Names: Sue Bird and Jay Ellis
Sundance project: “Sue Bird: In the Clutch,” a documentary marking Bird’s retirement after 21 years in the WNBA, all of them spent with the Seattle Storm.
Bird and Ellis met in 2020, as the WNBA had just gotten out of the COVID-19 bubble and the Storm had won the championship.
Ryan Ruocco, the announcer for the WNBA who serves as a producer on the film, is both a good friend of Bird’s and of Ellis’ producing partner, Aaron Bergman.
“Aaron and I were just having this conversation about Sue and it just came up like, ‘oh, I wonder if she’s going to do a doc?’” Ellis says. “We assumed she was getting close to the end of her career and was going to make a decision. We didn’t know when, obviously, so we sent Ryan out to do some recon to find out what she was thinking, and he was like, ‘she’s open to talking about it.’”
They put together a pitch, including how they wanted women to be at the forefront of the team working on the project, and ultimately Bird said “yes,” after some deliberation.
“You have to wrap your head around the idea of people being around you and following you and you’re miked, so they’re catching everything, even the things you say under your breath. But it wasn’t that difficult,” Bird says. “It really wasn’t.”
They started shooting in 2021, as Bird was doing a workout in Scarsdale, N.Y., with her fiancé, Megan Rapinoe, in the midst of COVID-19 precautions, with Rapinoe playing defense for her.
“I was lucky that there was this guy who had a basketball court, a swimming pool indoors, all the things you would need to train for the WNBA season,” Bird says. “And so that’s when we first started [shooting].”
“We actually used all of that as materials to go out to town to sell it,” Ellis says.
The documentary tracks Bird’s whole career, from her upbringing on Long Island to her time at UConn to her many Olympic wins. Yet the thing she’s most happy the film captures is her relationship with the fan base in Seattle, where she spent her whole WNBA career.
“Playing in the same place for 20 years, my relationship with the fans is something that’s near and dear to me,” she says. “And I know for them to be able to share in my final year was special. And just that interaction, that relationship, the way that’s captured, is amazing.”