Alex Trudeau Viriato co-produced and edited Man in the Arena: Tom Brady, which has been streaming weekly on ESPN+ since November 16.
The series documents iconic moments from the legendary quarterback’s 20-year career in the NFL. Each episode deconstructs Brady’s Super Bowl appearances with firsthand accounts from the icon himself. Alex used Premiere Pro and Productions to chronicle Brady’s milestones, combining testimonial interviews as well as previous NFL and Super Bowl footage.
We spoke with Alex to discuss what drew him to the project and his editing workflow.
PH: What has your journey as an editor been like?
Alex Trudeau Viriato: Well, I started later than most. Even though I was editing projects in high school, and watched every movie I could get my hands on at that time — making movies for a living was not a realistic option in my mind. I felt that the film industry was this unattainable profession unless you were part of the select few who lived in Southern California or were part of the Spielberg family.
I went on to get a degree in Business Marketing, tried that job market for a very short period and at that point something clicked — this wasn’t what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I dropped everything, moved to Southern California, and took part in an accelerated film program. I took PA jobs, camera assistant jobs, and would edit different web series’ on the side. That was my life for a couple years, editing anything that came my way. Eventually I started receiving consistent editing opportunities in the branded content world, but I always let my intentions be known, that I truly wanted to be working on series or long form content. Not long after, I got my first opportunity to edit a documentary, which was Unbanned.
PH: Can you share some of the experiences (and/or projects) that you feel have shaped and molded you into the production professional you are currently?
Alex Trudeau Viriato: Editing branded content is where my professionalism took shape. I was able to utilize knowledge from my marketing degree and blend it with my passion for storytelling. Editing has a lot to do with your personality in the chair. How are you interacting with the executives or creative leaders? What’s your attitude and work ethic? Especially when you may not agree with a thought or a note. Being pleasant and kind can go a long way in the edit bay.
My time spent editing Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez might be one of the most impactful experiences of my career. When I took that project, I felt like I had a good handle on my style and ability. The supervising editor, Will Znidaric, challenged me to hone in on the subtext of what I was doing, tapping into the universal themes that could relate to most audiences. He would often ask me “what are we telling the audience with this line” or “what are we saying as filmmakers with this scene.” This was also my first project working with multiple editors. Working with the team at Rock Paper Scissors really provided me the knowledge and experience I would absolutely rely on to be successful with my team on Man in the Arena: Tom Brady.
PH: Your most recent project is a pretty special one—Man in the Arena: Tom Brady. How did you hear about it and what drew you to it?
Alex Trudeau Viriato: After I finished Unbanned, I wanted to stay in long form editing. I loved sitting with interviews for weeks, having more opportunity to form an impactful story. I reached out to editors and producers who were doing work I enjoyed or work that inspired me. I met some incredibly talented people, and one of them was Meg Cirillo, who was a post producer on a Steph Curry documentary at the time. We only met for five minutes, but I immediately knew she was someone I wanted to work with. Almost exactly one year after that conversation, I received an email asking if I would be interested in cutting a series about Tom Brady.
I had just completed back to back docs in the sports world, so I’ll admit I was not instantly drawn to it. Meg stuck with me, and she set up a meeting for me to meet with the creative team, Erik Ledrew and Gotham Chopra. We talked about Tom being a father, his life struggles as someone living on the top, and what might define his character while being considered the greatest football player. It wasn’t a conversation about football, throwing touchdowns, or winning Super Bowls. It was about resilience, relationships, family, and hard work. That’s when I knew that I couldn’t let this project pass me by.
PH: Tom Brady is arguably the best player in NFL history. What approaches did you take when thinking about how to tell his story?
