By now, you’ve surely watched or at least heard about The Dynasty, Apple’s TV’s riveting docuseries chronicling the Patriots’ rise from perennial underachievers to the most dominant franchise of the 21st century. In a saturated streaming space cluttered with aimless content filler, The Dynasty might be the rare project that stands the test of time, casting its complex subjects as tortured souls, burdened by the weight of their greatness. The Dynasty serves as both a fascinating character study and a cautionary tale of ruthless competitors blinded by their own ambition.

As with all great art, The Dynasty has invited countless interpretations. Predictably, New England fans have been the most vocal in their criticism, lamenting the documentary’s unflinching portrayal of Bill Belichick while glossing over key events like the Patriots’ historic, 21-game winning streak, prioritizing cheating scandals and locker-room friction over on-field accomplishments. Of course, that’s merely one side of the coin, an argument shared by some but not all, further illustrating the highly subjective nature of filmmaking, a limitless medium accounting for many different tastes and perspectives.

No stranger to the documentary space (he was the brains behind Tiger, released in two installments on HBO), director Matthew Hamachek recently sat down for an exclusive interview with Awful Announcing, sharing his narrative vision for The Dynasty while detailing his process in documenting one of the most talked-about teams in sports history.

*This interview has been edited for length and clarity

This is your second sports documentary following HBO’s Tiger. What drew you to football—and the Patriots, specifically—as a subject and how was this project similar or different to your experience documenting Tiger Woods?

Hamachek: What initially got me started on the project was the author who had written the book Tiger that inspired the documentary also wrote The Dynasty, which was sort of the jumping-off point for this one. His name is Jeff Benedict. He also produced this and produced Tiger as well.

I think every project I work on has a central question or theme that I’m trying to get at. This one came from [former Patriots football research director) Ernie Adams. One of our first interactions, it was an audio interview we did, and he said something to the effect of, “Every team at the beginning of the year says they want to win the Super Bowl, but not every team is willing to do what it takes to get there.” When he said that, that was the moment where I was like, “Okay, that’s the question we’re going to be trying to answer for the next two and a half years.” What does it take to get there and what are the sacrifices? The good, the bad and everything in between. I think that question is kind of what drew me to the Patriots’ story and made this something more than just a story about a football team.

With Tiger, there wasn’t as much of a light-bulb moment. It was really centered around the speech that his father gave at the 1996 Collegiate Golf Awards when he talks about all these things his son is going to bring to the world. It seemed like this obvious story to tell where Tiger was a blank canvas and everybody around him—the public, his father, even himself to a degree—wanted to paint something onto the canvas and use Tiger to become something else.

You had some big-name producers attached to this project including Ron Howard. What was his level of involvement?

Hamachek: Ron was not as involved as Brian Grazer and Justin Wilkes were. Ron watched cuts and had feedback, but I think Justin Wilkes was probably the most hands-on of everybody there, as well as Meredith Kaulfers, who is in the doc division. Brian I met with a few different times. We were a couple months into the project and he wanted to Zoom with me. Brian wanted to make sure there was something bigger than just the football part of the story and just wanted to talk through it with me and hear all my thoughts.

Over my left shoulder, I have a photo of [Alfred] Hitchcock. The thing that we’re talking about is what’s the MacGuffin that kind of drives the plot along? In Tiger’s case, it was golf. In this one, it was football. But really there’s this much bigger story that we’re trying to chase. Hitchcock, he always had these devices that kept the plot going along. In [The Dynasty], football was the device and the quest for championships, the wins and losses were what drove the plot. But really it was a deeper study of what it takes to obtain greatness. That was always our North Star.

You were granted extraordinary access, with cooperation from Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, Robert Kraft, Rob Gronkowski, Roger Goodell and others. Was anyone unwilling to participate and were any of your interview subjects omitted from the final cut?

Hamachek: There were a couple people, like Eric Mangini, for example, that we reached out to because it was important for me to make sure, because of how central a role he played at the beginning of Episode 4, which was the Spygate episode, and also because he was part of the early dynasty, that I just wanted to interview him and give him a chance to comment. He didn’t have any interest in participating.

