Interview: Don Argott & Sheena M. Joyce Talk Kelce Documentary
Don Argott & Sheena M. Joyce previously made the documentary Spector about the life of Phil Spector and their latest film focuses on Football player Jason Kelce and whether or not he is ready to face retirement.
I got to chat with Don and Sheena about the film which is out now on Prime.
First of all, I’m not normally a sports guy, but after watching your documentary, I’m now a Philadelphia Eagles fan.
Sheena: Yeah! (laughs) Well, that was about our attention.
How do you decide what subjects to make a documentary on as Spector and Kelce are two very different subject matters?
Sheena: That’s a great question. Sometimes we decide internally, what interests us or if there’s a story or a thread or a lead that we want to follow, and then sometimes those stories come to us. In this case, we were approached by Jason and Connor Barwin, about following Jason through what he thought would be his last year playing football into retirement, and make it more of a retirement story than a football story. But then, obviously, he didn’t retire and we decided to keep filming. The season that unfolded was spectacular and then that helps shape the kind of film that we were going to make at the end.
What is the process for creating a coherent narrative with all the interviews and clips and putting them together?
Don: Well, it’s different on every film, but as you’re making the film, you’re thinking how the story is evolving and how we can tell the story so that what you continue to shoot is supporting where you think the story is headed. So, once you have all the footage, it really comes down to note carding and putting things on a board and we’re going to introduce how he and Kylie met, all his backstory of how he started getting interested in playing football, his relationship with Travis and his parents relationship.
So, it becomes a lot of just what are the things that we need to say here? but we also had the benefit, which doesn’t happen in documentaries as much anymore as they used to back in the day when there would be more Verité style documentaries where you could follow a process for what’s the benchmark document sports documentary, everybody talks about? Hoop Dreams! That took seven years to make, so these are things that take time, and the industry doesn’t have the patience for it saying “well, I can’t invest in this thing if you’re gonna film for three years without knowing how it’s going to end. So, you get a lot of films that are retrospective, you get things that are kind of told in the past, because those are easier stories to tell. And luckily, we were given the opportunity to film as things were happening. That’s why I think the film has an immediate sense to it, you feel like you’re in there, even though obviously, if you’re not as familiar with American football, because people know the story like everybody knows what happens at the end of the movie, for the most part, especially if you live in this city. The collective trauma of losing a Super Bowl; people aren’t gonna forget about that.
Sheena: Speaking as a Philadelphia fan, the compliment you paid us earlier, which is, you not being a sports fan and now you are a fan of the Kelces, I think, is a testament to how great Jason and his family are. We had always hoped that this would be bigger than football, and more of a family story. I think, we were lucky to have the kind of access that we got and the trust that the Kelces has put into our hands to be able to tell that story.
I actually found myself genuinely emotional at some parts mostly because of the whole family dynamic, because of the brother’s relationship. I feel like I actually know him now, so if I will pass him in the street like, I’ll be like “oh, hey!” (laughs).
Sheena: (laughs) Jason’s an incredibly authentic guy. There’s no artifice there and that’s why he was always so popular on the Eagles because it’s not that he was more accessible than others, but he just wears his heart on his sleeve. He’s such a hard worker and in a blue-collar town like Philadelphia, those traits are appreciated so much; the fact that he wore that outfit when the Eagles did win the Superbowl, and gave such a powerful speech from the heart. They’re gonna put a statue of that man up at the stadium next to Rocky someday, I think. I hope it feels bigger than football.
It is funny you mentioned Rocky because you’ve got the underdog story….
Sheena: At the end of the first the first Rocky, he loses, so maybe we’ll make Kelce 2 this year. That’s one yesterday.
That’s so what was interesting that there’s some scenes with Jason’s wife Kylie dealing with the young kids. How challenging is it whenever you’re filming with young kids who can been so unpredictable?
Sheena: It’s so funny that kids will pick the noisiest thing that they can find when you need them to be the most quiet. I mean, when Wyatt just very earnestly says, “I gotta sing. I gotta dance”. Travis and Jason are downstairs trying to film the podcast is priceless. I think anyone that’s a parent or been around kids understands, especially post COVID, when so much of our work life happens on screens now. How stress inducing those moments become (laughs), so I think you feel for the family in those moments. I’m glad we were able to capture for the film.
Absolutely, yeah. How do you decide what to cut and what to keep from the final version of the film?
