EDITOR’s NOTE: “Believeland” director Andy Billman shares some footage that did not make the final cut in the video above. During the Cavaliers’ victory parade, Cleveland coach Tyron Lue embraces former Cleveland Browns star Earnest Byner, who suffered the blame for some of his team’s heartbreaking losses in the 1980s.
When the Cavs defeated the Warriors for the NBA Championship on June 19, they rewrote history. A history that was, in a word, painful for Cleveland fans.
It’s also a history that “Believeland” director Andy Billman was all too familiar with, after having spent years working on the documentary about the struggles of Cleveland’s major sports franchises over the last half century.
But that all changed with the Cavs’ win. Billman, an ESPN producer when he’s not directing movies, was more than happy to rewrite the ending for the film – even though he had less than 10 days to do it. He sat down with Front Row after wrapping the film – for the second time – to talk about the life-changing journey the film has taken him on as a fan and a director.
The updated 30 for 30 will air tonight at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN.
– Andy Billman
You were in Cleveland for Game 7. As a fan and as a director, what was going through your head?
A lot of emotions. During every commercial break, I instructed the cameraman on what I needed. As the fourth quarter started, I told him what I needed and then said, “I am now probably going to a different zone, the fan zone, feel free to turn the camera on me if needed.” When Kyrie [Irving, Cavaliers guard] hit the shot, I went around the bar giving high fives and when [Warriors guard Steph] Curry missed the three-pointer with the Cavs up four, I shouted, “It’s over!” That pretty much sums it up.
What was the thought process behind changing the ending to “Believeland”?
When you have a team making a historical comeback in the NBA Finals and they give the city of Cleveland a championship, the first since 1964, to me it’s a must. You have to update the film.
What can fans look forward to seeing in the new version?
A lot of celebrating and to people who are not Cleveland fans, an understanding what that moment meant on June 19.
Though it was long-pursued, there’s still no LeBron James interview in the film. What are your thoughts on that?
It’s all good as I know he has a lot on his plate, and I hope someday to shake his hand and tell him thank you for everything he has done for Northeast Ohio.
– Andy Billman on the absence of a LeBron James interview
What was the bigger challenge in updating a 30 for 30: deciding on what new footage to include or what to trim? How much did you trim, how much new footage made the new cut?
We trimmed about seven minutes and put a new seven minutes in. It was challenging at moments, but part of the gig.
What was your favorite footage not seen in the final cut?
Fans celebrating in downtown Cleveland after the Cavs’ win.
Any shoutouts to people on your crew that helped turn this around so quickly?
“Believeland” producer Brian D’Ostilio was my rock. He really helped me out and is a great friend as well. My cameraman Josh Stephens, audio Jay Alton, [production assistants] Alex Cooper and Susan Yetter. And finally the stars of the film Scott and Judah Raab [a producer of the film and his son], Earnest and Tina Byner [former Cleveland Browns star and his wife] and [sportscaster] Tony Rizzo. I could not have done it without them.
Any new filmmaking challenges/projects ahead?
Yes, I have several projects I am working on from the producer side and I am figuring out my next director gig as well. What I am really looking forward to doing is being with my kids and listening to Tom Hamilton and Jim Rosenhaus as I follow the Indians. Go Tribe!