Exclusive Podcast: The Making of the New Kevin Durant Documentary

Co-directed by Jimmy Jenkins and John Beckham, Basketball County: In the Water documents the rise of Kevin Durant to the NBA, and dives into PG County’s unprecedented ability to pump out basketball prodigies.

Green Buzz Agency’s CEO Tod Plotkin, and lead editors Andrew Whipp and Matt Ehrichs, sat down to talk with the directorial duo about their creative process, why this documentary is so important, and who would win in a one-v-one face-off.

The Making of Basketball County: In the Water

Podcast Transcript

Jimmy Jenkins:

Hey guys!

Andrew Whipp:

What’s up, man?

Matt Ehrichs:

Hey!

Jimmy:

What’s up?

Andrew:

The man, the legend!

Andrew:

So how have you two been? What’s been happening. What’s been shakin’ with the doc? Has other stuff popped up or is it just all doc world right now, for you guys?

John Beckham:

Yeah, for the last six months, I’ve been working on a documentary short about pizza and my brother’s pizzeria in Baltimore. We just wrapped that, pretty much done, getting it colored and getting audio mastered. Then trying to write a little bit.

Jimmy:

Well, it’s been a little crazy. I had another film that just came out last month. So I’m getting this done and preparing for what’s next, pretty much. Just working with that.

Andrew:

Do you have any plans for the premiere night?

John:

Yeah, sit my ass on the couch with my wife.

Jimmy:

Yeah. Same here. Sit on the couch. Maybe order some pizza or something.

Matt:

I came out of the project after I had been in Andrew’s hands for a few weeks at Green Buzz over the summer when we started working on it.

Matt:

And one of the things I was never really clear on was the story of all of this in terms of, how did it all get started? And then how you guys joined forces and then all the way to getting it to Showtime.

Matt:

If you guys could do that, I think that’d be a really cool story to hear in terms of people who are aspiring filmmakers to listen to this or others.

Jimmy:

You know, me and John, he started working on it in 2017. I started working on mine at the same time, but we didn’t know it. And then if somebody told him about what I was doing and I heard about what he was doing. And then we just met up.

John:

For sure. Jimmy put like a sizzle out for what he was doing on Facebook. And my buddy hits me to it. It was like, “Look at it.” What he said is, “Hey, is this your project?” And I looked at it, and I was like, “Hell no! This is not my project. Who is this dude?” But I watched it. And I was like, “Wow! This is really put together. And this guy has a vision. It’s very similar to mine.”

John:

And after I met him, it was like, “Wow! This guy is a guy from PG County. This guy is an athlete. This guy played basketball, and he’s a filmmaker and he’s been shooting. And it’s like, there’s two ways that this could go. One, it could be confrontational, could stall projects. Things can get in the way of the creativity or everything. Or, the other way is that we could just join forces and make the best projects we could.

John:

And it seemed pretty natural and pretty … It was an easy decision for me, especially after seeing his work and meeting with him and then realizing how passionate we both were.

Andrew:

Hell, yeah. So when you guys got together, you both find out you’re making very similar documentaries and you go, “We’re stronger together than we are doing this individually. So let’s team up. We both have a vision for how this thing wants to be.” And you start working together. When does Thirty Five Ventures and Kevin Durant get involved? When does Showtime get involved?

John:

Jimmy and Quinn were working on stuff. And I was working on some of them with Kevin Durant. So we both had NBA guys that are prominent. I sent Rich Kleiman, Kevin’s agent, a sizzle reel of some of the stuff that I was working on. I sent him that. Sent him a one pager and Rich called me back and was like, “Hey! We’d be interested in this.”

John:

And then we kept on building it out. And through, I think, maybe Quinn, Rich had heard about Jimmy too. And so it was a pretty easy decision for everybody to just be like, “Hey! Let’s just all team up on this and kill it.”

Matt:

What was it like working with these great basketball players? These are arguably some of the best basketball players in the country, in the world. And then you got Thirty Five Ventures getting involved. And then all of a sudden Rich Kleinman’s involved. What was that like for you?

