Chad Mumm is the Chief Creative Officer at Vox Studios and the Executive Producer of the Netflix documentary Full Swing. The story of how he got this show made is one of persuasion and perseverance that lasted literal years, and you can read that here. Mumm joined Sam Weinman, Alex Myers, and Shane Ryan for a special bonus episode of “Full Swing Thoughts,” the podcast dedicated to discussing the Netflix show, and what follows is a condensed version of their chat.
This interview was done in early February, and has been edited for length and clarity.
Shane Ryan: Chad, by way of introduction, you are not just a Hollywood big shot; you’re a self-proclaimed golf sicko. This show is something you’ve tried to make happen for years. We’re less than a week from that becoming a reality. So first off, I want to know how you’re feeling right now.
Chad Mumm: I mean, it’s Friday of the Waste Management, so I’m back in Scottsdale, we’ve got our world premiere here on Saturday night, and then the show’s dropping on Netflix on Wednesday the 15th. So I’m feeling good. This thing’s done. It’s delivered. It’s just waiting for you to light up on your Netflix queue. So I’m excited. I can’t wait for people to see it.
Sam Weinman: We watched all eight episodes, and as we watched this, we wanted to know, who did you envision as your audience for this? You know, we’re golf people. Was it us? Was it people who knew nothing about golf? Was it somewhere in between?
Chad Mumm: I think from the beginning, we always wanted to try to use this show to expand the audience for golf. I think it’s surprising that golf hasn’t had a treatment like this before. We were trying to get inside golfers’ heads and understand who they are as people to build stakes for those big competitive moments. That was the goal, and we thought that if we did that right, it would satisfy the golf sickos. But I think the hope was always to do something you could watch with your friend who’s not a golfer, or your spouse. My dream was my aunt calling me, being like, “I love the show. It was great.”
Alex Myers: There’s been a lot of debate over whether LIV Golf was a blessing for you guys or a curse. I wonder where you fall on that.
Chad Mumm: When it first came down, it felt like maybe it was a curse in some ways because we had amazing access. You’ll see in the show Brooks Koepka is somebody that we’ve been working with for the entire history of shooting the show. He was one of the first two interviews we did. He had given us amazing access, along with his fiancee Jena. Same thing with Ian Poulter and Dustin Johnson. We invested a lot of time and resources in sort of telling their stories and we were afraid they’d shut us out.
But they didn’t. And what was really interesting about it was that you have golfers who aren’t really known for being that outspoken about anything, and now they’re being asked these questions about geopolitics and even more importantly, about why they’re even here. Is it to win? Is it for legacy? Has playing the PGA Tour been the dream their whole lives, or is it for money? Is this a business to them or is this passion?
And so that created these really interesting stakes that I think gave the show an extra boost.
Ryan: You told me in Memphis that you were going to depict everything honestly, including the LIV stuff, and if somebody comes off unsympathetic, you’d show them being unsympathetic. Having watched this, we did find that certain people were unsympathetic.
But you may want these guys for season two, or you may want other people for season two who watch the show and go, “Wow, I don’t like the way that guy came off and I did like the way that guy came off.”’ How does that balance work?
Mumm: What we’ve told the players is that if it’s important to them, it’s going to be important to us, and we just want to show up and become flies on the wall, disappear, and see what their lives are like. We didn’t prompt anybody to hang themselves; we just put the cameras on and said, “Why don’t you tell us what you’re thinking right now?”
And you know, we’re not there to editorialize. I’m very proud of the fact that we didn’t shy away from the LIV stuff. We just said, let’s let the players explain, you know?
We weren’t trying to change anyone’s opinion. We were just trying to present it as it was. We can never count on a season two. I hope tens of millions of people watch this show. I hope it becomes the next Drive to Survive. But we can never count on it. All you have is what you have right now. And so our goal is to just make the best possible show in these eight episodes that we have, and take things from there.
Weinman: At some point, you obviously locked in, “We’re gonna follow this guy, we’re gonna follow this guy, we’re gonna get access to this guy.” Then you have to make the decision about how you’re going to structure these episodes. When was that decision made?
Mumm: We started at the beginning of the year. The first thing we do with all these players is an audio interview. We don’t put the cameras on them at the beginning because what we’ve learned is that if you put a camera in front of an athlete, they’re going to go into media training mode. They’re just so used to it, it’s a default for them. But when you take the cameras away and you just have a microphone, and you ask them to come in street clothes and you just sit and you say, “Hey, we’re just gonna ask you who you are and ask you why you play golf and what’s important to you. What are the relationships that matter?” All of that stuff. And that gave us a foundation of these characters, and in February of last year, after we wrapped all those first audio interviews, we just wrote the series and we said, “OK, here’s, 10 episodes that we think could work based on who we know.”
So for the most part, we put it up on the wall and we said, “OK, here’s the structure.” Let’s send out our story teams and you focus on getting beats for those stories and we’ll just see where the chips fall.
Myers: You got very lucky with several of the guys you signed. How many times were you guys like, “Yes, we really hit the jackpot here”?
Going into the Open Championship, we had gone to Rory’s team and basically said, look, he is destined here at St. Andrew’s. And we said, “We’re gonna film you like you’re in the show, and when you win, you’re going to sign and we’re going to have it and it’s going to be great.” So that’s why we had so much Rory there. We just did it. And thankfully, he didn’t tell us to get away. He let us do it, and we thought, “Oh, this is going to be perfect. He’s going to win.”
