“The Last Dance” Director Speaks via Zoom at Penn State
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Jason Hehir, the director of the 10-part ESPN Documentary “The Last Dance,” joined the Penn State community via Zoom call Wednesday at 7 p.m. The Zoom call was conducted by the Knight Chair in Sports Journalism and Society at Penn State, John Affleck.
Hehir is no stranger to directing hit documentaries. He has also directed the likes of “The Fab Five,” “Andre the Giant,” and “The ‘85 Bears.” This documentary in particular features the final season of the Chicago Bulls dynasty. It was quite the hit this past summer, earning an Emmy for Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Series.
When Hehir learned about the news of the Emmy, he said, “It was just a really, really gratifying moment to see all of our hard work recognized. I was just so proud.”
Hehir said that a big reason for why there was so much anticipation for the documentary is that Michael Jordan was rarely in the public eye.
“We benefited from the fact that he was so scarce with his publicity in the previous 20 years,” Hehir said. “When he sits down, all of a sudden anything that he says is riveting on some level because you just don’t see this guy in a relaxed environment like that.”
The documentary was originally set to air at the same time as the 2020 NBA Finals. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Finals got pushed back, and that in turn affected the release of the first episode. With everyone cooped up during quarantine and craving sports content, ESPN moved up the release to April 19.
Forced to move quickly, Hehir talked about how he enjoyed the accelerated timeline.
“At a certain point, you just gotta let the horse out of the barn,” Hehir said. “It was liberating, but I’ll never forget it.”
Hehir mentioned that a big aspect of pulling off such a remarkable documentary with such a star-studded cast of characters is dealing with different personalities. He was asked about one of those personalities in particular: Dennis Rodman.
“Have you ever babysat a 4-year-old?” Hehir jokingly asked. “It’s like a 6-foot-10-inch 4 year-old with tattoos and nose rings.”
Hehir went on to talk about the day when ESPN interviewed Rodman, explaining how Rodman was hours late, didn’t know what the interview was for, and told ESPN “you’ve got 10 minutes.”
“We can’t get our camera set in 10 minutes,” Hehir said.
Luckily, he was able to get Rodman to stay and complete a very entertaining interview.
When asked about tips he has for anyone watching who wants to get into this field, Hehir had a definitive answer.
“Say yes to every opportunity,” Hehir said. “Always say yes because you never know.”
Trevor Grady is a student majoring in management information systems. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.