Jimmy:

You know, I think me and John pretty much the sentiments are the same. It was great for us, because it was more supportive, because it was a community project. Like, “Hey! Look, what do we have to do to make this great? What do we need to do to come together?” And at the end of the day, it was a level of friendship because, Victor Oladipo, Quinn Cook, Kevin Durant all grew up in our neighborhoods. And we known each other since we were little kids. You know what I mean? We went to basketball camps and stuff like that.

Jimmy:

So, we get to this point, it’s just more like, “Yo! It’s great that people from our community is making a film.” And, of course, it was a lot of pressure too, because we were first-time directors. It was days that we had to go back to the drawing board a lot. And, at the end of the day, it just made us better filmmakers. And, and that’s what I’m excited about. I’m sure John is too.

Andrew:

And Jimmy, how, what’s the difference there between trying to direct a feature narrative piece and trying to direct a documentary like this? What have you learned along the way? What are some key differences that you found?

Jimmy:

Oh, man! I’ve learned a lot by doing both types of projects and just doing … I started doing a lot of small documentaries. I’ve probably done over 100 of small, little documentaries. And I’ve also told a lot of stage plays. And what I realized is whether it’s a documentary, whether it’s a stage play, whether it’s a narrative film, it’s all the same when it comes down to it. It’s all telling a good story that’s captivating and it has to be engaging. Of course, you have to understand the arms and the legs of dialogue and narrative storytelling. And how the inflections of the stage play cause reactions from the crowd. But, overall, at the heart it’s the same thing. And that’s why I think I’ve been able to jump from different genres and to create projects.

Andrew:

One thing I know in working on the film and this was both really daunting, but also really exciting for Matt and I, when we first got involved in the edit, was that you guys … I think you had over 100 interviews, right? In total?

John:

Yeah.

Jimmy:

Yep.

Andrew:

Was that a master plan? Like, “All right. We just know we’re going to get a lot of stories and then carve this thing down to the stuff that’s most relevant and stuff that’s the best?” Or was it, you were just talking to so many people in this tightly woven fabric of a community that you’re in, and you just went, “Oh, let’s keep this train rolling. Let’s keep talking to people.”

John:

Right. I think there’s a couple of factors there, but since the story is so important to not just us, but to the community … Telling the story about Prince George’s County, we needed to make sure we understood the story from the people that know it best, which are the people from the community.

John:

And there are so many prominent basketball players. There are so many prominent figureheads within the community, that we needed to talk to them all. So it was an interesting … I think it’s unique in a documentary form that … The story was revealing itself to us through interviews. So in a sense, part of our production method could even be lumped in with pre- production and development.

Matt:

And a followup on that. What is the thing that got left on the cutting room floor? Or, what’s something that you wish that could have made it into that final product?

John:

We got really excited about the community aspect of it, the history, the community, what really happened here that doesn’t even have to do with basketball. And a lot of that stuff … and, as it should … a lot of that stuff isn’t being included in the Showtime sports documentary. You know what I mean? At the end of the day, that’s what it is. It’s a Showtime sports documentary. So a lot of the stuff that we uncovered, and a lot of the people that we talked to in the community that aren’t centric to basketball, didn’t get included.

Tod Plotkin:

How would you guys describe PG County to someone who’s never been there or has never even really been on the East coast before? And not even necessarily in the lens of a basketball community, just PG County as a whole. How would you describe it?

Jimmy:

Well, you might laugh when I say this, but me personally, I’ll say it’s like a Wakanda. It’s affluent African Americans who … It’s just a place that I feel like it hasn’t been shown its just due. And it’s a community that … we know the American history … that has really thrived when it has come to African-American affluence. And I think it’s just a very unique place with a whole lot of unique stories. You’ve got great people from here, like Sugar Ray Leonard, one of the best boxers of all the time. And, it’s just a long list of great people that are from here. And, when people look at how Harlem was during the Harlem Renaissance, I think it’s a comparison to that. And it’s a unique county and I think everybody should come visit.

John:

I know that Jimmy and I talked about this. When we would go out of town and whenever we would play pickup basketball, we would find ourselves being one of the best players in the gym, if not the best player in the gym. But when we’re back here at home, that’s rarely the case. There are guys that are pros in Europe or college guys everywhere.

John:

So, that’s one of the things that got this idea cranking out. And also, for the longest time when guys would leave and go wherever, they would play ball and they’d say, “Where are you from?” They’d say “Washington, DC.” I’d be like, “No, you’re not. I mean, I get it, but, bro you grew up in Upper Marlboro and you’re from PG County.”

