Q&A: ‘The Carter Effect’ director Sean Menard ahead of TIFF premiere

The Carter Effect makes its highly anticipated premiere at TIFF this weekend. Filmmaker and director of the documentary Sean Menard joins Tim and Sid in-studio to discuss his film.

We’ve heard and seen a lot of Vince Carter stories. His rise, his fall, and his impact on Canadian basketball have been told ad nauseam to Canadian sports fans.

But now it’s being told on the silver screen and in the words of Vince and those he affected. The highly anticipated UNINTERRUPTED documentary “The Carter Effect” will make its world premiere at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival this Saturday.

The full-length documentary includes appearances from the likes of David Stern, Drake, Director X, Mona Halem, Steve Nash, Tracy McGrady, Cory Joseph, Dell Curry, Jalen Rose, Charles Oakley, “Super fan” Nav Bhatia and Carter himself.
 
Entering his 20th NBA campaign, the 40-year-old Carter will play with the Sacramento Kings this season but he’s still known for what he did in Toronto. Or more importantly, what he inspired in Toronto.

The generation of Canadian basketball players like first Canadian first-overall pick Anthony Bennett choosing the number 15 to honour him and the second Canadian first-overall pick Andrew Wiggins patterning his game after Carter is part of his legacy.

The film also touches on Carter’s cultural impact from his ownership of the famous Inside Nightclub to his memorable Vince Carter Classic charity games. The “Carter Effect” examines the civic and social impact Carter’s on-court exploits had and still have for present-day Canadians.

You can watch the trailer of the film here.

The Carter Effect premieres at TIFF on Saturday.

The film was directed and edited by Canadian and up-and-coming filmmaker, Sean Menard. This is the second film the Hamilton, Ont., native and Sheridan College graduate has directed with UNINTERRUPTED. The inaugural project was “Fight Mom” on MMA fighter Michelle Waterson.

“The Carter Effect” was a much bigger undertaking, interviewing 40-plus subjects for the film that was executive produced by LeBron James, Drake, Maverick Carter and Adel “Future the Prince” Nur.

In my Q&A with Menard, he explains why he believes this is the best sports documentary ever made and how he almost didn’t get Carter himself in the process.

SN – How’d the idea to make this film come about?

SM – My studio in Toronto is just by the Air Canada Centre and I remember when the team just made the playoffs for the first time in a long time seeing all of the fans gather together outside the arena. This is when the team made the Rudy Gay trade and went on that incredible run in the second half of the season. This is before it was called Jurassic Park. Before it was formally something that the team organized and promoted. And I saw this great, young, vibrant fan base. A fan base that looked distinctly different from any other fan base in the city. You can tell the difference between a Maple Leafs crowd and a Raptors crowd, for example. The fans are so multicultural they are a perfect representation of the city. And among them I still saw a lot of Vince Carter jerseys and that stuck with me. So, I literally had a one-page Microsoft Word document on this film and why it was important. After I did “Fight Mom,” I told the UNINTERRUPTED team that I had some other ideas. I sent them the idea I had for “The Carter Effect” among some others and they really liked this one and they jumped at it.

SN – Is this a story about Vince Carter’s career or the growth of basketball in Canada?

SM – I think the answer is both, honestly. I mean spoiler alert, we open the film when the Raptors are being announced. There is a scene where they are having a contest to name the team. David Stern smartly was a proponent of the fan contest and the eventual name they chose because they wanted to lure young kids. They wanted to have them grow up with the team and then pass it on to their kids and those are the young kids we see in Jurassic Park today. And Vince is the guy who captured the imagination of those original crop of young kids that you, I and Drake, the Canadian NBA players today are all a part of that generation. We all share that same bond through the shared experience of basketball at that time. He was Drake before Drake in terms of what he meant to the city and bringing it recognition.

SN – How’d Drake, Future and the OVO crew become involved?

SM – Well LeBron, Mav and Drake and Future are all very close. We were working on the film and originally Drake was just supposed to be interviewed, I believe, and then when Drake and Future heard about it they had to be a part of it and make sure it was done right and done to their standard. They were like, “Wait, you’re doing what? We have to make sure this part of the story is told.” And so they brought insights to the hip hop influence Vince had at the time. So they sent notes on the rough cuts.

SN – How involved was LeBron?

SM – Well it was in production during the second half of the season so he was pretty busy. He would send notes on drafts and communicate through Mav on how things were progressing. They were pretty good about leaving me to my own devices and as a filmmaker that’s great. That’s what you want. What helped was the name of LeBron James. What does help is having LeBron a part of it to opens doors like getting archival footage from the NBA with no rights issues or getting people to sit down for interviews. I’m an independent filmmaker and to get time with all of these people on my name Sean Menard alone would be tough. Aron Phillips, the producer for UNINTERRUPTED would just say, “Ok you’re going to LA who do you want to get?” And I was like well Steve Nash, Tracy McGrady, listing off all these people and we’d pretty much get them all. Charles Oakley probably isn’t sitting down with me if it wasn’t for the UNINTERUPTED brand. So, I literally wouldn’t change anything. That’s why I think it’s the best sports doc ever made because we had all of this input from people like Drake and LeBron to make sure we told the story fully.

