E60’s “The Hero of Goodall Park” premieres tonight at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN. The hourlong episode is directed by ESPN producer and independent filmmaker Martin Khodabakhshian, one of ESPN’s most-honored producers, having been a part of 13 Emmy Awards.
“I mean, we get to work with extraordinary journalists – whether it’s Tom Rinaldi or Jeremy Schaap or Chris Connelly, Wright Thompson,” Khodabakhshian said. “This was my first time working with [the piece’s writer, reporter and voice] Tom [Junod]. He’s been amazing to work with and get to know. I’m proud to now call him a friend.”
“Martin and I met at an E60 conference in Bristol,” said Junod. “We immediately set about trying to work with each other. Martin kept calling me to see what I was working on, and on my way back home from my first trip to Sanford, Maine, he called again.
“I told him the story of Doug Parkhurst, and he said, right away, ‘That’s the story we’re going to do together!’ We’ve been collaborators ever since.”
The project was two years in the making and marks Junod’s first piece for E60 since the release of the late-2019 film, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” that was based on his Esquire magazine article on Fred Rogers. The film starred Tom Hanks as Rogers and Matthew Rhys as a writer based on Junod.
Junod’s jaw-dropping 15,000-word ESPN.com story is here.
• When world circumstances dictated a need for a revamped workflow for the episode, Khodabakhshian said it took 11 days to download the more than 20 terabytes of content that needed editing. While viewers will have to decide for themselves who the true “hero” of Goodall Park is, Khodabakhshian found his colleagues’ efforts worthy of praise. He highlighted the guidance and support of Michael Baltierra, Director of Photogrpahy Michael Bollacke, editors Neely Lohmann, Michael Sciallis, Warren Wolcott and Robert Labay with additional photography by Aaron Frutman.
Said E60 Executive Editor Baltierra, re: the inspiration to take on something so different:
“Tom sent us the idea. Obviously with his experience doing longform reporting, he saw something there that made it a unique story. Our biggest concern at E60 was how do we make that into a TV piece?
“We had no doubt that Tom can write something that’s going to be beautiful and wonderful. But particularly for the event that happened in 1968, there’s no video – so how do we tell a story where one of the big elements of the story was over 50 years ago and we don’t have a way to represent it? We sat down with Martin, who is one of our top visual producers, and his first reaction was ‘I don’t think we can do this. It’s an unbelievable story but how do we tell that part of it?’
“After some brainstorming and discussing, he finally came around and said ‘I think we can do this.’ And he and Tom went out and to their credit they told it in a way that I don’t think you get a sense at any point that there was difficulty in getting video or that the section of the story that was 50 years ago feels any different than the section that’s present day.”
• Truth be told, Khodabakhshian’s own journey through the process was worthy of praise. He lost his father, Manook Khodabakhshian, in September as filming was beginning to wind down. His dad was a respected Iranian sportscaster known for his soccer acumen, who passed away on Sept. 6.
“This will be the first time one of my pieces airs on ESPN and I won’t get the call from my dad right after telling me, ‘That. WAS. GREAT!'” Khodabakhshian said. “That’s a little bittersweet.”
• Khodabakhshian shared these photos and captions with Front Row, compiled during three trips to Sanford and two to Fulton, N.Y.