Alex Trudeau Viriato: I honestly didn’t know too much about him beyond that. I enjoy an underdog story, and by the time I became interested in football, he had already won three Super Bowl rings. So, I had rooted against him in multiple Super Bowls. Of course, I did a lot of research on him once I took on the project, but so much of what I learned about him came from the 1-2 hour interviews we did for each episode. Those conversations gave me insight on how he saw his career, teammates, family, and priorities. The plot of the series is: ten episodes, ten Super Bowls. One of the most difficult aspects was creatively figuring out how to make ten unique episodes, when you know he inevitably makes it to the Super Bowl. There is no tension or suspense as to whether or not he makes it. So, as a team we had to figure out what was going to drive the narrative, where would the tension or struggle come from? In the end, I loved that we were faced with that challenge, because we had to look beyond the action and drama of scores and who won the games. We remained focused on his growth and journey as a man who’s played for 20+ years and has accomplished so much. Telling a story about how to balance life, family, and being the greatest of all time.
PH: As an editor, can you share some of your workflow?
Alex Trudeau Viriato: My go to program is Adobe Premiere Pro. It suits my style of editing — the look, feel, movement inside the timeline, and its ability to import multiple media formats quickly. When I begin a project, I organize all the footage, watch the interviews in their entirety, then start writing down ideas and notating sections that stand out for me. From there, I’ll regroup with the team, see what everyone else thought of the material, and find out what we are all attracted to. At that point, I start creating sequences based on the characters or subject. For Man in the Arena, I would build a story from start to finish using only Tom. What was his arch? What did Tom learn or take away from that particular Super Bowl? Most importantly, what is the emotional story we’re telling in this episode? Then I would start to watch archival – either collaborating with our archival producer, Mo Burnham, or simply going rogue on YouTube to find out what the media was saying about him during that time.
Once I feel I have a rough assembly of the story, I’ll send that to the team so we can all get on the same page. It’s good for everyone to know what we have exactly.
In docs you might have an idea to tell a specific story, but depending on the interviews or opinions of others, that story can be shifting till the very end. I tend to write very detailed emails about what we have, and what we don’t have. I’ll voice my opinion on the strongest moments and what we can lean into to make something truly great. As the editor, no one is going to know the footage better than you. So, I feel it’s crucial to have transparency and clear communication as to what we actually captured. From there, the team and I will begin to create the first rough cut. Doesn’t matter how good that cut is, it’s going to be picked and pulled apart for the next few weeks, and rightfully so. This is where a lot of my work with Erik Ledrew came in, molding the story with true intention behind each scene.
At this stage in my career, learning how to address notes is an understated skill. It’s rarely about executing the note exactly as it’s written, but more about understanding why this line or section was standing out. Figuring out what the note is trying to accomplish, then figuring out what some solutions are. Everyone is trying to make the project succeed, so if you adjust the edit and make it better, everyone is going to be happy in the end. (Other times you just do exactly as it’s written and that is the best way or that is the way, regardless if it’s best).
Further down the road after multiple versions, near the end, I always like to watch it on a TV with someone else in the room. When you don’t have a timeline in front of you and you can’t make changes on the fly, it keeps you honest. If an edit isn’t working, I’ll feel it.
PH: What was it like using Adobe Premiere Pro and Productions? What features really stood out to you to help you accomplish what you wanted to tell on the screen?
Alex Trudeau Viriato: Productions was a new product when we started this series. It seemed obvious that if we had ten episodes, then it would make sense to use Productions and essentially break out each of those episodes into a single project within productions. This workflow ended up being fairly seamless. Our team is always in communication, so we’re aware of which assistant editor or editor is working on a specific episode, and you can visually see that represented in Productions. Additionally, I could access archival from each individual episode without having to open a massive master archival folder with irrelevant footage. This was crucial as each episode is discussing a unique Super Bowl.
PH: Can you share any of the challenges you faced?
Alex Trudeau Viriato: Challenges on this project specifically – The project kept growing. Originally I was going to edit this alone, in an office, nine episodes, and 10-12 minutes each. Insert a pandemic, Tom wins another Super Bowl, and ESPN wants this project to increase in size. So instead, I was staring at roughly 10 one-hour episodes, while working from home. The challenge came when I was editing episode three and we finally decided to bring on another editor to take over my rough cut on episode four. I was still going to have my hands in all the episodes as an editor but also as a supervising editor. On any given day I could be completely immersed in editing a single episode, then would step off to watch a scene or rough cut from another episode. Then, provide feedback and notes on where the episodes should go and suggestions on what we could use from our interviews in order to accomplish that.