John:

So there were a lot of these things just percolating that gave us these ideas. You know, affluence, not getting the highlight shown on it and then basketball. There’s just all kinds of things that built this up into a project for us.

Tod:

So you kind of brought it to basketball. Obviously, the doc is about the basketball and this incredible community and so much success from so many different players. Biggest question maybe of the entire podcast, why? What does this all stem from? Where is all the success coming from for PG County when it comes to basketball?

John:

There’s a bunch of reasons. I’ll go through a couple. One is that we have the best parks and rec system in the world or in the country. We’re the only six-time gold medal winner for parks and recreation. There’s gyms and there’s courts everywhere. That’s part of it.

John:

Also basketball from an African-American perspective started in DC. So as people migrated from DC into Prince George’s County, they’d suck this history of the game with them. The affluence has a big part of it, too. There’s a lot of resources that the families in the communities can put into the game and start travel teams and make sure that people have the right gear on. And all of this culminates into just this competitive place, where basketball is just part of its blood.

Tod:

I have more of a question about it, as a followup. And I guess within my question is my guess. But, tell me if I’m wrong. Tell me if you agree. It seems to me one of the biggest factors is it is a magnet. So if you’re really good and you want to go test yourself against the best you go there and you join one of the high schools there. You join one of the AAU clubs there. And then you know for sure these folks that are on my team, these are top-level D1 players with potential to potentially go pro either in Europe or the NBA, similar to another sport like … If you happened to be really good at hockey and you were living in Atlanta, maybe you would move to Massachusetts. Or, if you were really good at tennis and you were based in Cleveland, Ohio, maybe you move to Florida and go to one of the tennis academies there.

Tod:

I’m just curious, is that a part of it? And if so, is that a big part of it? Or just a small part of it?

Jimmy:

Yeah, man. I think that it is a magnet and the biggest thing is the competition just rises so high, so that if you’re winning here … We are able to win here. We’re able to be one of the best here. You know, I tell this story a lot. I used to go down to Florida and stay with my sister over the summer. And I used to play basketball down there. And I used to dominate. I used to just score at will, but at back at home, I didn’t get in the game on my team. And I think it’s because the competition in this area is so different in all those things, just combined together.

Jimmy:

It’s like basketball was … it’s a stereotype, but it was a way out, a way to college for a lot of people. And, it was just during those times, it was just hard. People had to figure out, “How am I going to become something?” And it was basketball for a lot of young black boys. And it’s just all those things combined together. But I totally agree with that.

Andrew:

And one other component I just thought about too, that I don’t know if we brought up is the giving back. A lot of these guys who ended up making it … guys and girls … they come back to the community. And whether they’re teaching clinics or in Kevin Durant’s case, opening up an entire complex for kids to play at and having the summer camps and having … Because people are staying there and coming back there, even after their success, the younger kids get to grow up and have that sense of people that they’re seeing on a daily basis are quote, unquote, making it. They’re making a living out of basketball.

Andrew:

And I think when you’re in an environment where you see a bunch of success in anything, I think that that’s going to help you visualize how you can get there. And also helps, possibly, give you the resources to get there too.

Jimmy:

Agreed. 10,000%.

Tod:

So just pivoting this a bit, I’m really curious to hear what are you hoping the audience takes away? So someone watches this, they don’t know you, they don’t know PG County. They have no affiliation whatsoever and they come across it. They watch it. They weren’t intending to watch a basketball doc. What do you hope they take away after they’re done watching the film?

John:

That sports can be used to help empower communities. That sports just aren’t a pastime, but they can be something that can lift people up and bring people together. I also think that through our film, you get a little eyeglass into the history of basketball too. Naturally, because E. B. Henderson, who’s a guy that you’ll see in the movie learned from James Naismith. You’re learning a little bit about where the game came from.

Jimmy:

You know, people can see a very affluent community. And they can also see a community that struggles. But, they can see individuals that had these dreams and they work for them, every single day of their life. And you could accomplish that. And that’s what I want people to really realize and I think our film can do that.

Andrew:

Awesome.

Tod:

Cool.

