Ryan Coogler and Erick Payton Explore the Life and Times of Steph Curry in ‘Underrated’

In anticipation of the upcoming sports documentary, Stephen Curry: Underrated, I had the chance to have a sit down with the film’s executive producers, Ryan Coogler and Erick Payton, to discuss the intricacies of the year-plus long shoot, what makes this a unique documentary among others in its class, and their views on the legacy of Steph Curry as well as his impact on the game.

“It’s nice when somebody comes and they have a narrative approach and a timeline and opinions,” said Coogler on teaming up with co-producer Erick Payton to begin the project, “you can tell they had put some thought into it before taking it off. And when Erick got into the vision for it, I got really excited!”

“It’s easy enough to have an idea, but when you run it by a filmmaker of [Ryan’s] class, it’s like ‘Okay, when he gets excited, there’s some momentum behind it,’” Payton followed up.

As this is a much more intimate look at Steph Curry than we’ve seen before, I was curious to know what aspect of his life did the duo feel was absolutely most important to capture.

“It’s really about Pete Nicks, the director, right? He kind of steers that vision,” Payton elaborated. “But for me, in those beginning conversations, I really wanted people to see him with his family, and how he focuses on everything that’s really in front of him.”

“I think that it kind of speaks to the title — and Pete’s vision of the film,” Coogler explained when contemplating how Curry’s style of play changed the dynamics of modern basketball. “I think the three-point shot was an overlooked tool in the game of basketball before Steph really came and started shooting it the way that he did. Now all of a sudden, you’ll see that each team has a player that you have to deal with once you cross half court. And I think that Steph — and not just his prolific nature, but the winning that came along with it — Golden State’s dominance started with that 2015 championship.”

“But really if you’re a real basketball fan, you can see it coming before that… and now it’s been exposed! Now you’ve got [Nikola] Jokic doing step-back threes, you know what I mean? Now it’s a piece of everyone’s game where if you don’t have it, you’re looked at as being incomplete.”

“Steph gave us a lot of access,” Payton recalled about the production process. “The film, we shot it over a year, so you can imagine all the moments that we just weren’t able to use. I think that Pete Nicks did a great job with J.D. [Marlow] just allowing objectives to have breath… A lot of times, these sports stories, you have to look at them in a different light because there’s been quite a bit of them. And I think this one… you can see that filmmaking approach behind this film.”

Touching on what surprised them during assembling the archival clips, Coogler revealed: “One thing that did come up was the NBA footage and how expensive it is! How once you go over, I believe, a certain percentage, you get hit with a whole other price tier that just makes it not even worth doing — it would’ve just wiped our budget out. So Pete and J.D. Always had it in their minds, ‘Okay, we can only use the NBA footage sparingly.’ Even when we go to film at NBA stadiums, we gotta use it sparingly. And I think that actually helped with the process because it helps you focus on the other things. It helps you focus on the footage of his family or footage of Davidson, and the NBA footage comes in in sprinkles — and when it comes in it’s special!”

And what would they like viewers to ultimately take away from the viewing?

“This film is about the power of being seen,” Coogler concluded. “Even though it’s called Underrated, the movie covers people who didn’t underrate Steph and saw the value in him… And I truly think fortune favors people who can see what’s there, as opposed to whine about what’s not or overlook somebody for what they aren’t, as opposed to buying into what they are. And Steph is a testament to that.”

Stephen Curry: Underrated is streaming now on Apple TV+.