And then obviously we know what happens. He got beat by two Camerons, and it must be the most confusing, debilitating result of his career. And for him to say yes anyway…
Ryan: Do you have a favorite moment?
Mumm: I mean, that happened so many times this year, that we just looked at each other and pinched ourselves. We must be dreaming. And it happened so much that we started jokingly calling it the Netflix Effect. We would sign a player and then they’d be in the final group, or win a major or win a tournament. And it was like, how does this keep happening to us?
Mumm: I have a special place in my heart for the Matt Fitzpatrick/Dustin Johnson episode. Just from a filmmaking perspective that final round at the US Open was just so cinematic. It was overcast, it was sort of foggy. It looked like a Revolutionary War movie, you know, and you could hear the fans, they were just chirping him all day. The Boston crowds were brutal. And then the final shot, to have enough context to be with somebody for an entire year, to have all that lead up and build up to that one moment where you have to hit a shot to win a major championship, to hit that shot and pull it off was, I think, one of the best shots in U.S. Open history.
Weinman: I want to return to the question I asked earlier about who your audience was. I found myself at times being nitpicky about little details. To what extent did you have to stop yourself from going a little too inside baseball, and saying, “We need to be a little broader here.” And, what was that tension like between satisfying the “golf truth” of this and also making it relatable to everyone?
Mumm: I think that was a tension the whole time. You know, what’s too much detail? What’s too little detail? We spent literally a month arguing about how you define par. Because if you look it up in a dictionary, it’s five sentences long and we only had like 10 words that we could use to put on the screen. So we got into the weeds a little bit on that stuff, which just shows you exactly what we were trying to deal with in terms of explaining this really difficult, weird sport to people who’ve never seen it before.
Millions and millions and millions of people who have never watched golf on TV are going to watch this, and they’re going to need to fall in love with these characters, and they’re going to need to understand what the stakes are. Remember, this is going into 50-something countries. It will be translated into 20-something languages. For those people, this is their introduction to the sport. And so it gets back to basic storytelling. What’s the motivation for this person? What are they trying to overcome, and how are they going to get there? It’s the hero’s journey in every episode.
Myers: What kind of feedback have you gotten from the players who were really heavily involved so far?
Mumm: I’ve invited every player to screen it, and not everybody’s taking me up on it, but when they do, we do it over Zoom like this. I’ll hop on with them and tee it up and give them some context, and then we talk about it afterwards. And the feedback has been really good. And actually, Rory was the last player to watch, and he was very proud and liked it, but he mentioned that he hadn’t watched the Open or anything about it since then, and that it was difficult for him. But he was very complimentary, and I know he must have liked it because I heard from Shane Lowry this week that he keeps talking about the show and how much he enjoyed his episode.
But yeah, most of the guys were excited. And I think that the guys who have seen it are now telling their peers and their friends about it. And my phone’s ringing off the hook, that’s all I’m saying. So if there is a season two, we’re going to have a ton of access.
Ryan: What is the range of outcomes here, Chad? Are you filming with the assumption that you’ll get a season two? What could happen in the next few days here? When will you know?
Mumm: I can neither confirm nor deny that those cameras are our cameras following Max and several other players this week at WM Phoenix Open. But we’re not saying anything publicly right now.
Ryan: Fair enough. Let’s look at Drive to Survive. You can do that show chronologically because it’s all building up to a season-ending points race. Here, though, we come to the PGA Championship multiple times in different episodes, or Phoenix. Was it a tough thing to figure out how to structure this? And how did you arrive at the episodic approach?
Mumm: That was definitely a pivot. We had originally planned on there being a Masters episode and a U.S. Open episode, and all the majors kind of getting an episode, but you can’t guarantee that you get enough story each week to really hang it around an event.
So the hardest conversation was calling the majors and saying, you’re not getting your own episode. You’re going to be sharing it with other episodes. Thank God they understood that, once they saw it and could get that, hey, actually it’s more powerful to see this from different perspectives. So we ended up falling into this character-driven approach where storylines kind of ebb and flow and it’s roughly linear throughout the season, but definitely like some episodes span a whole season, some episodes go back in time.
I think that if we were to do another season of this, we now have the depth of access and the strength of our cast to be able to maybe arc some narratives across multiple episodes. And there’s a little thing that happens at the end of this year that might provide some good competitive stakes for both players from Europe and the United States. That could make for an interesting season-long narrative.
Weinman: We’ve talked about all the things we love. What’s an example of something that you loved and you just couldn’t find a way to shoehorn it into an episode?
Mumm: I’m not going to name names here, but there’s a very well known player that we shot a lot with, and he and his wife gave us a ton of access.
And there’s a scene that they did together where they’re at their house and they drink a bottle of wine together, talking about why it’s so hard to win, and how do you get your game back to the top, and it was just this really honest conversation.
And that player’s story just didn’t really go anywhere. We wanted to use it. But without a major or some kind of big dramatic thing, it doesn’t quite cut it.
So that’s one of those things where we had to put it on the shelf, but assuming that player breaks out again, we can use it. It doesn’t go in the trash.