Don: It’s always hard. I mean, especially when you spend so much time not just filming, but in the edit room, and there’s things that you just fall in love with, but after a while you have to start making hard decisions, because you want the thing to keep moving and you don’t want people to tune out; you don’t want people to feel like it’s being self-indulgent. You’re always trying to find those moments that you feel like, hey, I need this moment in the film, and I will fight you to the death for it, when there’s other ones that will be like, yeah, we can cut that. So, it’s always a bit of a balance. But I think that we always try to keep the things in there that are the most human moments, obviously, moments that are funny, always make people more endeared to the subject. Even though it’s still one of my favorite scenes in the film, when he’s struggling with retirement after the 50th time that you see that, in the edit room, you’re asking are people going to tune out here? Is this too slow? Is it too boring? Not boring, but you lose the perspective and the context outside. You have to know in your heart as a filmmaker that it doesn’t matter. This is too important a moment to take out, and then really, that that moment was all what the film is really about.
Sheena: The authenticity was there.
I particularly enjoyed Mama Kelce. I think she just comes across as a great character. What was she like to work with?
Sheena: Donna Kelce is amazing and frankly Ed is too and you can see Ed in the film gardening with both Jason and Travis. They’re making that organic garden together in Jason’s backyard, and Ed had a lot to do with that. But Donna certainly became a star during the Super Bowl, but they’re family people first and foremost, that will do anything to love and support their children. I think that’s why we all love them so much is because whenever you see them and talk to them; we had a local premiere the film and Ed and Donna were there. It was great to see them and be able to celebrate their family. They’re wonderful people.
Don: I also think that they are the quintessential parents, right? I mean, you do the things that you have to do when you are a parent, when you have children and it’s not about you anymore. It’s not about your relationship, as much as it’s about putting your kids first. You see that they did that and I think that you can’t argue with the success that it did pay off. As hard as it is to be a parent, I think what I loved about both Ed and Donna is how there’s no secret sauce, like, obviously, after the second Super Bowl, she’s had two boys that have played in the Super Bowl more than one time. Travis has been in the Super Bowl three times and Jason’s been there two times. People are like, “how do you you parent so that my kid is the most successful at the thing that they do (laughs) and the reality is it’s really easy. You love them, and you support them, and you’re there for them and you believe in them. That’s what it is. It doesn’t matter if it’s sports, or music, or art or architecture or whatever, it’s being there for your kid when they need you to be there.
Sheena: Donna and Edie also instilled an incredible work ethic in both Jason and Travis and that comes through in their each of their respective roles on the football field. I think they really lead by example, and are hardworking, dedicated people themselves and instill that in their boys.
What would you like audiences to take away from the documentary?
Don: I think to me, the best films, whether it’s a documentary or narrative film, the best films are the ones that make you feel something, that make you think about your own life. If you can touch people, if you can reach them and affect them and have them be happy, emotional, make them think about whatever. I don’t have lofty goals for when the films are done.
Sheena: No, we want people to find something in it that speaks to them that they relate to their own life and their own experiences. Secretly as Philadelphians, I would love people to fall in love not just with the Kelces but with Philadelphia. This is kind of Don and I, being local filmmakers, this is kind of our love letter to Philadelphia and a dream project as an Eagles fan. So, if we can get more birds fans out there, then so be it.
Have any Philadelphia Eagles fans seen it yet?
Sheena: Well, they haven’t seen it yet but we can’t wait to find out what Philadelphians think but I’ll tell you what, if they think this guy’s a hero, and they’re in love with him already, they’re going to be blown away by the access that we got and what they’re able to say.
Don: We did do a premiere last week and people in the Eagles organization, Nick Sirianni, the coach was there and other players were there. Obviously, other just regular fans. The response was overwhelming. You would have thought we made the best film of all time. In that theater people were laughing, they were crying and they were cheering. I mean, it was like everything that you could ever hope for. I don’t expect that response necessarily as enthusiastic maybe in places other than here in Philadelphia, but I do think that the film transcends just being an Eagles fan, or even just a football fan. I hope that it gets out there because I do think it’s a powerful film and I’m extremely proud of it. I do think and you’ve helped validate that as someone who has no connection whatsoever that it does work well.
Sheena: The Kelces is are good people, they’re genuine people. You want to root for them. You want to see them do well. We hope that viewers become invested in them as people because they’re deserving of it.
Yeah, absolutely. The fact that like you said that I was emotionally involved with it, and I didn’t know who they were beforehand. Job well done there.
Sheena: Thank you. And they’re funny too. I mean, did you see Travis’s SNL when he hosted Saturday Night Live?
Yeah, I did. It was hilarious.
Sheena: They did a great job. They’re fun to watch.
Well, that’s about it from me; thanks so much for taking the time to chat and all the best with the film.