There were definitely some people on the cutting-room floor like Rodney Harrison, who was fantastic. He came in after the first Super Bowl and was really part of the second and third. Because we felt like we were going to move over those [years] a little bit faster, he was unfortunately on the cutting-room floor. There were a few people like that.

That actually leads me to my next question. One criticism I’ve noticed from Patriots fans is that the documentary glosses over New England’s historic winning streak during the 2003 and 2004 seasons, choosing instead to focus on scandals like Spygate, Deflategate and Aaron Hernandez. Personally, I disagree because, from a storytelling perspective, I don’t think that’s what documentaries are made for. If I wanted to watch Tom Brady throw touchdowns to Randy Moss, I could just pull up the highlights on YouTube. As a filmmaker, how do you strike the right balance between giving Patriots fans the nostalgia they want and crafting a coherent and compelling story?

Hamachek: Yeah, it’s an interesting thing. If you talk to non-Patriots fans, I think they look at this and say there’s an overflow of nostalgia and highlights and celebration of the Patriots. That’s one thing I’ve gotten from people. You really don’t spend too much time worrying about what someone else wants to see. The idea of telling a story is what’s this larger thing you’re trying to do? The study of people, how they accomplish something and how it falls apart. So you don’t really ever spend time worrying about something like the 21-game win streak.

I was shocked by it when people were upset. I understand it, as a fan. I think I was surprised by it because it’s just something that really never crossed our minds. We had shown the culture that Bill Belichick and Tom Brady and everybody had created there, which was this perfect, team-first environment. But then when Scott Pioli told me he was standing on the podium after that third Super Bowl win and this addiction to winning and what it took, and when you lost it got dark, it seemed like the perfect point to pivot.

In my review for Awful Announcing, I quoted a tweet from Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer, who opined that the documentary’s interview subjects seemed to have their own individual agendas, “score-settling” for fear of having their narrative shaped by someone else. Would you agree with that assessment and how hard or easy was it to get participants to open up, giving honest answers to some of the more difficult questions that were asked of them?

Hamachek: We were talking about Tiger before. You know we didn’t [interview] Tiger. We didn’t have his inner circle for that one, but the process is very similar in terms of going to people and asking them to talk. I think in both cases, whether it was Tiger’s high-school girlfriend or Adam Vinatieri, both of them took time to build up trust and they had questions like, “Is this going to be a puff piece? Is this a hit piece?” I told them, “No, it’s something in between.”

What I have always felt, whether it’s the Patriots or Tiger, is that you’re never really sitting in judgement of anything or anyone. You’re not there saying this is right or wrong. It’s listening to the people that were close to the subjects and the question you’re trying to get at and letting them answer it. It’s not necessarily saying that I disagree with the way somebody has done something or I’m sitting here in judgment of it. It’s more, this is what it took or these are the things that people wanted to put on Tiger. It’s just a study or an observation of those things.

I was struck by Belichick’s rigid posture throughout the documentary, coming off as stiff and unapproachable. We know how difficult it is to crack Belichick, who is famously standoffish toward the media. How reluctant was he to participate and what has your reaction been to critics who feel the documentary paints him in an unflattering light, at least relative to Kraft and Brady?

Hamachek: I never really thought of it as me being judgmental, which I think is how people sort of took it, that I was being judgmental of him as a person or the things he did. I wasn’t, and I think if you look at the first five episodes of the series, in a lot of ways, there is so much praise of Belichick and the system that he created and what he was able to do. Especially in Episode 5, when the greatest quarterback of all time goes away, what he’s able to do in his absence.

There was a piece of archive where somebody says, “I’m starting to wonder what can’t Bill Belichick do.” The first half of the series is really a love letter to him and how he did it. Even in Spygate, I think the lens through which we told that story was deeply sympathetic to him, where we go into the idea of him feeling betrayed by this person who had been his pupil and mentee for so many years, and you see the players literally and figuratively put their arm around Belichick.

I was talking to somebody on the coaching staff after the first few [episodes] had aired, and they said to me, that line from Tom, where he says, “I could never be the player that I am today without Coach Belichick,” as a coach, there is literally no better sentence that could be said about you when somebody like Tom Brady says that.

I’ve seen a few people suggest that maybe there’s extra interview of him. There isn’t. I think he has the least amount that’s on the cutting-room floor of anybody we interviewed.

