How did ‘Air’ capture the creation of Air Jordans in the ’80s?

Academy Award-winning editor William Goldenberg, who is soon to direct Ben Affleck and Matt Damon’s wrestling biopic “Unstoppable,” talks about the film’s ’80s feel and breaking the mold at Nike.

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When director Ben Affleck first approached his Academy Award-winning editor William Goldenberg (“Argo”) to cut “Air,” the sports biopic about Nike’s revolutionary Air Jordan line of basketball shoes, shooting was only a few months away. it started. However, Goldenberg had to wait a month before reading the script while Alex Convery finished rewriting it.

It was a tight turn, but it led to a fast and loose production that perfectly suited the film’s recreation of the scrappy, underdog culture of Oregon-based Nike in 1984, then on the brink of bankruptcy.

“It’s about taking risks and being great,” Goldenberg told IndieWire. “There are a lot of things that people can relate to… breaking out of the mold. And the great thing about working on a film like this is that I have to watch the film a lot and I never get tired of it.”

“Air,” which opened the pre-Easter box office for Amazon Studios and MGM, tells the story of Nike basketball talent scout Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon)’s obsession with signing Chicago Bulls rookie sensation Michael Jordan to an unheard-of brand shoe line. . But there were several obstacles: Vaccaro had to win the support of chief marketing officer Rob Strasser (Jason Bateman) and director of athletic relations Howard White (Chris Tucker), while also winning the approval of eccentric Nike co-founder Phil Knight. (Affleck).

But before Vaccaro could even stand a chance against Adidas and Converse, he had to impress Jordan’s mother, Deloris (Viola Davis), as the young basketball player had no desire to sign with Nike.

“Air” was shot very quickly in 23 days. The set was mostly an empty office building in Santa Monica that was renovated by production designer François Audouy to replace Nike’s offices. It also housed the production office and editing rooms, which was convenient for Goldenberg. Affleck reteamed with cinematographer Robert Richardson (“They Live By Night”), who shot with an Alexa 35 (Super 35 format), but minimized its 17-stop dynamic range to match the more limited color palette of the ’80s. This was especially effective when interspersed with stock footage highlighting the era’s iconic cultural signposts.

The three-time Oscar-winning cinematographer (“Hugo,” “The Aviator,” “JFK”) makes us feel like a fly on the wall in Nike’s struggling basketball department. Richardson’s early medical experience serves him well in capturing this sprawling, often dysfunctional family, and he delivers some of the most powerful close-ups of his career. This includes a late-night phone call between Vaccaro and Deloris, and a soul-searching exchange about selfishness and sacrifice between Strasser and Vaccaro, which later pays off with a 360 around Vaccaro watching his colleagues in the “bullpen.”


Chris Tucker as Howard White in Air


“It was just crazy in the best possible way,” Goldenberg said. “They always shot with three to five cameras. Ben and Matt came into the room and looked at things and said, “I think we need to switch between scenes. What do you think we should shoot?’”

One moment that changed along the way was during his pitch against Sonny Jordans. After struggling through a malfunctioning video highlight reel, Sonny stops the video and tells Jordan’s future—triumphs, tragedies—with actual stock footage from Jordan’s career. “Originally there was a lot more footage of Michael and a lot less footage of Matt,” Goldenberg said. “And when it was filmed, we were like, ‘Matt’s so good.’ Then we realized that the video footage needed to be more snapshots and cut back to Matt more.”

Another last-minute change that worked wonders was not hiring a composer. Instead, the film retained temporary instrumental cues from ’80s favorites such as “Beverly Hills Cop,” “Body Double,” “Desperately Seeking Susan,” “Firestarter,” “Raw Deal,” “Risky Business,” and “Three O “Clock High.” This went well with the ’80s needle drops put together by music supervisor Andrea von Foerster, which included “Ain’t Nobody,” “All I Need Is a Miracle,” “Born in the U.S.A.” “Money for Nothing” and “From Time to Time”.

Matthew Maher as Peter Moore, Matt Damon as Sonny Vaccaro and Jason Bateman as Rob Strasser in AIR Photo by ANA CARBALLOSA © AMAZON CONTENT SERVICES LLC

Matthew Maher, Matt Damon and Jason Bateman on Air

Ana Carballosa/Amazon Studios

“What happened was we had a composer, and then I started pacing the film with music,” added Goldenberg. “Ben and I had both talked about it and it seemed appropriate. Try the film with period music. It was more of a feeling than being hard and true with the dates (like the song Needle Drops). There’s some ’90s ‘Jerry Maguire’ stuff, but it was trying to fit the Tangerine Dream thing. But sometimes it was very difficult to find out who owns the music. I think there were about 20 times when Andrea couldn’t find who had the rights because the person who wrote the music died and the studio didn’t know and that person didn’t know and found a couple of people on social media. That was probably the most difficult problem between buying the songs and the sheet music.”

Meanwhile, the reunion with Affleck led Goldenberg to launch a passion project he’s been trying to direct for years: “Unstoppable,” a sports biopic about three-time All-American wrestler Anthony Robles. born into poverty with half a leg who won a national championship at Arizona State. This will be the second film after “Air” that Affleck and Damon produced under their new banner Artists Equity for Amazon Studios. Starring Jharrel Jerome (“When They See Us,” “Moonlight”) Robles, Affleck’s wife and Jennifer Lopez as his mother. The film is shot by Salvatore Totino (“65”) and edited by Brett Reed, Goldenberg’s former assistant, who recently worked with him on “Transformers: Rise of the Beasts”.

“Ben and Matt have been incredibly supportive and really excited for me,” Goldenberg said. “They don’t know anything about wrestling, but they know what a good story is. We close the deals and shoot in five weeks. Anthony doubles himself in wrestling (scenes). I just felt it was time for a new challenge.”

“Air” is now in theaters.

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