When you are a film editor working on one of the most ambitious projects in sports documentary history, every day on the job counts.
So when Devin Concannon, an editor on “The Last Dance,” ESPN’s 10-part series on Michael Jordan and the 1990s Bulls, heard in mid-March that the NBA season had been suspended, at first he saw a silver lining to the news.
Then the opposite happened.
“That was very shocking,” Concannon, 30, who grew up in Massapequa, said with a laugh of the decision to move the premiere from June to mid-April. “Honestly, I felt like we were behind schedule on this thing.
“When I first heard the NBA was suspending, I thought it was buying us time, because I thought the Finals were moving later, and we were supposed to air in conjunction with the Finals. Pretty much that hope disappeared within a few hours.”
Starved for content during the COVID-19 pandemic, ESPN asked director Jason Hehir and his team to speed up production, even though that meant doing so with his staff working mostly apart and from home.
It was the right decision for the network and its fans, who have made the series a critical and ratings hit — six million viewers on average for initial showings through the first four episodes. But it was a challenge for people such as Concannon, one of four editors on the film and the sort of behind-the-scenes figure that makes these sorts of projects work.
Not that he is complaining. He said “The Last Dance” team has been a tight-knit unit, and after having worked on it for more than a year, the reception has been gratifying.
“The magnitude of the reaction has been greatly increased by the circumstances,” he said, referring to the fact that most people are home and sports are on hold. “And the reaction has been very, very positive, which has been a huge relief.
“When you spend so much time with these things, you never really know what people are going to think once it’s released into the real world, so just really, really excited people have accepted and loved these first four episodes so much and also that we can bring a little bit of sports back into people’s lives, which is great.
“My friends that are sports fans are freaking out and texting me like crazy, and that feels great.”
Concannon said the 10th and final episode, set for May 17, was completed just last week.
He first became interested in documentaries at 13, when he twice won state competitions in National History Day contests, and built on that passion at NYU.
Last year he was nominated for an Emmy for a documentary about Trayvon Martin, an African-American teenager who was fatally shot in Florida, but he relished the chance to do a sports project, even though he is more a fan of hockey than basketball.
Specifically, he is an avid fan of the Islanders who lives a block from Barclays Center and attended what now likely was their last game in Brooklyn — a loss to the Canadiens on March 3.
But working on “The Last Dance” gave him an appreciation for a figure he mostly was familiar with in childhood as the guy in the 1996 film “Space Jam.”
“I actually wasn’t a big basketball guy, and I made that very clear when I interviewed for the job, and they were OK with that; they were looking for storytellers,” he said. “But I loved it. Obviously, I grew a huge affinity for Michael and for basketball in general working on it.”
Concannon said during the process, editors tried to shape the story for a hypothetical 13-year-old coming to the subject for the first time.
“Somebody that really had no chance of experiencing Michael, that’s who we’re speaking to in a lot of ways,” he said, “because we want this to make sense to them and be exciting to them.”
Fans of all ages seem to have found it that, helped by the fact that there is little else on sports TV to distract them.
“[During] the Finals, it was going to be tough for people to find an extra 10 hours for basketball,” Concannon said. “Now it’s the opposite. Instead of going with basketball, it’s the complete lack of basketball.”
Next on his project list is a film about professional wrestling. But what if ESPN were to green-light a 10-part series on, say . . . the Islanders of the early 1980s?
Concannon laughed and said, “That would be great.”