Tod:

We haven’t talked a ton about you individually as directors and what this project means to your career and your career arc. I’m just curious, what are you hoping from this experience? How are you hoping this affects your career short term, long term, as directors?

Jimmy:

Well, I think I’m thankful and I’m grateful that I’m able to have … A project on television first and foremost is just, I think more than anything, it is a great opportunity. And it also is a great resume builder. Because last time I had a project on TV1. And on this month of May, I’m having a project on Showtime and I’m just happy to be able to get into my career now. So, as I’m going into my thirties … I’m 29. Next year, I’ll be 30. I’ll be able to have some credits, where look, I know I can accomplish a film. I know it’s possible. I’ve seen it through.

Jimmy:

And I also think it just gives you a little more credibility when you are in those discussions with those investors. It’s much easier now to talk to people with money about films, because a lot of people like to invest in film. So it’s just … I can have those conversations. And I’m excited that I’m moving in that direction, but you still want to get better, just keep getting better.

John:

Yeah. This project has been a giant learning experience for me. It’s made me realize that it’s something that I should just continue to do. It’s also just taught me so much about the kind of director that I want be.

John:

But, this has made me realize that I can say it an idea and see it through to the end. and then I’m going to continue to do it and I’m going to get better at it. And hopefully going to continue to see things through to the end.

Tod:

Cool. You guys mentioned, you didn’t know each other going into this process. Now you have worked together on a feature-length doc. Do you see yourselves working together again in some capacity, whether it be co-directing or just working on each other’s films in some way?

John:

Yeah. I see us for sure. For the right project, I can see us co-directing again, for sure. Specifically around sports. I would love to work with Jimmy again.

John:

Jimmy, will you work with me in the future? If the right situation shakes out?

Jimmy:

I would never work with John Beckham again in my life.

Andrew:

You heard it here, folks.

John:

Well, at least we cleared something up today. I can reshape my future. Okay. That’s good. It’s good that we’re accomplishing things.

Jimmy:

No, I think that it’s without a doubt. What happened with me and John was, we met and just got really close. And he’s like a brother to me now. So, whether we directing or not, he’s always somebody that has a spot.

Jimmy:

So, whether I’m producing and whether he producing, whether he write, whether he directed or whatever, it’s going to be a process that we’ll definitely work together on. So I’m excited for what we got coming up. We’ve already touched on a few things we are going to throw in the boiling pot. So I’m excited for that to happen.

Tod:

When you look ahead at the next projects you’re going to go into, do you think you will primarily focus in on sports content? Or do you think you’ll really get far away from it? I guess, just if it was up to you, where would you end up in some of your future projects?

John:

Wherever the story takes. So, I know you need a story and I know you need access. Those are two things that you need for sure. And luckily with this one, we had it. We had a story and we had the access. So if there’s a sports story that we can come up with that’s unique. And then whatever that is about provides us access to get what we need to show it, then sure. But those two things aren’t super easy to come by. So wherever you can get the story and you can get the access, I think is what’s going to lead to the next projects.

Tod:

Yeah. The access you guys had was tremendous and definitely translated into being able to really tell the whole story.

Tod:

Just going back to sports versus non-sports. Sports docs have a feel to them. There is some story tropes that are consistent from one to the next. How much were are you looking at sports documentaries or basketball documentaries before going into it? And how much consciousness did you put into trying to match up to that? Or to do something a little bit different from that?

Jimmy:

All I did was watch sports docs. I think I’ve probably seen every basketball documentary that is out there or that has been anywhere, really. Even football docs, boxing docs. I think I’ve seen every … That’s one of my favorite things to do. And I wouldn’t say we were trying to be like any other docs, because I really haven’t seen a doc like ours in a sense, about basketball. I’ve seen a few things that are a little similar, but not really like ours.

Jimmy:

So, it was a different type of story. It was a community story, but I just wanted our film to have an identity and to have something that people can remember. And like I said, it’s not a whole series. It is just our film, but it’s … I wanted it to have an identity. I want people to talk about it. And that’s what I’m mostly interested in.

John:

Yeah. I agree. I think it’s an ambitious film. There’s not a lot that we can point to, to be our North star. A lot of sports … And I love sports documentaries too. I love them. But, typically, what you’re going to have is a subject that you’re following around. Or, maybe a team where somebody is something in the Olympics. But there’s a little bit of ambiguity to what we were trying to do that made it challenging to make, but hopefully it’s going to make it unique.