James’ involvement in the project opened doors for Menard. (Ben Margot/AP)

SN – Anyone you wanted interview that you didn’t get?

SM – No, honestly. I honestly wouldn’t change one thing about this film, which from a filmmaker’s perspective is a perfect place to be. We almost didn’t get Vince. So, if we didn’t get Vince it obviously would have been a much different film.

SN – So how did it come together that you did get Vince?

SM – Well I kept pushing getting Vince back further and further because I wanted to get him last. I don’t have any narration in my film or voice over. I want the narrative to be driven by the interview subject. Because of that I wanted to talk to Vince last to fill in all the holes. Problem is towards the second half of the season, Memphis got hot and made a run to the playoffs. As you know down the stretch, PR teams shut down access, especially feature access nonetheless an interview for a feature film. So, it was really tough to find a time when we could do it. When we did book a time, there was a huge snow storm and our travel plans got messed up and we were stuck in Chicago and at one point I thought I was going to have to drive there as we had a tight window where we could get him. We also needed to get the interview done quickly to have the film done in time to meet the TIFF deadline.

When we finally got him, Memphis PR said we had 20 minutes. So, I thought, “Ok I guess we’ll have to try and make it work.” It was going well but at the 20-minute mark they stopped us and I had much more to touch on. Vince stepped in and said “No, I want to go longer. It’s important for me to say this.” He was in a groove at that point and was enjoying the process of talking about it. It’s almost like it was cathartic. We ended up going 60 minutes and I heard him say things I hadn’t heard him say in other interviews. So, if we don’t get him I’m not talking to you right now because we never would have made the film and that would have been a shame.

SN – I remember talking to Ezra Edelman after his 30 for 30 “OJ: Made in America” about a term I call producer fist-pump moments. When you’re interviewing someone and they say something that you know in your head is making the edit as they are speaking because they are giving you gold. Who was that for you in this film?

SM – Drake. Literally everything he said was so good. The passion. It wasn’t Drake the persona of the biggest entertainer in the world, it was Aubrey Graham, the 13-year-old Raptors fan. Him telling stories and vivid memories of the Raptors in those days with such nostalgia. It took him back to a place that got him excited about talking about. Vince’s mom Michelle, also. You know when you hear someone say “I’ve never said this before on camera” the next thing to come out of their mouth is going to be good. Those are the two I remember doing the imaginary fist pumps in my mind while they were talking.

Drake is the Raptors’ global ambassador. (Darren Calabrese/CP)

SN – What did you learn that you didn’t know?

SM – The biggest thing I realized is that Americans couldn’t understand. Why would you boo this guy? Yeah, he left but lots of players leave. But he brought you all these great memories, delivered your team to the playoffs for the first time ever, had your team playing on NBC for the first time ever. Literally all the good things that happened to your team came from him so why would you hate him so much? Me being here and being a fan and having these discussions with my friends at the time, I understand why he was hated. But what I realized throughout the process of making the film is that Americans didn’t understand at all. They see players come and go all the time. Here and for us, Vince meant so much so he was different to us. The other thing I didn’t know was the music scene aspect and him being a part owner at a nightclub here in Toronto. I was too young to go to clubs at the time.

SN – In the Canadian basketball community, there is a debate as to who had a greater impact on the rise of Canadian basketball, Vince Carter or Steve Nash. Where do you stand?

SM – I mean I’m a bit biased but I’d have to say Vince. It’s not the Nash effect. No disrespect to Steve Nash and his two MVPs. He maybe had a bigger impact globally. But all these kids say verbatim Vince got them into the sport. All the Canadian kids in the NBA say Vince was their favourite player. This wouldn’t be a film if Vince was a six-foot-three point guard who played fundamentally. It was the way he played, flying through the air. It’s a great debate but I think after watching the film most people would say Vince.

SN – For all the highs he had here there were low moments and he left amid some controversy that some people are only now forgiving him for. The film is about his impact but did you touch on the ugly end in Toronto?

SM – Yeah, to tell a full picture I think you have to touch on the ugly end. And I wanted to see what he had to say and gain understanding of what he was thinking at the time. The thing that struck me is all his teammates backed him. If I had a co-worker that I trusted that wasn’t giving their all I’d have a problem with them. But his teammates who understand some of the inner workings and the back-channel situations that the public and the media didn’t all still support him and still have love for him.

SN – What do you want film watchers to say about the film when they are talking about it around the water cooler on Monday?

SM – Just if they are talking about it that’s the goal and the hope as a filmmaker. So, if they are talking about it all that’s a bonus after they took time to go and see it. It’s something I’m really excited for audiences to see. The fact that it’s premiering here at TIFF and on the biggest stage of the festival in the Princess of Wales Theatre is surreal. My mom is constantly taking photos of promotions and taking screen caps of tickets being sold on StubHub and sending it to me and I’m like “ok, mom relax.” To have all shows sold out is amazing. So, if the audiences can perceive it as a love letter to Toronto, which for me that’s what it is, that would be great.