There simply was never a dull moment. There were always animations to review from our incredible team at Elastic, music to listen to from our composers, while simultaneously still having the later episodes to edit. As I write this, four episodes have aired, and I’m still actively editing episodes eight and nine.
Challenges in my career – I always come back to the same one because it was such a defining moment in my life and career. I was out of film school for about a year, hadn’t really had a chance to edit much, and I was assisting here and there. I couldn’t get editing jobs on big projects because I had never cut a big project… Then my son was born, I was unemployed, and had no real prospects of anyone giving me a chance to edit something substantial. This dream I had of making movies was becoming significantly less important as I struggled to pay rent for an apartment where my newborn could live and be safe. I thought of quitting, often. I thought about getting any job that had steady pay. Instead, I took the gamble, we lived minimally for months, and I kept putting my intentions out there. I knew I could edit, I knew I could tell stories; I just needed the chance. Within the next couple years I was lead editor at Los York, creating branded content for Nike and the Jordan Brand.
PH: How much footage did you have to sift through? There must’ve been tons of testimonials, game footage, etc.! How did you prioritize and select what to showcase?
Alex Trudeau Viriato: After this project, I’d be surprised if there were more than five people on this planet who have watched more Tom Brady footage than me. VHS home videos, cell phone videos, broadcast games, post game interviews, and locker room interviews. I’ve seen it all. The priority was always the interview for each specific episode. That was my foundation. Whatever he was going to talk about in the interview would dictate the story. I would supplement and mold that with archival, stock, or ESPN footage to create a cohesive episode with substance and emotion.
We also made a lot of creative choices in this series. I remember when I was editing episode three, he had a single line that I latched on to, which dictated the visual style for the entire episode, “That success we had wasn’t sustainable, in a way, we couldn’t hold it together much longer.” I pictured Tom trying to keep this team together, like a ship in a storm. In this instance the storm was this dominant team, built on which of them could get the edge. All these extremely talented players coming together at this point in time, to push each other to the absolute maximum of their ability. I started playing around with storm footage: rain, lightning and waves. That became the visual language of episode three, the storm.
PH: Is there a part of the series that you loved seeing most on the screen? What came together the best?
Alex Trudeau Viriato: I love seeing the blending of football with visuals that go beyond the sport. The storm I just talked about is a great example and also my favorite. I love the creative risks we took. In episode one, when Tom is talking about teamwork, it would have been easy to show Michigan players huddled together or motivating one another. Instead, we showed packs of animals working as a team, herds running in unison and birds flying together in fluid motion. I would always ask myself, how can we go beyond football? How can we make this theme relatable to someone who isn’t an NFL quarterback?
PH: What are some of the things you love most about being an editor?
Alex Trudeau Viriato: I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of incredible documentaries that have allowed me to express myself creatively. As the editor you’re looking at a blank canvas. If you surround yourself with the right team, there are plenty of opportunities to tell powerful stories and be as creative as you desire. I enjoy seeing a blank timeline turn into something that has the potential to inspire and cause viewers reevaluate their own life.
PH: (If you can share) what are you looking forward to in the upcoming year? New projects? Life goals?
Alex Trudeau Viriato: Well, in the upcoming year there will be more Man in the Arena. We’re still going strong editing the remaining episodes. What happens if Tom wins again? I don’t know. 11 episodes? 12 episodes?
Life goals – To raise these three boys with my wife, summit more mountains, and possibly return to the directors chair. While editing this project, on the weekends I was also developing a doc series to direct. So we’ll see, I’m very satisfied and excited about where my editing career is headed, but I also enjoy new challenges and experiences.