Tod:

Yeah. And going back to something you said earlier. You were talking about how you each had your own strengths. You brought something different to the table. What were those? Where John, do you excel? Jimmy? Where do you excel? And how does that complement each other?

John:

So I will show up to the meeting on time. Jimmy … I think that Jimmy’s experience with sports documentaries and sports, and being really on the ground floor was experience that we really needed.

John:

I played basketball in high school and, but that was back in the, in the late ’90s. I’m dating myself a little bit, but our movie is really focused on Jimmy’s generation. And he’s a really good storyteller and he’s a really … He’s so much of a go-getter. He’ll go out and get things done really quickly. And he’s a figurehead in the community as well. These are all things that he’s much stronger in than I am.

John:

And on the other side of it, Jimmy’s very organized, but it’s … I get very OCD with getting things organized, getting the paperwork altogether, making sure that things line up and make logical sense. And I think we counterbalanced ourselves with that.

Tod:

Jimmy, do you agree?

Jimmy:

1,000%. John is really talented. John just is a logical person, like “This doesn’t make sense in a movie.” “This doesn’t make sense in the story.” And he knows how to think through those things. And he knows … even he has a good eye. He has a way to seeing things with the camera. And then overall he’s a phenomenal producer. Man, when I say producing, he just kills at everything. There’s nothing that I have to worry about, or he has to worry about, because he’s on everything. Like, “Now. We got this. This is this. Da, da, da, da, da.” And so he can do everything. He can write, he can direct and he can produce. So, it just made my job easy too, just working with him.

John:

And Jimmy also. So Jimmy, won’t let really anybody know. But, he could also cut a little bit. So one of the first times I met him … not the first time I met him … but after we had our initial meeting and we talked on the phone all the time, I would go to his house pretty often. And one day he was like, “Yo, I cut this last night.” And he showed me like a 90-second sizzle, cut to music, cut to rhythm. It was just banging of all stuff that he shot. And I was like, “Who the fuck is this kid?” And there’s a lot of talents that he has as well, that he won’t let you know about.

Tod:

Cool. Yeah. I think the first time we had a conversation, I think we got to see that 90-second sizzle and I agree. I think it really flowed well. Footage was amazing. So yeah, I think there’s a lot of talent there on the edit side.

Tod:

Obviously, the whole, world’s about to see it in a couple of weeks. Are you nervous at all about any sort of scrutiny? Any other basketball communities? Any sort of negativity that might be coming your way? Or is that not an issue at all?

Jimmy:

No, I think it’s just natural. Sometimes you care about what people think about your work. I’m an artist. I’m very sensitive about the stuff that I put out. And, I ain’t going to lie. I’m working on this, but when my movie comes out, or I have a play come out, I wonder what people think. I do look at the reviews. I do look at the Twitters. I do look at all that stuff. So I’m really nervous about what people are going to say. I know there’s going to be negative comments. You can’t really get away from that. But, overall, I’m just happy that I’m able to do what I love to do. And that’s what I got to be grateful for.

Andrew:

Do you think that people in New York are going to see this and have a lot of trash to talk?

Jimmy:

Yeah. They might have a lot of trash to talk, but what I like to say is, “Men lie. Women lie. Numbers don’t lie. Where the numbers at New York? Where the numbers at?”

Jimmy:

Back in the day in the ’90s and all that, they were producing them, but lately they haven’t. So I know they got a new kid coming up, though. And that could change, but we know that 2000 to now it was, it was our time. It was us. We was the ones producing it. LA was too, but there’s so many people in LA. You know what I mean? So-

Tod:

What do you think about the future of PG County basketball? You think you’re going to hold the title for a while? Or you think some other region might take it from you?

John:

When you watch it, it becomes apparent that there’s much more to it than us bragging about basketball. We’re telling a story about how a community used the sports to overcome all kinds of systemic issues, how a community used the sport to come together. And through that you’ll see stories of some pretty amazing people, some tragic events.

