On Friday, Showtime will be debuting Julian Edelman’s documentary 100%, which focuses on his life, family, and recovery from a torn ACL. Last week, I had a chance to speak with the director of the project, Kyler Schelling. He peeled back the curtain on what fans can expect to see Friday night, what it’s like working with Julian Edelman, why you should prepare yourself for a one-of-a-kind viewing experience, and more. Here’s our conversation in full:
Alex Barth: When did this project begin?
Kyler Schelling: The first time we rolled camera was September 25th 2017. It was the pre-surgury Julian had with his doctor. The project started right around Julian’s ACL injury.
AB: Was he planning to do a documentary before he got hurt or was it after he got hurt that he decided to do this?
KS: The injury was 100% the impetus for starting this project. He had just come off of a project with NFL Network, this “Danny [Amendola] & Julian go to Mexico City” kind of promotional thing for the NFL Mexico game. We thought it did a great job but we felt like we didn’t have the kind of creative thrust that we wanted to, and the kind of voice that we can do that the NFL can’t necessarily do. So when Julian got hurt, the NFL came to us like “Hey, let’s shoot something around this injury.” And me and my executive producer Assaf Swissa* were like “you know what, let’s just do it ourselves.” So, y’know, we got a camera and we just started shooting. Things started to fall into place over the next year and a half after that.
*Co-Founder of ‘Super Digital’, which handles all of Juilan Edleman’s social media, and of ‘Coast Productions’, which is the company behind ‘100%: Julian Edelman’
AB: So you were a part of the project from day 1?
KS: Yeah. I’ve been working with Julian and Assaf since 2013. The little social videos, YouTube, Burgertyme, Smoothietyme, I’ve been a part of those since the beginning.
AB: Was Edelman the one who said “I want to document my recovery”? Or was that you guys/his media team who pitched him the idea?
KS: Assaf Swissa, Julian Edleman, and myself, we’ve been working on all kinds of creative things since 2013. So, with the JE11 brand and experience, with the social videos and all that jazz, the t-shirts, we’re all part of that. So we always had an idea to make longer-form film entertainment and so this injury was kind of the jumping point to say “let’s make something long-form”. It was the three of us kind of saying “You know what? Lets just do it.” The opportunity is right. Julian is going to have some time to do it so lets jump ahead and get this thing going.
AB: Obviously you have experience working with Julian, but was this the first time you’ve worked together on something as deep and heavy as this?
KS: It’s the first longer-form thing. We’ve shot some commercials with him that were a little bit more serious or a little bit more of the ‘underdog’ sports thing. But this is the first that has kind of real human drama, with all the things we touch upon in the longer-form. So not necessarily, but this is kind of the first opportunity we have where we could really flush out his story, his full story, in a thoughtful way.
AB: How was he about that? We’re familiar with the fun guy persona of him on camera, but how was he about getting into some of the more serious and deeper stuff?
KS: He’s into it. He’s definitely into it. I think, with a lot of these athletes, and it’s kind of the goal of Coast Productions, is to let athletes tell their own stories attached to filmmakers and storytellers that know what they’re doing. So Julian was definitely into it but obviously he has a say in it and he wants to be portrayed in a certain way and no one is in the business of making anyone look bad. He was definitely into it. And I think, give Julian a lot of credit because we told an interesting story. There’s a lot of ups-and-downs with this project and with 100%, and I give him a lot of credit because he let us tell an honest story. I’m really happy with how it came out and I give him a lot of credit for putting himself out there.
AB: Based on what we’ve seen in teasers and trailers, it looks like his dad will be a big part of 100%. Was that the plan going in or did that develop as you got into it?
KS: Because I’ve known Julian and the Edelmans for about six years now, I kind of knew that the real, no not the real story, but there’s an underlying story with the family element. Jules, on paper, shouldn’t be in the NFL. Y’know? Like he’s 5’10, he’s 185 pounds, whatever. He’s got this long backstory that he shouldn’t be in the NFL. So I’ve always thought, “Well how did he get here? How did he get there?”. It’s always, it’s this kind of like, work ethic, and the will to do everything. Well where did that come from? I’ve always known that that’s come from Frank and Angie [Julian’s parents] and their upbringing. So I knew in the back of my head the whole time that I wanted to explore this more, and then as the story continued and more and more things started happening, the story with Frank and their, um, just whole life together and the foundation that Julian has really started to blossom. So, yeah, I knew that that was going to be a part of the story. But to the level that it actually is? It really transformed throughout the making of this project.
