Squad Of Editors Earn Emmy Recognition For Hit ESPN Hoop Series ‘The Last Dance’

Matthew Carey
·6 min read

Devin Concannon isn’t a basketball player, but he has likely studied more film of Michael Jordan than any MJ opponent ever did—just about every graceful jumper that “swished” the net and every propulsive drive through the lane. His purpose wasn’t to size up Jordan’s game for a possible contest of 1-on-1, but to capture the quintessence of the man many consider the greatest NBA player of all time for the 10-part documentary series The Last Dance.

Concannon and fellow editors Chad Beck, Abhay Sofsky and Ben Sozanski not only scoured footage of Jordan on court, but key moments off of it to tell the definitive story of his run at a sixth NBA championship with the Chicago Bulls in his final season of 1997-98.

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“It was a massive undertaking,” Concannon admits. “I’ve never worked on anything that’s 10 hours long before…The amount of archival and the amount of footage that was specific to the series, it was bottomless really. And you add on top of that they did, I think, 108 [fresh] interviews. So we had a lot of footage to wrangle.”

For their efforts cutting the ESPN series the “starting four” lineup of editors (so to speak) earned Emmy nominations. The Last Dance also scored nominations for Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Series and for Jason Hehir’s directing.

“It was a lot of eureka moments,” Concannon recalls of editing the series, “waking up at 3 in the morning, writing something down and coming into the office the next day, being like, ‘We have to try this!’ It’s just constant puzzle solving and a lot of creative freedom.”

It was also an immense amount of deadline pressure. The series was supposed to premiere in June, timed to what normally would have been the NBA Finals. But after the coronavirus pandemic prompted every major sports league to shut down, ESPN decided to move up the series to April to appeal to sports-starved fans.

“We were, if anything, maybe a little behind schedule [already],” Concannon remembers. Then suddenly, “It was go time.”

The coronavirus peril forced the production team to isolate, abandoning their base at an office in Manhattan.

“We went from these multimillion dollar facilities into our own apartments,” director Hehir recalls. “We had to very quickly make up a new workflow in order to complete these episodes, because we only had three episodes done in totality at the time that the shutdown occurred.”

“It was tough, especially at first,” Concannon notes. “There were a lot of tech hurdles that were unforeseen—media not linking up and whatever, but luckily, everybody is pretty tech-savvy on the team and everybody knows how to use Avid, the editing software, even the producers and directors…It became pretty easy after the first few days to just send stuff around. ‘Hey, this is where I got up to. You can take it from here,’ and we would do a Zoom [call] once a day to sort of touch base, maybe divvy up some of the responsibilities, but everyone was really communicative and it ended up working pretty well.”

The Last Dance became a gigantic hit for ESPN, averaging more than five million viewers across the 10 episodes. It was so popular ESPN’s broadcast sister, ABC, decided to re-air the series.

“When quarantine happened all of a sudden on social media, there’s this massive movement. Everyone’s like, ‘We need The Last Dance,’ and that just took me completely by shock,” Concannon exclaims. “It’s a really unique and bizarre circumstance that led this thing to be seen by so many more people and to be needed by so many more people. I mean, so many people just desperately needed sports back in their lives.”

The Last Dance builds to a climax in Episode 10 as Chicago tries to win their sixth crown in what would be Jordan’s final appearance in a Bulls uniform. But it’s an earlier episode that really sticks out for Concannon.

“Episode 7, which ended up being one of the more popular episodes, examines Michael’s competitive side,” the editor observes, “and also flashes back to his father passing away, his retirement, him playing baseball, just a lot of great story moments that aren’t necessarily just about how good the Bulls were at basketball, and they were really emotional and personal moments that I think really broke through to a lot of people. So that I view as kind of my most cherished, complete episode.”

Concannon, 30, was just eight years old when the Bulls won that last championship. Raised on Long Island, he was more into hockey.

“I really wasn’t into basketball growing up. I was a big New York Islanders fan,” he shares. “I grew up in a hockey family, but I was well aware of Jordan as a kid. He was just everywhere, but [his] first three titles, of course, I have no memory of. I vaguely remember him coming back and then being on top for a few years and I remember Space Jam, of course…I would have been six when that came out.”

Among the celebratory phone calls Concannon made after learning of his Emmy nomination was back to his old hometown of Massapequa.

“The first thing I did, of course, was call my parents, and then I called my grandma…She lives out on Long Island,” he tells Deadline. “She was ecstatic. She teared up a little bit, I think.”

Concannon began his editing career at age 13, assembling a film for a school contest. Over the years he has developed a clear sense of what makes a good editor: “Definitely an open-mindedness and a good sense for collaboration, a good storyteller and somebody who’s willing to look at something and say, what else could this be? How can we rethink this? How can we rearrange this and maximize the impact of a story? A lot of puzzle solving and trial and error and patience.”

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