mixer Keith Hodne is mixing the episode,” he says. Sim will then complete its checks for any technical picture and audio issues before Hehir sees the episode with final color.
With the majority of the show’s post-production completed and delivered from home, Feldman believes the seamless transition was made possible by a crew of people who have worked together at the same facility for years and trust one another — a lot like the team in the documentary.
“When you’re pushed to finding creative solutions,” Feldman says, “you figure it out.”