Director: Showtime documentary on EMU's Greg Kelley 'one of biggest challenges of my career'
Pat Kondelis has produced some impactful documentaries over the years, including "The Scheme," which chronicled the crookedness of college athletics, with Saginaw's Christian Dawkins as a main player.
But Kondelis said he's done nothing more rewarding than Showtime's "Outcry," a five-part series that was released in June and tells the story of Eastern Michigan's newest football player, Greg Kelley.
Kelley was accused and convicted of child molestation, and spent more than three years in prison until a group of advocates successfully worked to exonerate him.
Kondelis was right there just about every step of the way during the lengthy legal battle, starting in May 2017.
"It's very rewarding," said Kondelis, any Emmy-winning director and producer (he did both on "Outcry"). "Now I don't have to worry about being accused of being biased, or anything like that. Done is done. We captured it, I think, very objectively.
"It's incredibly rewarding how positive everybody's reaction is to Greg. That's amazing."
Kondelis is creative director at Bat Bidge Entertainment in Austin, Texas, or Williamson County, where the Kelley saga played out starting in the summer 2013.
But despite the story making tons of headlines, Kondelis wasn't overly aware of it until he attended the South by Southwest (SXSW) film festival in Austin in March 2017.
It was there that someone told Kondelis he should look into it.
By May, he was sitting in Kelley's family home, with Kelley's mom, Rosa, one of Kelley's brothers, Kelley's future in-laws, and several supporters. There was a semicircle, Kondelis recalled, him in the middle selling them on the project.
But he didn't have to do much selling. At this point, Kelley was more than two years into a 25-year prison term, with no chance of parole or appeal.
"They were desperate. They wanted any attention, any help they could find," Kondelis said. "They were in a very dark place at that time, and were thinking the time is ticking away.
"It looked like there was no progress happening on their side.
"All of them said yes right away."
Kelley had a lot of advocates, including the man who started everything in motion, Jake Brydon, and lawyer, Keith Hampton.
But Kondelis wasn't one of those advocates. He was a reporter, looking to tell the truth, wherever that led. And he wasn't always convinced, at least from the beginning, that it would lead to good news for Kelley.
"It was a haunting case," Kondelis said. "Haunting is the best word. I couldn't stop thinking about it. I had no idea what was going to happen.
"There was no light at the end of the tunnel."
Kelley, for his part, wanted the documentary done to tell his side of history, especially if things didn't work out.
"I knew I needed this to happen," Kelley said. "We fought for many, many years for the truth to come forward. At the end of the day, I knew I always had this documentary to show the world."
The big key, besides getting the family on board, was getting Hampton to agree, Kondelis said. It was his case, he had one shot to get Kelley out, and he had to be convinced the Kondelis project was worth his time — and possibly reputation, if Kelley never got out.
Kondelis agreed not to release the documentary until after the final decision.
Kelley's conviction was overturned in November 2019, and the documentary dropped this June, to rave reviews. It has a 100% freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Kondelis met Kelley in prison twice. Two things stuck out: His initial impression, Kelley's sheer size physically; and then Kelley's willingness to directly answer all questions. Their first meeting was pleasant if not a bit awkward; the second time was much more tense — as Kondelis had to ask Kelley about just-released evidence that might hurt his case, evidence Kelley didn't know about.
"He was not happy about it," Kondelis said. "He was in a very uncomfortable position, literally in a cage and he can't do anything about it.
"He still handled it a hell of a lot better than I think most people would've."
Kondelis shot more than 180 hours of film during the project, interviewing dozens of subjects, including most of the key players — though several officials refused to be interviewed, despite numerous attempts.
Among the most-riveting interviews was Cedar Park police chief Sean Mannix, who adamantly defended his department's actions, despite evidence that the investigation was shoddy at best and corrupt at worst. Kondelis was taken aback by Mannix's bluntness, but appreciated he spoke when others wouldn't.
Like any good investigative journalist, Kondelis filed dozens and possibly hundreds of requests under The Freedom of Information Act without having to rely just on interviews.
Kondelis went into the project with an open mind but did eventually settle on his belief of Kelley's innocence.
"It was one of the biggest challenges of my career, and I pretty much refused to land on anything — guilty or innocent — as long as I could possibly do that," said Kondelis, whose other credits include a Patty Hearst documentary series for CNN and "Disgraced," a Showtime documentary on the murder of a Baylor college basketball player. "I was incredibly cautious, as was my team, and we're very comfortable we exhausted every piece of evidence.
"When I allowed myself to come to the conclusion, I don't remember exactly as far as the timeline.
"But it was not premature. It was not something I came to quickly."