Canzano: Will Coach Prime documentary be fairy tale or horror film?
Colorado goes all-in with football coach.
I love a good documentary. So when I heard that the production crew that follows Coach Prime around signed a deal for an Amazon film series I got out the popcorn.
Be sure, the documentary will make Deion Sanders look terrific. His sons, Shedeur and Shilo, will shine, too. So will two-way star Travis Hunter. Those three players have a NIL deal with SMAC Entertainment, the production company behind the project.
University of Colorado?
It may have a problem.
The Buffaloes are all-in on Coach Prime. They sold out football season tickets, elevated the profile of the university, and have seen the school’s social-media following skyrocket since the hire. The move also sparked more than $25 million in gift giving from the “Buff Club” to the athletic department.
As athletic director Rick George announced at the introductory news conference: “It’s Prime Time!”
I expect to see that video clip in the documentary. I also expect to see rousing speeches by Coach Prime and humanizing moments with the players involved. That’s how the documentary game works. The winners aren’t difficult to predict. But the particulars of the deal do very little to protect Colorado and I wonder how that will play out if the 2023 season finishes 3-9 or 2-10 or worse.
The university won’t be paid for the project. That’s a deviation from industry norms. Colorado does stand to gain a pile of exposure and benefit tangentially should things go well. But if things go wrong, be certain, the documentary isn’t designed to fashion Coach Prime as the culprit.
My wife has produced documentaries. I don’t pretend to know the inner-workings of that business as anything more than a highly engaged viewer. But as I complained that the Netflix series on Florida football glossed over the troubles and controversy surrounding Aaron Hernandez, the Pouncey twins, Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin and Urban Meyer she reminded me not to confuse “documentary” with “non-fiction.”
It depends on who is telling the story and who gets final control. It makes the somewhat balanced sports documentaries we do occasionally see — Michael Jordan’s “The Last Dance,” for example — stand out. That project was a Jordan-blessed version of the story, but the documentary didn’t pretend to make the Hall of Fame basketball player appear as a flaw-free protagonist.
The director, Jason Hehir, had control. He agreed to let Jordan watch the episodes and give notes. Jordan didn’t have final say, but he was allowed to address anything negative that was said about him in the ESPN series.
It explains why we got those repeat shots of Jordan, his favorite drink in a nearby glass, responding to criticisms and questions. It struck some healthy balance, but I don’t think we’ll get anything like that in the Colorado project.
Colorado gave all the access and license to the production entity. The university has the right to request removal of footage, but has no guarantee it won’t show up in the final project. Be clear — Colorado has zero final say on what’s actually aired on Amazon.
The producers of the documentary have also given themselves “dramatic license” in the contract obtained by USA Today’s Brent Schrotenboer:
“Producer has the right to deviate from the historical facts that took place in order to enhance the dramatic value of the Series, provided that in no event shall Producer defame CU's Property, CU Features marks, or CU Individuals or portray the same in a grossly misrepresentative manner in or in connection with the Series.”
An acceptable risk for Colorado?
I suppose we could argue that every hire is fraught with peril. There’s been huge up-front upside with Coach Prime. But also, there’s the potential for some damaging downside on the back end of the deal for Colorado. It’s sort of like what former dare-devil Fresno State coach Pat Hill liked to say about playing anybody, anywhere, anytime.
“You either get exposure,” Hill liked to say, “or you get exposed.”
I covered Bobby Knight as a beat reporter at Indiana University in the 1990s. I covered Jerry Tarkanian, too. Their respective schools gave them both a wide berth and lots of dramatic license. Those coaches came with risk, too, but the university was intoxicated with the upside and kept signing on.
I’m not sure Colorado saw the point of resisting the documentary project. It ceded control of the entire narrative the minute it hired Coach Prime. That was part of the deal. Football hasn’t even kicked off and the school has already benefitted beyond its wildest dreams. But if things go terribly awry the documentary will be a nightmare.
Not for Coach Prime.
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