Lanesborough native one of the brains behind '100%: Julian Edelman'
Bill Burr yells at a barroom TV. Erin Andrews offers feedback to her hairdresser. Guy Fieri uses food to describe an ACL injury. And Snoop Dogg smokes.
The interviews and appearances during "100%: Julian Edelman" are often as offbeat as the documentary's subject, the star New England Patriots wide receiver who has developed a satirical digital media persona over the course of his NFL career. Lanesborough native Kyler Schelling has been one of the creative minds informing that brand, teaming up with Assaf Swissa to generate online videos starring Edelman and, most recently, directing and co-writing "100%," which began streaming on Showtime in late June.
"This project was by far the longest and most intensive project I've worked on to date," Schelling told The Eagle by phone recently from Boston, where he now resides.
The film tracks Edelman's recovery from a torn ACL he suffered during the 2017 preseason, causing him to miss the entirety of that campaign, as well as his relationship to his father, Frank. Edelman returned in 2018 and won that season's Super Bowl MVP. While Edelman had become well-known for his football feats and friendship with quarterback Tom Brady by the time Schelling and company started filming in September 2017, he wasn't a household name by any means.
"When we started this project, we were like, 'Julian isn't famous enough' — this was before he won Super Bowl MVP — 'this guy isn't famous enough to merit his own documentary, so what can we do — what are the tools and what are the things we have access to in order to punch higher than our weight class,'" Schelling said.
For the documentary's creators, that meant securing big-name appearances and highlighting Edelman's personality, a natural extension of the viral YouTube videos, such as "Smoothie Tyme" and "Burger Tyme," that featured "a heightened, exaggerated version" of Edelman, according to Schelling.
"We wanted that kind of humor and irreverence to carry through. We just knew that if we wanted this thing to be successful, and if there was going to be a chance for us to sell this thing, it had to be something that you haven't seen before and needed to be a new take on sports content," Schelling said.
The project almost got sidelined, however, when Edelman was suspended for four games before the 2018 season began for violating the NFL's performance-enhancing substances policy.
"The first thought me and Assaf had was like, 'All right, our movie's done,'" Schelling recalled of learning the news. "And then, over time, we were like, 'You know what? Maybe this is actually, depending on how this all falls out, maybe this is actually better for the story.'"
Complicating matters was that the company behind the documentary, Coast Productions, is Edelman and Swissa's joint venture. (Schelling is an employee.) During the film, Edelman expresses contrition about his suspension, but he doesn't go into detail about his positive test.
"In terms of how we handled the suspension, there are certain — because this is Julian's documentary — there are certain limitations as to how to approach certain things," Schelling said. "At the end of the day, Julian is still employed by the NFL. He's still a player, and we don't want to ruin that. We don't want to do anything that could hurt or jeopardize that thing. So, when [the suspension] happened, the story really became more about the dad and when Julian and Frank didn't talk for this period of time."
Schelling stressed that Edelman's role in the project had important benefits, including a strong working relationship with Schelling and Swissa.
"So much with sports documentaries, and you see the '30 for 30s' [an ESPN documentary series] and whatnot, there's so much of a filmmaker coming into an athlete's life and telling the story of that person," Schelling said, "and I feel like with this project, and because of the relationship we have with Julian, that it's really Julian telling his own story with the help of filmmakers."
At the same time, Schelling knew that he couldn't let his personal relationship to Edelman obscure his responsibility to the audience.
"I really wanted to make sure that it wasn't going to be just a Julian puff piece the whole time," Schelling said. "So, there were some boundaries, and there were some fights."
Ultimately, Schelling and his collaborators wanted viewers to feel like they were taking a trip inside Edelman's brain. He's the only person shot center-frame, according to Schelling.
"Julian's the only one looking at camera. And that was very deliberate to say, 'Hey, this is coming from Julian. You're in Julian's head. This is an honest thing,'" Schelling said.
Swissa introduced Schelling to the receiver about six years ago. Schelling had been directing videos for Swissa's agency, Superdigital, after graduating from Emerson College in 2013. He studied film production at the Boston school after a few semesters at Berkshire Community College. Initially, he pursued engineering following his graduation from Mount Greylock Regional High School, where he had taken a Michael J. Powers-taught course that included video editing.
"I liked it, and I felt like I had an affinity for it, but I never really felt like it was a smart career path," Schelling said.
Schelling initially pursued engineering after high school, but he "absolutely hated it." He wanted to explore his creative side.
"I did this movie stuff in high school. I liked it. It was fun. You know what, maybe this is a career. You only have one life. Take a shot," he recalled thinking.
Now, Schelling is preparing to work on more Coast Productions projects. He hopes to direct more feature-length scripted narratives. Some will be sports-related; some won't be. Some won't even involve Edelman. But that doesn't mean the documentary's distinctive creative energy can't be replicated.
"Maybe," Schelling said, "this '100%' format can exist beyond just a one-off documentary."
Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.
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