John:

The movie isn’t just this like highlight reel. In fact, it’s far from it. So I don’t think that it matters that. I think from it, you can say, “Yeah, Prince George’s County is one of the best hotbeds for basketball in the world.” And I think probably Jimmy and I would say, “We’re Number One. Look at the numbers, come fight us if you want.” But, the movie has moved past that, has left, actually, past that. And it’s no longer anything about braggadocious basketball talk. It’s more about documentary filmmaking about this community.

Tod:

Definitely. Obviously, Last Dance comes out. Unbelievable attention given to it. Just is dominating the sports world during the current condition.

Tod:

When you saw that you saw the incredible amount of media that it got and the attention that it got. Did you feel like that was positive? Or, what was your reaction to seeing another doc come out about basketball … and just how much reach and how much attention it was getting?

Jimmy:

Well, it’s Michael Jordan, so it’s that’s a whole different beast right there. So … But it was good to see how excited people got about that. And I do think that it’s just going to bring the attention to our project for people to see it.

Jimmy:

But it was just great to see just the love that people have for the game. And I feel like, Michael Jordan is one of the greatest players of all time. And I feel like we got one of the greatest players of all time from our community. His name’s Kevin Durant. And so like, he was just excited, excited to see that.

John:

Yeah. Just like everybody else, I’m sitting my ass on the couch if I’m not editing or writing. So I was excited. I’m super excited. That’s like a sweet spot of mine. The Bulls were right in that sweet spot area where I was living in the gym. So I know a lot of this stuff coming out, but to see how they put it together, specifically, while we’re in post-production for this documentary that we’re working on … I’m looking at things a lot different right now.

John:

And it’s super fun to see what they did here. “Oh, look what they did there! Check that graphic out.” As well as just pass some time by watching one of the best sports teams ever.

Matt:

So I have one last question as we’re closing up here. Going off of this great energy you two have, I want to know about the competitive nature between the two of you, in terms of basketball. So one-V-one on the black top. Who takes the game?

John:

That’s unfair. No. I’d beat Jimmy, but Jimmy would beat me worse in football. So Jimmy played college football. So he’s a football player. Just like everybody around here, he played basketball too. But all’s I did was hoop. I was not built for football. So as far as basketball goes, I’d beat Jimmy one on one. But in football, he would beat me worse than I would beat him at basketball.

Matt:

Jimmy, what do you think about that?

Jimmy:

I’m sorry, J. B, but I’m going to have to say so. I will beat you in football and basketball, okay?

John:

Get the fuck out of here, Jimmy. He’s lying to you all. He’s lying. You cannot lie on a podcast. There’s the rules to this.

Jimmy:

J.B. is-

John:

You cannot lie on a podcast, Jimmy. There’s rules to this, bro.

Jimmy:

J.B is good-

John:

I’d beat you 16 to three, bro!

Jimmy:

Aargh! Oh, man. Now we got to play. Now, I will say, at this point, now maybe J. B. In his prime. J. B. is just coming off surgery, so he ain’t hot right now. It’s going to take him a while to get back.

John:

Take me back 10 months, Jimmy. Come on, man! Stop talking shit on the podcast. Take me back before the injury.

Jimmy:

Okay. Before the injury you were… You were … I don’t know. It would have been a good game.

John:

It would have been a good game. Okay, podcast talk.

Jimmy:

Out of 10 games, J. B., it probably be 6-4. I would have won six. He would have won four.

John:

Shit!

Andrew:

The PG County in you guys is coming out right now.

Jimmy:

Okay.

John:

Whatever. We’re about to hang up and I’m about to go break my leg again trying to play again. I got one mission from now on. There’s one mission. I’m scrapping the film. I’m scrapping everything else.

Matt:

Must beat Jimmy.

John:

He’s full of shit. I’d beat Jimmy right now.

Jimmy:

I love him. That’s my boy.

Matt:

Okay guys.

Jimmy:

I just want to say shout out to Green Buzz, man! Green Buzz is dope! They hot! If you want a dope project, make sure you check out Green Buzz. Thank you guys for having us. It’s been a great time. It was great working with you guys. And I hope everybody enjoys the film on the 15th.

Andrew:

I appreciate it. It’s a pleasure to work on. It was a lot of fun, collaborating with you guys. And we’re definitely looking forward to the next thing we can all work on together.

Jimmy:

My man! Thank you so much.

Andrew:

Bye guys. Peace!


Green Buzz Agency logo black