The promotional poster for the documentary As Good As It Gets? looks like one of those epic military dramas directed by the likes of Steven Spielberg. Eleven silhouetted (and presumably exhausted) figures stand beneath crimson-hued storm clouds as the setting sun casts its final glorious golden rays over what remains of the day.
What’s their story? What could they have done? Who are they, these silhouetted legends? The picture invites such inquiry.
In fact, As Good As It Gets? is a documentary about the success of Leeds Rhinos during their heyday, when they won the coveted ‘treble’, scooping the Challenge Cup, winning the Championship Final and finishing top of the league, which the Rhinos did in considerable style in 2015.
The documentary chronicles the sacrifices the team made in order to become arguably one of the best team in the world.
So far, so enterprising. Indeed, hats were doffed to creators Lee Hicken, director and CEO and script editor Jennifer O’Brien but they have managed to pull off something of a coup, after their humble tribute to the city’s rugby league team was snapped up by none other than Amazon.
Lee, 36, who grew up in Whinmoor, East Leeds, was destined to enter the fashion industry after studying the same for three years in Barcelona but decided, against his parents’ wishes, to “do something new”. That resulted in him founding The City Talking, a feature magazine which aimed to offered to go behind the headlines and explore as yet untold stories.
His project, which for a time was also syndicated along with the YEP, has now blossomed into a national quarterly magazine and a TV production company. As Good As It Gets? is their second major venture and Lee is proud of how successful it has already been.
“In the first three or four days, we were trending on Amazon,” enthuses Lee. We were measured against [other] films and we were Number 1. It basically means at that more people watching us than Peppa Pig, Southpark and a few other movies. It went down really well and we know tens of thousands of people have watched it. It’s taking the film and the sport to new audiences.”
That, in fact, was their aim all along but the opportunity to do that came about serendipitously, after Rhino’s star Jamie Jones-Buchanan (JJB) attended a screening of an earlier film made by them.
“We made a film last year about Leeds United called Do You Want to Win? (with Vinnie Jones) which was about the 1992 title [when Leeds United won the old First Division]. At the premier, we got talking with JJB about Leeds Rhinos and the success they have had.
“We thought it would make a good film. Over the course of the last 12 months, we filmed it and released it and it was picked up by Amazon.”
Part of the success of the film, though, was a deliberate ‘no holds barred’ approach to the interviews with players and staff, something Lee pushed for from the off.
“The interviews would not have worked if the players were not open with us. When we went in, we said we do not want the usual Sky Sports answers. We want to get behind that. The players really let themselves go. Once two or three of them did that, it was easier for everyone else. JJB really helped with that. They trusted him and once they spent time with us, they realised we were not out to get anyone and once Brian the coach opened up, it set the tone.”
Script editor Jenn hails from Hamilton, near Toronto, Canada and says the film has a very human story at its heart. Jenn, 28, who did a masters in English literature in Leeds, explains: “It’s such a human story. We wanted this to appeal not just to sports fans but everyone, that was the angle for us to take. We think it works really well as a film in general. My role was to look at the film to see how we could make it accessible, to see the story and make sure it could translate from rugby fans to people across the world.”
Lee decided to embark on film-making after realising there was a dearth of films about the Leeds music scene. “It was all about Manchester,” he said. “I wanted to change that. So we made a film with the Kaiser Chiefs and Utah Saints. Three years later, we’re trending on Amazon.”
Lee adds: “One thing I have learned is you can use your storytelling skills across different media. It’s about being accessible to audiences and making it appealing and interesting. That’s what As Good As It Gets? does, it’s about people achieving their dreams.
“We have five or six projects on our plate now. We are just at the point of deciding what to do next, it could be something on boxing, MMA or darts or possibly even another football film.
“The big ‘takeaway’ is the Amazon thing. That’s a huge, as Leeds try to attract Channel 4… the fact that one of the city’s indies landed an Amazon deal. It’s pretty good for the city and we should be shouting about it. You can have a film studio and a magazine and make it work, you do not have to move to London.”
Alex Green, European MD of Channels and Sport at Amazon Prime Video says: “We know our members enjoy watching sports on Prime Video, so we’ve been delighted to offer As Good As It Gets? as another great sports documentary alongside our growing stable of high quality sports content available to stream. This story of a team battling for a historic treble trophy win has been compelling viewing for not just passionate rugby league supporters in the UK, where the show is highly rated with 4.8 out of 5 stars by customers, but for all sports fans enjoying Prime Video around the world.”