AB: So his dad is heavily featured?
KS: Yeah. Frank is featured. And, y’know, the way I’ve been kind of viewing this because, I’ll be perfectly honest, I know Julian, I’ve been in his whole world; On paper, what everyone is saying is “Is there really enough here to tell a story about Julian Edelman?” You know what? You can quote the director saying “I’m totally with you.” But what we’ve been able to find in this is this deeper human story. And the ACL tear is really just kind of a window and an acceptable format to tell his deeper story about a father and son and a family and what it actually takes to achieve something that you probably shouldn’t be able to achieve.
AB: I know 100% is both the story of his recovery from the knee injury and suspension paired with the story of his life going back to California…how did you make sure to balance those two narratives?
KS: So to pull back the curtain a little bit, the title 100% happened organically because we wanted to tell two stories. The ‘A’ story and the ‘B’ story. The ‘A’ story was “Here’s a guy getting back to being an NFL player.” Let’s call it ‘NFL player’s 100%’. So here’s a guy who tore out his knee, he’s at zero, and he’s working back to 100%. So we wanted to tell that story of getting back to 100%. But also, we wanted to tell the story of how he got to that place in the first place. So we interweaved both these things, this ‘A’ story and the ‘B’ story throughout the movie about “Hey, how’d he get here? And how does he get back?”, but also “How did he get here in the first place?”. So we have a lot of archival footage, we talked to friends and family. We talked to old coaches. We use animation in certain places to weave that ‘A’ and ‘B’ story together.
AB: A lot of people already want to compare 100% to Tom vs Time. Did you guys look at that one at all? Did you make a point to not look at it? Was Tom’s documentary a topic of discussion at any point during your process? And are there any similarities that people can expect?
KS: It’s funny you should mention Tom vs Time because we were actually rolling cameras when they were shooting Julian for his episode on Tom vs Time. So we’re very friendly with the whole TB12 Brady camp and Gotham [Chopa, Tom vs Time director] and the whole thing. So, we were actually initially with this project going to be a similar format with a shorter-form web series output. But we just had this story that demanded a little bit of a longer-form. So we left the web series format and went to more of a feature-length documentary. There are similarities in terms of the subject matter. I think, in a way that we can with Julian, in a way that’s really not available with Tom, we can tell a little bit of a deeper story. Pull back the curtain a little bit more. Because Julian isn’t this revered icon in American culture. Julian is this scrappy guy who shouldn’t be here in the first place. So we can tell a different story. We can be humorous. We’ve got all kinds of crazy, zany stuff. So there’s some similarities in terms of the subject matter and the themes, but a way different execution.
AB: So closer to the A Football Life series on NFL Network?
KS: No, not even close. It’s one of those things that’s going to be hard to communicate until you actually see it. But I’m really hoping, and not to toot our own horn, that this is something that you’ve never really seen in terms of sports content. With how we’re doing it, we’re off the wall. There’s humor, there’s animation, there’s deep drama, but there’s also comedy. We’ve got, I don’t want to spoil too much but we’ve got Guy Fieri doing scenes. We’ve got Snoop Dogg. We’ve got a lot of interesting people doing a lot of interesting things in kind of off the wall, hopefully unique ways that people haven’t seen before.
AB: I have to ask about the celebrities. Just in the trailer alone we saw Bill Burr, Michael Rapaport, Snoop Dogg, obviously Brady…
KS: Mark Wahlberg too. And a couple of others I can’t say because they’re being held for promotional stuff.
AB: So even more than we’ve seen. How did that all come together? Was it a part of the plan from the beginning? How big of a role do they play as opposed to his family?
