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An interview with Maclain Way on Netflix's Untold: The Race of the Century

by David Schmidt 11 Oct 2022 08:41 PDT October 11, 2022
John Bertrand (left) and Alan Bond (right) - 1983 America's Cup - Newport RI © Paul Darling Collection

Mea Culpa: I didn’t have my eye on the ball in 1983. In my defense, I was six years old. Either way, it wouldn’t have mattered: If Dennis Conner, his Liberty crew, and the full firepower of the New York Yacht Club couldn’t stop Alan Bond and his Boxing Kangaroo-themed antipodean conquerors from snatching the oldest continuously contested trophy in international sports from its former throne at 37 West 44th Street, in New York City, there’s no way that a junior-junior sailor could have done anything to stop the inevitable. The Cup was headed to DownUnda.

Afterwards, I struggled a bit to make sense of what happened, and why my dad and his sailing buddies were so dejected. But, four years on, I was certainly switched-on to watch DC and the San Diego Yacht Club reclaim the Auld Mug…even if my dad and I had to record the races on our old VCR (this was 1987, after all) and watch them the next morning.

While Americans tend to gravitate more towards the heroic tale (from our perspective) of DC’s “Comeback” Cup (1987), Australians (and likely the rest of the world, ahem), of course, prefer the story of Bond, Ben Lexcen, John Bertrand, and the rest of the Australia II campaign juggernauting the trophy from the powerful. Call it a classic case of David crushing Goliath, but history’s bell tolled loudly on September 26, 1983, and the sailing world has never been quite the same.

On September 7, 2022, Netflix released their in-house documentary on the 1983 America’s Cup, which is titled Untold: The Race of the Century, which is part of their bigger Untold series. If you haven’t watched it yet, carve out some time. The film is fantastic, and you will get to enjoy never-before-seen footage and insightful interviews.

If you’re a fellow Cup junkie, this is must-see Netflix TV.

I checked in with Maclain Way, the film's co-director (along with his brother, Chapman), to learn more about the making of this amazing documentary.

What inspired you and Chapman to co-produce this movie? Are you guys sailors?

Our first documentary, The Battered Bastards of Baseball, was screened at the 2014 Newport Film Festival. We had never been to Newport before, and while on a guided tour with a festival volunteer, we visited "America's Cup Avenue."

We didn't know what the America's Cup was— growing up in Southern California, we were avid surfers, so I like to think we share the same mutual love for the ocean that sailors have— but didn't know much about the competition.

Back in Newport, we learned about the rich and deep history of the competition, dating back to 1851, and we were enthralled. We were quickly told about the 1983 loss to the Australians, and the gears of our documentary filmmaker brains started to spin.

When our series Untold was greenlit at Netflix, and we were given the chance to produce ten different sports documentaries, the 1983 America's Cup was at the top of our list!

What were the hardest bits of archival footage to unearth?

We sourced over 300 hours of archival footage on this story alone, so we really can't complain about anything we couldn't find, because we felt spoiled with what still existed. But it's worth remembering that the technology of cameras in 1983 is far different [than] what we have today— namely, it was difficult to mount 16mm film or tape cameras on boats back then, so we were constantly wishing we had more "on-boat" footage.

By 1987, ESPN started broadcasting the America's Cup, and that was the first year where on-boat cameras became the standard.

What about interviews? Which ones were hard to get and why?

Dennis Conner took some convincing which we understood, namely that he doesn't recall the 1983 competition as fondly as the Australians do, of course. But we knew that you can't tell the story of the '83 loss, without including the remarkable '87 comeback. After interviewing DC, we walked away with a tremendous amount of respect for the man.

Can you talk to us about the challenge of creating a film that is interesting and engaging for a sailing audience while also appealing to non-sailing fans? Was that a hard balance to strike? It was a hard balance, it was even hard to understand things that the actual aeronautical explanation of why the winged keel worked. There's a layman's explanation out there, but even that can get very complicated very fast.

Sailing is also a world with its own vocabulary, so we had some fast learning by spending time with all these sailors. Eventually, we figured that it was better to make the documentary for non-sailing fans, because even if you are a sailing fan you could hopefully still enjoy the documentary. Whereas, I don't think non-sailing fans could enjoy a documentary that only sailors could understand.

What got left on the cutting-room floor? Any interesting gems that you can reveal?

We found some truly amazing footage of JFK attending the 1964 America's Cup, also [of] Bond's vacation development in Australia, Yanchep City, was in some ways his primary motivating factor in wanting to win the America's Cup. Also, we had great archival interviews and footage of the '83 NYYC Defender series, where Dennis Conner was competing with Tom Blackaller and others to be the defending boat.

Wish we could have made a two-hour doc!

The movie does a great job of pulling in the Australian point-of-view, and it has some great interviews with DC, but there’s not a whole lot of perspective from the NYYC brass about the loss. Was this intentional? If so, why?

Wasn't quite intentional, for one, production was a tremendous challenge on this doc. We were filming at the height of the pandemic, and travel was nearly impossible. Also, most of the NYYC brass who were around for the '83 defense, have passed away as well.

If there was one person whom you were not able to interview—for whatever reason—who was involved in the 1983 Cup, and who you think could have added new of different color to the film, who would it be, and why?

Ben Lexcen and Alan Bond would be at the top of the list. We were lucky to interview Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke before he passed, and it would have been amazing if we could have had an American counterweight in President Ronald Reagan.

Is there anything else that you’d like to add, for the record?

This documentary became a huge passion project for us and we're so thankful to the entire community of Newport, the NYYC who allowed us to film inside their clubhouse, and everyone who participated in the doc: John, Dennis, Skip, John Longley, Hughie, Rob, Grant, Rasa, and Bob Hawk.

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