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  • Writer's pictureKevin Huffman


Updated: Aug 9, 2022

What's up with this series? How are the episodes connected? Is there a method to the madness of putting this all together? We like to think so. If you've been following along, you probably have noticed that we went all in on two teams for the length of the series: St. Mary's and Dillard.

It wasn't exactly planned that way. We started producing this series on this day last year, just days before the launch of the bootcamps and ramp up of the fall season. We were neurotic then, for sure. Part of it was ignorance on our part - another part was just trying to pull together a distribution deal with IHeart Productions and lining up schools who were willing to participate -- a lot tougher than we ever imagined.

Every documentary series is set up with lofty goals -- a pitch deck, sample episodes, etc. But when you start recording those plans go out the window and you're into the thick of it. We had no infrastructure to lean on and clearly no idea of how to capture any drama around a weekend long mock trial tournament that takes place online.

It's messy. But within a few weeks we had a strong feeling that the a handful of students from St. Mary's and Dillard were worth going all in on. They seemed destined to change over the course of the season to a degree that others may not. It's always a big risk, but is crucial if you want to build an episodic series.

There were other factors at play. It proved to be tougher to pull out drama from the South Dakota team - they were initially very reticent and took a lot of convincing to come around. The team that competed in the Battle of the Experts decided to go their separate ways in the spring. That's life in the doc world. The Brooklyn story came together very quickly, but after one tournament that team also split up for spring tournaments.

Not so at St. Mary's and Dillard. The core team of Andy, Jasmin and Cole were staying together till the bitter end. And the students we focused on in the early days at Dillard turned out to comprise the "A" team in the Spring. Serendipity. We had no idea that they would make it all the way to Nationals.

At some point you have to find your characters -- in this case they kind of found us.

Putting it all together. We made the decision to start the series with the bootcamp to give you all an idea of what kind of work goes into starting up a team for the season. Fortunately we lucked into the situation that the first tournament of the year, the Battle of the Experts, would feature St. Mary's and South Dakota. So, presto, you have Act 1 of the series -- the first four episodes.

Act 2 is really where things get messy -- we hope in a good way, We were desperate to introduce Dillard to the world (episode 5) and struggled to find a place for a stand alone episode for Brooklyn and settled on Episode 6. But this act is where we could start to inject some serious social issues into the drama -- civil rights, women's rights, discrimination against Latinos (episode 7) and Native American representation in the law (Episode 8).

Episode 7 is a classic bridge episode -- it keeps St. Mary's in the picture, shows the team dealing with adversity and, hopefully at this point, the characters emerge in a way that you begin to root for them.

Act 3 is where we hope you can feel the excitement of the rush to the end of the season. Episodes 9 & 10 are among our favorites because they are by far the most immersive -- Dillard in a headlong and unprecedented rush to the Nationals. St. Mary's, in classic Friday Night Light's fashion -- pushing hard from the back of the pack to beat Baylor and come within a handful of points to get to Nationals.

The next episode, 11, is going to pick it right back up with Andy and Jasmin and we'll hear them get the chance to do what they've always dreamed of doing -- argue a real case in real court. Finally, we end the series with Dillard -- a team hardened by adversity - showing up and showing out at Nationals -- the first in the history of the state and only the second HBCU.

So that, in a nutshell is how the series came to be shaped in the way it is. The goal has always been to produce something aspirational, thought-provoking and forward-looking. We all need that. I know I do.

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