Some behind the scenes footage with Michael Jordan in The Last Dance.

Making The Last Dance: A Conversation with Jason Hehir

Dept. of Raps and Confabs


In the 10-part documentary The Last Dance, we get an in-depth look at the the Chicago Bulls‘ dynasty through the lens of the final championship season in 1997-98. The Bulls allowed an NBA Entertainment crew to follow the team around for that entire season. They shot 500 hours of footage. None of which has been seen until now. We caught up with director Jason Hehir for a chat about crafting this epic insider’s look, at what is being touted as the final word on the legacy of Michael Jordan and his team.

Michael Jordan comforts teammate Horace Grant of the Chicago Bulls during Game One of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers played on May 19, 1992 at Chicago Stadium in Chicago.

Umapagan Ampikaipakan: Hey Jason. Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us today. I can’t imagine what it must have been like putting this documentary together. I’m curious, did you begin by sitting down and logging 500 hours of footage? Or did you plot out an ideal script? Where did you start?

Jason Hehir: We had a production assistant who started logging the footage long before we even had a full staff assembled. He started logging the footage in the summer of 2017. I didn’t even meet Michael until the September of 2017. But in July of 2016, I drew up a 14-page outline for what I thought the series may look like. I kinda buried myself in a few weeks of Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan research, and I emerged from that with a 14-page outline. The outline was done before we watched the footage, and the footage enhanced the story we wanted to tell.

UA: As a filmmaker, what was it like working with so much footage that you didn’t shoot? If you were capturing this yourself, you could get different angles of a moment or of a conversation. Were there moments where you went: “Oh, I just wish I had another angle on that”?

JH: That’s a good question. And the answer is twofold. We were very lucky in that this footage was shot extraordinarily well. They took great pains to make sure that there were establishing scenes, that they were getting us cutaways, that they were doing all the things you would tell a cameraman to do if you were there in the moment. And here, the moment was 20 years before I even got to see anything.

The other aspect of it is that you’re working with a finite amount of footage and the fact that there aren’t any choices to make creatively is liberating. Because I only have what I have in front of me to work with. And I have to make the best out of this. So, the limited aspect of what we had is beneficial. Just to my sanity. And we were really benefited by the fact that really talented cameramen and directors are the ones who captured this and they did everything we would want them to do.

Some behind the scenes footage with Dennis Rodman from The Last Dance.

UA: Making an autobiographical documentary is all about finding the man in the myth. What’s was the biggest challenge for you in making a documentary about someone who is all myth?

JH: Demythologising him. But to a certain extent, that’s what I try to do in any story that I want to tell. If it’s someone who is mythological. Or the guy next door who you want to know more about. There’s always more to learn about any human being. And there’s a lot more to learn about people who are perceived as mythological. So the paramount concern to me is always to humanise these people. To de-iconise them. To make them into human beings and not bronze statues.

UA: In our review of The Last Dance, we compared it to Jiro Dreams of Sushi. Both documentaries are, in essence, meditations on genius. After watching all of that footage, and speaking to all of those people, are you any closer to understanding genius?

JH: I think what this documentary has done is slightly demystified genius and enhance the value of hard work. There’s a common denominator among all of the quote-unquote geniuses that we know in any endeavor, and it’s no small coincidence that they’re the first ones to show up and the last ones to leave in any of the places where they work. And that could be in the kitchen, that could be in a basketball court, and that could be in a law office. It could be in a coal mine. It doesn’t matter. The people who are the best at what they do, they may be the most talented, but they’re also the hardest workers. And that’s not a coincidence.

Former Chicago resident Barack Obama as featured on The Last Dance.
Some people on the Internet felt that describing Barack Obama as a “former Chicago resident” and not as the “44th President of the United States” was disrespectful.

UA: Three weeks ago, my colleague Bahir and I were watching the first four episodes of The Last Dance, and we both made a point to note the description you used for President Barack Obama. We thought it was genius that you just referred to him as a “former Chicago resident”. Besides being hilarious, we felt that it served two purposes. The first was that it represented Obama’s pride as a Chicagoan, and the second, more significant reason, being that it highlighted his opinion on the impact that Jordan had on him as a young black man living in the city at the time. Were you surprised that some people felt it was disrespectful? Have we all lost our collective sense of humour?

JH: (Laughs) I was definitely surprised at the attention that it garnered. I didn’t experience or observe any kind of outcry given that I’m still in a bunker finishing this thing. I did observe the attention that it got. And I think that most people understood that we were being tongue-in-cheek about the fact that Barack Obama is the 44th President of the United States – and a hero of mine – and that I meant no disrespect in describing him as a former Chicago resident. But, in the context of the story that he was telling, it wasn’t relevant that he was the 44th President of the United States some 20 or 30 years after the period we are discussing. What was relevant was that he was that he was a Chicago resident at the time and he can give us a first person account of what it was like to observe that. Now, the idea of Barack Obama being so broke that he couldn’t even afford the cheap seats to an early Chicago Bulls game was just romantic to me. So, I’m glad that people understood, or noticed, the joke that we were making…

UA: Even all the way out here in Kuala Lumpur…

JH: (Laughs) … I’m glad you did, but as the series rolls on, you’ll see that he does get his due and he does become “President of the United States”. And I wish he still was now.

The Last Dance
Netflix, Limited Series, 10 Episodes
Director: Jason Hehir

The Last Dance is now streaming on Netflix. New episodes drop every Monday.

Uma has been reviewing things for most of his life: movies, television shows, books, video games, his mum's cooking, Bahir's fashion sense. He is a firm believer that the answer to most questions can be found within the cinematic canon. In fact, most of what he knows about life he learned from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. He still hasn't forgiven Christopher Nolan for the travesties that are Interstellar and The Dark Knight Rises.

Previous Story

The Half of It

Jerry on stage in his new stand-up special, Jerry Seinfeld: 23 Hours to Kill.
Next Story

Jerry Seinfeld: 23 Hours to Kill

Latest from Interviews