You’ve been adamant Robert Kraft had no creative control over the final product. Was any thought given to including or at least mentioning his massage parlor incident, or would it have felt inorganic to the larger storyline? 

Hamachek: With Tiger, that project obviously delves deeply into his personal life. We covered how he met his high-school girlfriend and what that was like and how we met his wife, and how that ended. That entire two-part series was about his personal life. With this one, I just didn’t really have any interest in going into any of their personal lives.

We don’t really discuss Giselle [Bündchen] and Tom meeting at all. Any time she’s mentioned it’s really only in the context of something else that’s going on within the football part of the story, and by that, I mean the larger question that we’re trying to answer. Robert’s wife of however many decades is only mentioned once in the entire series when Aaron Hernandez donates a check to her charity. With Bill, his first wife is only mentioned one time. He had his own set of tabloid things that happened but we don’t really talk about that stuff at all. In general, this story is not concerned with their personal lives and we just didn’t cover any of it.

Many forget that before Brady became the face of their decades-long dynasty, the Patriots already had a franchise quarterback in Drew Bledsoe. The documentary has been praised for its portrayal of Bledsoe, who was arguably the most successful quarterback in team history before Brady supplanted him in 2001. How important was it for you to give Bledsoe a platform to tell his story and how he sacrificed his ego for the good of the team?

Hamachek: I think some people, even when they praise something like that, they’re assuming that I was deciding to praise him intentionally. Tedy Bruschi said the line in his interview, “Bledsoe could have done a lot of things that year, and I think that’s when the Patriot Way really started.” And he’s talking about that right before they go to the Super Bowl.

And just like those lines with [Devin] McCourty and [Matthew] Slater in Episode 9 sort of shaped that entire episode, it was like, “Episode 3 is going to be the episode where it’s all about the formation of the Patriot Way.” There’s this reverse engineering where that line really shaped the entire way that episode was cut and Drew, as an extension of that, I think was accurately shown to be this person who put something aside for the greater good.

My takeaway from the documentary is that success changes people by creating an unrealistic expectation, a standard of perfection that would ultimately be the Patriots’ undoing. Brady, Belichick and to a lesser extent Kraft all seem like very different people than who they were when the Patriots began their dynasty in 2001. Was that a conscious storytelling choice and, if not, how did you intend the Patriots—particularly Brady, Belichick and Kraft—to be portrayed?

Hamachek: This was an examination of what it takes to accomplish greatness. I think that brings out a lot of different sides of people. Part of what happens in that study is that yes, sometimes success does change people, but that’s not the only thing we examined. I’m not at all trying to compare anything that we have accomplished to what these people have accomplished. But I think that in the pursuit of trying to make a really good series, I probably relate a lot more to that maniacal drive and desire to find perfection in the tiniest drops. I think all of us on this project have sacrificed a lot and been away from family. I just think in the process of making anything, there’s a difference between however good you can get something and where it could be if you didn’t just absolutely kill yourself to get to that place. I relate to their pursuit of it, even if I can never relate to the greatness they accomplished.

That’s why [Brady and Belichick] worked so well together. They were almost twins looking at each other in the mirror in an odd way. These are two of the most driven human beings on the face of the planet. In Brady, Belichick found this person who, for so long, was willing to subjugate his ego for the betterment of this idea of team first. And in Belichick, Brady found this person who could, like Tedy Bruschi says, it’s the wet towel thing in Episode 5, which is part of Belichick’s genius. Bruschi says, “I’m the wet towel and Belichick are the hands wringing the talent out of me.” I think Brady is probably the most driven human being on the planet, and somehow he found the one coach who could wring the last few droplets of water that were left in him.

The breakup, obviously, is remarkable and interesting. But more remarkable is the fact they couldn’t have found two better people to partner with for what they wanted to accomplish. That it lasted so long is equally amazing.

About Jesse Pantuosco

Jesse Pantuosco joined Awful Announcing as a contributing writer in May 2023. He’s also written for Audacy and NBC Sports. A graduate of Syracuse’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications with a master’s degree in creative writing from Fairfield University, Pantuosco has won three Fantasy Sports Writers Association Awards. He lives in West Hartford, Connecticut and never misses a Red Sox, Celtics or Patriots game.