Netflix’s new sports documentary series Untold, created by Chapman and Maclain Way, the brother directing duo behind Wild Wild Country, tells five unique stories from the wide world of sports. But although the episodes cover incredible feats of physical and mental strength, resilience, and willpower, this isn’t a docuseries just for sports fans. It’s for anyone who loves a great story.
“We really didn’t want to make this for sports fans,” Chapman said. “We always felt like sports fans are gonna be able to enjoy these episodes too, but I don’t even think we’re necessarily these encyclopedic sports knowledge geeks.”
Chapman and Maclain directed two of the five episodes — Untold: Crimes and Penalties, out Aug. 31, and Untold: Breaking Point, out Sept. 7. There’s also a third Way brother involved in this docuseries — their older brother Brocker, who also served as the composer for Untold just as he did for Wild Wild Country.
“He’s a huge collaborator for us and he’s one of the first people we talked to about stories and characters and ideas,” said Maclain. “The three of us are all very close and work together well.”
The original idea for Untold started in 2018 with Mardy Fish, the retired American pro tennis player who centers in Breaking Point. They first met Fish through another tennis pro Sam Querrey, a friend of theirs from high school. When the Way brothers learned about how Fish bravely opened up to the press about his mental health struggles after withdrawing from a match against Roger Federer at the U.S. Open in 2012, they knew his story would make a great documentary.
They had originally planned for Untold to be just a one-off documentary just about Fish, but they quickly realized that there were a whole lot more stories they could tell.
Three years later, a docuseries shedding light on the mental and physical challenges of sports couldn’t come at a better time.
“Seeing how open [Mardy] was, that kind of gave us the thought like, if we can get more athletes to really share and be vulnerable on camera, this could be a unique series that people aren’t used to seeing with athletes,” Chapman said. “We’ve just gotten kind of lucky with the timely nature of it all, with Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles and a lot more athletes kind of going on the record now with their struggles… hopefully [we] are able to tap into a little bit that cultural discourse.”
From a sprawling list of 50 potential sports stories scrawled on a whiteboard, the Way brothers narrowed down their subjects to just five: Malice at the Palace, the story of the legendary Pistons-Pacers brawl; Caitlyn Jenner, who recounts her meteoric rise to fame after winning the Olympic decathlon in 1976; Breaking Point, in which Fish opens up about his struggles with mental health; Deal With the Devil, in which professional women’s boxer Christy Martin recalls her storied career and volatile relationship with her ex-husband Jim Martin, who is currently in prison for attempted murder; and Crimes and Penalties, which tells the story of the now-defunct minor league hockey team the Danbury Trashers that once boasted a 17-year-old high school student as its general manager.
Chapman and Maclain attribute Untold’s remarkable storytelling power to pacing, editing, and knowing when to keep their narrative cards close to the chest.
“Something we talk a lot about with our editors is what do we withhold from the audience, and then when do we reveal certain things to the audience,” Chapman said. “One of the other unique elements is that, since our brother is our composer, we’re able to start marrying music and images really early on in the process. Usually, you finish your edit and you get a composer to come on for eight weeks and score it and you’re done. But our editors and our composer, Brocker, are working kind of hand in hand from the very beginning. And so I think it just allows us to kind of create a very like visceral cinematic energy to talking in documentaries, which is hard because it’s just a 2D image of a person sitting in a chair so it’s like, how the hell do you bring that to life, you know? So we spend a ton of time on sound design, music, and story structure.”
The next episode of Untold drops Aug. 31 on Netflix, with the final episode streaming on Sept. 7. Main Image: (L-R) Chapman and Maclain Way, courtesy of Netflix.
This story was originally on Aug. 25, 2021, and has been updated with new details.