KS: With the celebrities, because Julian has access to a lot of different events, people, all of those things, and the executive producer Assaf does too, we’ve always had these people in the back pocket who would do favors for us if we ask for them. It’s kind of back and forth. So we kind of put all the chips on the table for this project. We felt like this project had some juice to it and said “you know what, lets cash in all of our favors with all these different celebrities and make something beyond what we previously could make.” And what’s kind of crazy is we just started with “Hey, maybe Guy Fieri will do it.” Guy Fieri said yes. And then “Well maybe Mark Wahlberg will do it”, and Mark Wahlberg said yes. And it turns out, everyone kept saying yes! It was crazy. We utilized them in an outsider perspective. So the family, in Frank and Angie, Nikki, Jason [Edelman’s siblings], and Kurt, who is Julian’s best friend, could speak from a place of inner-circle. The celebrities can kind of speak from more of the fan perspective and the outside perspective. So we counteract those two perspectives to tell this story from the Julian inner-circle but also how the audience and how the fans can see the story as well.
AB: So it’s not necessarily that all of these people have a relationship with Julian Edelman?
KS: They all do, outside of Bill Burr.
AB: So Bill Burr’s connection is that he’s a Patriots fan?
KS: He’s a big Patriots fan. He’s the Boston Fan’s voice. And they [Burr & Edelman] have become friendly since this.
AB: Which celebrity gave you the best moment or the best quote?
KS: Oh man, there’s so many. We really did some weird things with celebrities. I don’t want to say them because I think it’ll ruin the juice when you actually see them in the movie. Ah man. Snoop Dogg has a cool moment. I really like Guy Fieri, he just kind of comes out of nowhere. I’m excited to see how people react in the theatre for the premiere when it comes out. But personally, I’m a big fan of Bill Burr. I love his comedy. Getting him, being able to direct him and getting him on the movie was kind of huge for me. And he had some funny things to say.
AB: Did you work with the Patriots at all?
KS: They were very helpful. Obtaining certain levels of footage, a certain level of access. We shot a little bit in Gillette. A little bit. They helped with some coordination. But the way that we operate, we like to keep Julian’s work-work separate from his outside work. We like to keep the film stuff separate from the Patriots. And they were very helpful to put the finishing touches on and get this thing where it needed to be, but we generally like to stay away from Julian’s actual place of business. At the end of the day, we do all this fun stuff with the t-shirts, we do movies, all that stuff, but at the end of the day Julian is a football player. And that’s where 100% of his energy is going.
AB: So the Patriots secrecy we all hear so much about, that didn’t hinder you at all?
KS: We didn’t even look for that kind of access. That wasn’t necessarily what we were trying to do. It was not a tell-all Patriots story. It’s a story about a guy who achieves something that he has no business doing the ways that he was able to do it.
AB: Without any major spoilers, is there some new angle or aspect of Julian Edelman that fans will see that will leave them surprised?
KS: There is something. We didn’t really touch upon it too much in the documentary just because it opened up this whole other world and we would have had to add a half an hour and it was going to change the direction of this movie. Frank’s dad [Julian’s grandfather], Frank’s family, all of his brothers and sisters are completely deaf and they only speak with Sign Language. There’s this scene where we go back to Thanksgiving, the first time Julian’s been at Thanksgiving for 10 years because when you play college football and professional football, Thanksgiving you’re owned. You’re at games, you’re at practice, you’re away for Thanksgiving. So it’s the first time he was able to go back to Thanksgiving in 10, 15 years. At Thanksgiving, he’s with his deaf aunt and uncle and there’s some cool moment where they’re doing Sign Language. It’s this humanizing moment that you probably don’t know too much about in Julian’s life.
AB: So does Julian speak Sign Language?
KS: He can only spell. He can do letter by letter. And he’s slow. But yeah, he’s got some Sign Language and Frank does some Sign Language too.
AB: If you could say one thing to anybody about to watch 100%, what would it be?
KS: Whatever you’re expecting it to be, it’s going to be completely opposite. So go watch it with an open mind, and be open to new and exciting ways to tell sports stories.
100%: Julian Edelman premieres Friday, June 28th at 9PM on Showtime