Edgy Julian Edelman Documentary Stars BU Alums behind the Camera

It’s called 100%: Julian Edelman, but the new documentary chronicling the story of the New England Patriots receiver contains a substantial percentage of Boston University ingredients behind the camera.

Edelman’s business partner Assaf Swissa (MET’05) created, cowrote, and was co–executive producer (with Edelman) of the film, which debuts Friday, June 28, on Showtime. And filmmaker twin brothers Griffin Nash (COM’08) and Clifford Nash (COM’08) helped drive the production, with Griffin running the handheld camera as director of photography and Clifford as editor.

“Julian is a true American story, in that in no way is he a pedigree,” Swissa says. “He’s very skilled and athletic, but he’s not born with any genetic gifts that make him special. It’s sheer willpower and determination—that is his gift, which was given to him by his father.”

100%: Julian Edelman follows the Patriots receiver from a season-ending injury in 2017, through a grueling rehab, and then just as he was ready to return to the field, a four-game suspension at the start of the 2018 season for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). Swissa and the Nashes kept rolling, though, and the universe rewarded them with a triumphant climax for the film: Edelman was named Super Bowl MVP as the Patriots won their sixth championship in February 2019.

“Julian needs the cards stacked against him,” Swissa says. “Things need to be bad, so he can shine. That’s what I think about that last Super Bowl—it was an opportunity in which only Julian could shine. That was a game of mud and trenches and punts, that was not a pretty game, that was a metaphor for his whole career: ‘Let everyone else be suffering, great, I’ll be the guy who jumps in the mud.’ That was special.”

The movie was directed by Kyler Schelling, cowritten by Swissa, Schelling, and Chris Pape, and narrated by actor Michael Rapaport. “We said, it can’t be just like every other sports documentary,” Swissa says. They’ve pushed the envelope with inventive appearances by Tom Brady and Edelman’s celebrity friends, including actor Mark Wahlberg and former NFL player and Good Morning America anchor Michael Strahan. TV chef Guy Fieri demonstrates Edelman’s 2018 ACL tear using a stalk of celery. And rapper Snoop Dogg reads Edelman’s PED suspension letter from the league out loud while smoking a blunt on camera—a creative choice that cracks up the filmmakers every time they mention it.

“I always think the same thing when we start a new project: it’s gonna be crap,” Edelman says. “Then when we start building and shaping, it starts to take shape and we get to an amazing place. This one is special.”

Edelman & Assaf Swissa

Edelman (right) and his business partner Assaf Swissa (MET’05) are the executive producers of 100%: Julian Edelman. Several other alumni contributed behind the camera. Photo by Colette Cacciatore

Sitting in the loft-style office of his creative agency Superdigital, above a boxing gym on Comm Ave, Swissa says he and Edelman became acquainted through his father’s Newbury Street hair salon, Pini Swissa Salon. The salon’s other clients over the years have included Robert Kraft, Tom Brady, and Gisele Bündchen.

The younger Swissa was trying to move on after getting fired from a natural candy company he’d founded, when Edelman asked him for marketing help with his personal brand in 2012. “I went back to my roots,” he says, “designed his logo, made a couple of videos. Back then, Google Glass was all the rage, so we made a couple of Google Glass videos.” But as the Patriot receiver’s role with the team grew, Swissa also grew Edelman’s social media following, until he was one of the most successful players online. Now Edelman and Swissa’s Coast Productions have an apparel line (J11), children’s books, the movie, and more.

“Assaf and I have great trust in each other,” Edelman says. “That trust has allowed us to be very entrepreneurial. He and I are also on the same page creatively, so we have lots of fun taking on these projects. 100% might be our best one yet.”

“Something deeper in the story”

Nash Pictures LLC, a production company headquartered in Allston, has been involved in a variety of projects, many in sports, including promotional videos for the Boston Celtics, numerous commercials, and second-unit filming for Amy Schumer’s movie I Feel Pretty, which was shot in Boston and New York. Swissa knew the identical twin brothers as hard workers who could also help creatively in pulling off what was originally envisioned as a six-episode series for another outlet.

“Assaf came to us with this concept; it was supposed to be two months,” Clifford Nash says.

“It was going to be a grind, to pump out six episodes, including shooting, editing, mastering, delivering, everything,” says Griffin Nash. “Assaf kept hinting it needed to be a feature.”

The Nashes hung in for many more months, as the project moved to Showtime and became a movie. They helped shape the dramatic arc for the finished product while shooting and cutting hundreds of hours of footage and many different components.

“That entire wall was covered with Post-Its,” Clifford says.

“There was something deeper in the story, and that was what Assaf wanted the entire time,” Griffin says. “It’s more than just a rehab documentary. It dives deeper into who Julian is, why Julian is who he is, and how he got to where he got to.”

Other BU alums on the project were production supervisor Danya Celmaster (SHA’12) and Grace Moshfegh (CAS’11), who provided legal production services and marketing expertise.And although Swissa says he was working too much to have a true college experience while earning a bachelor’s in liberal studies from Metropolitan College, he is a big BU fan; his sisters also both went to BU.

Camera on his shoulder, Griffin Nash spent many hours alone with Edelman, including the pivotal morning last fall when the Patriots player returned from suspension to workouts at Gillette Stadium. One of the Nashes’ cardinal rules during shooting was never to make their subject wait for them, so he took an Uber to Edelman’s house before dawn and ended up waiting on the stoop long enough for a dog-walking neighbor to invite him in to get warm. (He declined.)

“Julian came downstairs, and we got into his car, and I didn’t say a single word to him. And I recorded the entire drive to the stadium, because I didn’t want anything to get missed. There were moments when the sun was rising and there were flares coming through the windshield backlighting him, and it looked awesome. And I shot a wide shot of him walking into the stadium. And after that’s when total panic mode comes in—I hoped I was rolling on everything!”

To relieve his mind, Griffin watched the entire sequence over again during his two-hour Uber ride home through morning rush-hour traffic.

Edelman looks into a camera

New England Patriots receiver Julian Edelman opened up his life to the cameras as he fought back from an injury and a suspension in 100%: Julian Edelman, premiering Friday on Showtime. Photo courtesy of Showtime

“It was odd,” Edelman says. “I’ve been trained for the media and I respect what cameras can do. Having them in my most intimate moments was very different for me. In the end, it was all worth it.”

100%: Julian Edelman debuts Friday, June 28, at 9 pm, on Showtime.

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