How ‘Untold’ Landed Manti Te’o, the Catfish of the Sports World

Chapman and Maclain Way tell IndieWire how they got Manti Te'o to go from "a hard 'No, no, no, no, no, no'" to a two-part "Untold" documentary.
Manti Te'o in Netflix's "Untold: Volume 2"
Manti Te'o in Netflix's "Untold: Volume 2"

MTV’s “Catfish” never had an episode with the drama that surrounded former Notre Dame football standout Manti Te’o, the Hawaiian-born linebacker infamously duped into believing his longtime girlfriend, whom he never met in person, died just ahead of the 2013 BCS National Championship Game. It was a tabloid story that left many wanting the real truth, but it took Chapman and Maclain Way’s Netflix documentary series “Untold” to reveal it.

“It’s obviously been a white whale in the sports world,” Chapman told IndieWire of the Manti episode, “The Girlfriend Who Didn’t Exist.” The Ways, with directors Ryan Duffy and Tony Vainuku, captured a many-hours-long interview with the former linebacker (and many more hours with his catfisher). “He’s always been a hard ‘No, no, no, no, no, no.'”

Until now, now, now, now, now, now. What changed?

“I think [it was] the release of Volume 1 and seeing the Mardy Fish episode and how open and vulnerable he was about a difficult topic,” Chapman said of the former pro tennis player who struggled with mental health and anxiety. “I think for a lot of athletes it’s been like, ‘Wow, there is a nuanced way to tell my story with thought and care that’s different than just a print interview.'”

Fish shared his struggle in 2021’s excellent “Untold: Breaking Point,” which the Ways also directed. (By the Way, there’s a third brother: Brocker Way, the oldest of the flock, scores “Untold.”)

Another thing that helped the Ways convince Te’o, was Te’o. “I think he felt like ‘I just got married, I just had a kid, my NFL career is kind of winding down,'” Chapman said over Zoom. “‘People ask me about this literally once a week — I get some request, some radio interview, some documentary interview.’ And I think he was like, ‘I just want to get one full, definitive interview on this that tells the entire story and I can put it to bed and move on.'”

Untold: The Race of the Century
“Untold: The Race of the Century”Netflix

Chapman and Maclain Way are clearly sports fans, but they’re in it for the characters and the story — and hope viewers are, too. The only “Untold” Vol. 2 installment directed by Chapman and Maclain is “Race of the Century,” which tells the story of a scrappy group of Aussies who snapped 132 years of sailing wins by the New York Yacht Club. The brothers learned about the yacht race when Chapman attended the 2014 Newport Film Festival for their debut feature, Netflix doc “The Battered Bastards of Baseball.”

While strolling America’s Cup Ave. in Newport, the woman running the film festival explained the street name like so: “In 1983, this damn group of Aussies came over here and stole the Cup from us.” From his Australian agent, Maclain learned that the landmark victory served as the birth of culture for the Australian content. With more than 1,000 hours of archival footage, the “Untold” episode about a boat race that took up more server space than any other Way bros. project — including their six-part, Emmy-winning series “Wild Wild Country.”

“In America, outside of Newport, we’d tell people we’re doing this documentary and they’d be like ‘Never heard of it, but sounds cool,'” Maclain said. “And then you go to Australia and they’re like, ‘You’re doing that story again?!'”

“Untold” topics range from the very known to the nearly unknown, like the minor-minor league hockey team the Danbury Trashers, stars of “Untold” Vol. 1 highlight “Crimes and Penalties.” The brothers said they maintain a long Microsoft Word document with more than 100 topics, the vast majority of which they’ll never do. “The only criteria is, as the subject, you have to be willing to give a warts-and-all, sit down, raw, vulnerable interview… it’s not for you to build your brand as an athlete,” Chapman said.

“There’s also an element of, like, it’s gotta pass — this sounds arrogant — a couple layers of kicking the tires,” Maclain added. “We definitely run across stories where we think it’d be interesting, but for some reason or not, you’re just like, ‘Dude, I’m not gonna arm-twist the main guy.’ It won’t be an interesting interview and it’s not compelling anyway, so that goes off the list.”

Tim Donaghy in "Untold: Volume 2" episode "Operation Flagrant Foul"
Tim Donaghy in “Untold: Volume 2” episode “Operation Flagrant Foul”Netflix

Filmmaker brothers are increasingly common, from Jay and Mark Duplass (whose Duplass Brothers Prods. executive produced “Wild Wild Country”), the Russo Brothers’ “The Gray Man,” and the Duffer Brothers’ record-breaking “Stranger Things: Volume 4.”  (Maclain offered that we’re “really scraping the bottom of the barrel including the Ways in that tradition;” we are not.) What does a brother bring to the table?

“The boring answer is these things are so fucking hard to make, so to have someone with you in the foxhole that you trust, you see the world similarly, you have similar tastes with, you get along with them — [it’s] a real privilege to have,” Chapman said. “The great thing about working with your brother is you can have a brutally honest knockdown fight in the edit bay, and you’re there at 8 a.m. the next morning with bagels and coffee like nothing ever happened. With someone else, you’re like, ‘Shit, are they gonna leave the project? Are they quitting?'”

Don’t quit on us, fam — we need Untold Vols. 3 and 4 and 5. For now, “Untold: Volume 2” will roll out over five consecutive Tuesdays: Parts 1 and 2 of “The Girlfriend Who Didn’t Exist,” directed by Ryan Duffy and Tony Vainuku, are currently available on Netflix; next Tuesday, August 23, is “Untold: The Rise and Fall of And1” directed by Kevin Wilson Jr.

Tuesday the 30th will premiere David Terry Fine’s “Untold: Operation Flagrant Foul” about NBA referee Tim Donaghy’s gambling scheme; the Way boys’ “Untold: Race of the Century” brings up the stern on Tuesday, September 6.

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