How Docuseries ‘All In’ Followed the Celtics to the 2024 NBA Playoffs in (Almost) Real-Time

The first one is always a feel-out game. This is true for the NBA Finals and it’s true for “All In: The Boston Celtics,” a documentary series that embedded itself inside the Celtics organization the season they made a run to the 2024 NBA Finals. The timing of the series — and the dramatic stakes for the Celtics — proved to be as serendipitous to the documentary team at Shadow Lion as the Jrue Holiday trade seems to have been for Boston.

In art, just as in sports, it’s a huge effort to build the kind of communication, chemistry, and flow that delivers something special under the intense pressure of deadlines. That relentless collaboration, along with some canny workflow setups, have allowed “All In” to truly drive a proverbial train while still laying the track (and/or the editing timeline) of the ‘24 Boston Celtics’ story. Four episodes of the series are out as of this writing, starting with the Celtics’ rematch series against the Miami Heat four weeks ago. Each episode has charted a stage of the Celtics playoff run from division to conference wins and, now, to the finals themselves — the Celtics are currently up two games to zero on the Dallas Mavericks. But the documentary team seek to tell this story by also taking a look at sports culture of Boston and the Celtics legends of the past, now looking over the shoulders of this ’24 team with championship expectations.

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So, in practice, what does it look like to make a sports documentary in real-time? It requires a team that is doing a little bit of every stage of production every single day, in order to deliver the around 20-minute episodes that have charted the Celtics’ run at each stage of the playoffs. “All In” director Jeff Fine said that in an ideal world, there would be a master document full of the kinds of scenes, themes, big set piece moments, and history that the series would cover to give context and emotion to the Celtics’ playoff run.

“But it ends up being [planned on] a crazy whiteboard with everyone in a room,” Fine told IndieWire. “We’re just always talking. I think we benefit from the fact that we really like working with each other, and we’ve been working with each other for a long time.”

Behind the scenes of ‘All In: The Boston Celtics’<cite>Shadow Lion</cite>
Behind the scenes of ‘All In: The Boston Celtics’Shadow Lion

Shared experience and a shared set of references make it easy for the Shadow Lion team to communicate what they’re looking for even as members of the 24-person team are editing, setting up interviews in spare office space at Celtics practice facilities, traveling to games, ingesting and coloring footage, and staying up late in order to turn edits around before the Celtics close a series. Fine said they’ve been particularly grateful that some Western conference series went a little longer and gave them a few extensions on their deadlines in the weeks leading up to the finals.

But there’s also a delicate dance of teamwork required to turn around episodes as the playoffs unfolded. Lead editor Trevor MacKinnon investigated setting up episodes in Premier Productions, which allows for a lot of distributed editing; the team can break off specific sequences into their own timelines, lay out footage and music in what intuitively feels like the right order, and then perform a “great integration” to bring episodes back together after different members of the editing team have worked on them.

“It’s been a constant web [of mini-projects], working on scenes, and then bringing them back together, watching that down, seeing all the areas that need improvement, and then breaking it back up,” MacKinnon told IndieWire.

Behind the scenes of ‘All In: The Boston Celtics’<cite>Shadow Lion</cite>
Behind the scenes of ‘All In: The Boston Celtics’Shadow Lion

The edit workflow has as much going on at once as it can, with the team’s colorists working on interview footage in DaVinci Resolve as it comes in and replacing it in the larger Premiere projects, while assistants find archive footage and curate both game tape and specially shot footage into bins for easy access, depending on the topic and emotion of a specific scene. And also, of course, troubleshooting and keeping everything backed up — a task that led to producer Colby Blanchet keeping a spare mattress in the office to make sure footage is imported, backed up, and sent to the next stage of the edit in a timely manner even when the hours stretch longer than Derrick White’s ability to block shots.

“It’s just a huge team effort in every aspect,” MacKinnon said. “ I feel like so many of the soundbites that we pulled [from the Celtics] that we put in episodes applied to everything that we’ve been doing.”

“Our team’s gotten a little bit bigger, but it’s mostly that everyone is stepping up and taking on more roles that we’ve been able to do this,” Fine said. “We’ve felt our culture really come into form as we’ve learned about the Celtics’ culture. And it’s so nice to feel genuinely like the things they’re talking about are the things that we care about — caring for each other and having that form the basis of a team.”

That connection has also reflected the structure of the episodes themselves. “We’re trying to embrace the moment and when, for example, Episode 3 comes out, knowing that it’s a couple of days before the finals, [we want to ask] how is everyone feeling?” Fine said. “We’re just trying to bring you through the story in a way where you feel along for the ride the whole time and that it’s building to something, and having it all come together.”

“All In: The Boston Celtics” is available to watch on YouTube.

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