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How did the new Wilt Chamberlain docuseries come to use A.I. for his voice and shadow puppets to tell his story?

Amin Elhassan and Charlotte Wilder speak with the co-directors of “Goliath” about the new Showtime docuseries on the NBA legend.

Amin Elhassan and Charlotte Wilder were joined on the latest episode of Oddball by Rob Ford and Christopher Dillon, the co-directors and producers of GOLIATH, a three-part documentary series about Wilt Chamberlain on Showtime.

Amin asked about the decision to use A.I. to synthesize Wilt’s voice to say Wilt’s actual words.

Dillon said they wanted to give Wilt that opportunity and obviously since Wilt has passed they didn’t have the opportunity to sit down and ask him about the things they wanted to talk about, including his personal life since this isn’t just a basketball documentary. So they hit on the idea of forgoing a narrator and instead letting Wilt speak for himself through his writings and quoted texts. First, they tried text on screen, then they cast a voice actor but since the technology exists, they had the opportunity to morph the actor’s voice and performance into Wilt’s voice.

Ford said that once you hear his voice it became really, really personal. He said they shared the concept of what they wanted to do with Wilt’s family. Initially, since the tech is still so new, they may not have fully grasped what it was but they were on board, but once they actually heard it for a lot of them it may have been hard to distinguish between the real thing from the A.I. voice, which Dillon said was a testament to the voice actor as well since he worked on a performance of Wilt and Wilt’s rhythms. Dillon also noted that if the family had not wanted to do the A.I. voice they would have gone with just the performance.

Charlotte admits she went in a bit skeptical about the A.I., but she was so impressed with how it brought the story to life. She also was impressed with how much the shadow puppets brought the story to life, as well as giving a very distinct feel. She said they were so effective and really made her feel like she was in those scenes. Ford said that initially, their goal was to have the entire film be archive driven. But when they started researching and looking for footage, they found it did not exist in the volume needed to live in that for the duration of the film. And in the course of their interviews, they found that the best stories had literally nothing in the way of archival footage or photos. So, Ford says they discussed a number of different ways to illustrate the stories — including b-roll, animation and hiring a 7-foot actor — but it came down to determining what they could do within their budget and time available. The cutout shadow puppets became something really special, Ford said, with everything being a very conscious decision, including the notion that Wilt was always tethered to the world where he was having an external dialogue of accept me, love me, see me as human, which was something that was super important to him.


Damian & Goliath

  • Harden to the Clippers? Dr. J throws shade on Durant and that NBA memo to all 30 teams about Dame’s trade request? TLDR. Amin & Charlotte take a crack at the NBA headlines from the weekend. Oh, and don’t worry, Thanasis is back with the Bucks and there’s still time for NBA Reddit. Later on, Oddball welcomes Rob Ford and Christopher Dillon, the directors and producers of GOLIATH, a three-part documentary series examining the historic life, career and impact of Wilt Chamberlain. GOLIATH is now available on demand and on streaming platforms for Paramount+ and SHOWTIME subscribers.

Watch more below!


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