Let’s get something straight: Sheena M. Joyce and Don Argott are excellent parents. They’re particularly excellent Philly parents. Case in point: Immediately after the Eagles won the Super Bowl, they took their toddler to Broad Street to celebrate.
“We weren’t half a block from our front door before this very drunken 20-something came running up to us and got six inches away from our daughter’s face, crying, and screamed, ‘YOU’RE GONNA REMEMBER THIS FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE!’” Joyce says.
Nearby, a woman paraded around with a massive Eagles sheet cake, passersby helping themselves to green and white frosted fistfulls. (Like all excellent Philly parents, the couple took their four-year-old home around the time folks started setting off firecrackers — in their hands. “That’s good parenting right there!” Argott says proudly.)
Their daughter’s Eagles indoctrination does not make it into Kelce, the filmmaking duo’s latest project about the Birds’ beloved captain, Jason Kelce, premiering on Amazon on September 12. But it could have, given that the movie — executive produced by, among others, former Eagle great Connor Barwin and co-produced by The Citizen’s co-founder Larry Platt — is the ultimate Valentine to our city, to our teams, to our fans, and to each other.
“This film is a love story,” Joyce says. “It’s a love story between a team and a city. It’s a love story between Philadelphia and Jason Kelce. It’s a love story between Jason and [his wife] Kylie. It’s a love story between Travis [Kelce] and Jason. It’s all about love and celebration and family, and why we do things, and doing things for the right reasons. Even if you’re not an Eagles fan, you’re going to be a fan of this film, and of Jason and Kylie in particular.”
A very Philly love story
Just as Kelce is a Philly love story, so too is the relationship between Argott and Joyce, who met in the early 2000s. Joyce was working as the assistant to Sharon Pinkenson, the legendary executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Film Office. Argott, meanwhile, had graduated from The Art Institute in 1995 and went into business with a classmate, focusing mostly on commercial film projects. They’d see each other at film events and around town, their friendship evolving into a relationship over the course of several years.
When Argott’s business partner moved to L.A., Argott stayed here, and found himself bursting with pent-up creativity after seven years spent on less artistic projects. “I wanted to do a doc about this! A doc about that,” he recalls. “I wanted to make a record!” A punk rock and heavy metal kid, music has always been a part of Argott’s life. (In a full-circle moment, Jarred Alterman, who played bass in Argott’s band, Pornosonic, became the director of photography on Kelce and Rob Giglio, the drummer, works at NFL Films and was Kelce’s colorist.)
He’d come home every night with the new best idea — over and over again, Joyce says. But one day he came home more excited than ever, telling Joyce about the wheatpasted posters he’d seen around town for the Paul Green School of Rock Music (now the Paul Green Rock Academy).
“It’s all about love and celebration and family, and why we do things, and doing things for the right reasons. Even if you’re not an Eagles fan, you’re going to be a fan of this film.” — Sheena Joyce
Philly being Philly — and 2003 being 2003 — Argott looked up Green in the phone book and gave him a call. Green invited him to meet the next day. Three days later, Argott was back at the school, filming what was to become Rock School. Joyce spent evenings and weekends helping with the film, eventually becoming so involved that she left her job, and the couple decided to start a new company together, 9.14 Pictures. (Rock School is also when they started working with filmmaker Demian Fenton, who’s been an integral part of their success – and an integral part of another Argott band, Serpent Throne.)
“I think Don’s a creative genius,” Joyce says. “When it comes to anything artistic, he will knock it out of the park, whether that’s still photography or his cinematography or music. He just has an eye and a fearlessness that I don’t have. I’ve always admired that. He really does not give a shit about what other people think.”
Argott throws the love right back. “Before Sheena, I’d never been in a relationship with such a strong woman. And being with Sheena has made me more empathetic and more sensitive. I’ve always kind of been that way, but Sheena helped magnify that aspect in me.”
That doesn’t mean they don’t fight. “I think it’s challenging to be in this business. It’s challenging to be a couple, period — no matter what your industry is,” Joyce says. “We do fight, all of the time. I will get accused of blocking the creativity and he will get accused of being a bull in a china shop. So we have to meet in the middle. And ultimately we laugh more than we fight — and we laugh, all the time.”
A bullshit-free bond
They’ve now been a couple for 21 years and had the business for 20. Through it all, they’ve remained possibly the least Hollywood filmmakers you’ll meet, particularly given how prolific they’ve been over the last two decades.
If you missed Rock School, you might know any number of their other projects: The Art of the Steal, which explored the power struggles behind moving The Barnes from Merion to the Parkway; Spector, about Phil Spector’s murder conviction and the woman who died at his hands. There’s Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time, Framing John Delorean, The Bond, and many more.
In addition to Kelce, in September they’ll debut Thick Skin, a four-part documentary for AMC aimed at desitgmatizing obesity — a zeitgeisty project given the nation’s fixation with weight loss drugs like Ozempic.
But Hollywood has just never appealed to them. “People will ask us why do you live in Philly?” Don says. “And we’re like because it’s fucking awesome, that’s why. You live in L.A., you don’t get it. You live in NY, you don’t get it. But stay there — we’re good here.”
It’s likely their bullshit-free ethos that bonded Argott and Joyce so quickly to the equally-unpretentious Kelce family.
“The things that define the Eagles, and Jason Kelce in particular, are work ethic, accessibility, and heart. Those are the things that Jason embodies and that Don and I have tried to cultivate in our company,” Joyce says. “Don and I both come from very lower-middle class backgrounds, grew up very blue collar, had wonderful opportunities to be with all kinds of people.”
In Kelce, Jason’s wife, Kylie, emerges as the hero. And she might have never appeared in the film at all, had it not been for the bond she formed with Joyce.
“She was hesitant in the beginning to participate, but we just had a very easy connection. We’re both Irish girls, we both grew up Irish dancers, we’re both moms, and we just hit it off,” Joyce says.
“It was all about trust, and it has to be,” Argott says. “That’s the only way you can get anything that resembles anything real, is if people are honest and open with you in the most vulnerable times. We don’t pretend to think we’re invisible — we know that they know there are cameras — but I think we built a really strong bond early on.”
Drinking the Kool-Aid
Joyce, a Delco native who went to Cardinal O’Hara High School and then Bryn Mawr College, grew up with the Birds. Back when they held training camp at West Chester University, her dad would take her to practices to watch Randall Cunningham. Her mom still calls her during games to make sure she caught the latest play. “I grew up on the Kool-Aid,” she says.
Argott, a transplant from North Jersey who identified with the Raiders (“The colors were the coolest to a disaffected, young, angsty teen”) over the Jets or Giants, was a later convert. He watched Philly and the Eagles flourish in tandem before his eyes. “Back in 1993, I was held up at gunpoint on Market Street, across from Hard Rock Cafe,” he recalls. “Now, everybody’s coming around like Oh Philly’s really cool! It’s like yeah, we know, asshole, we knew this all along. You didn’t.”
“People will ask us why do you live in Philly? And we’re like because it’s f**king awesome, that’s why.” — Don Argott
They hadn’t set out to pursue Kelce — it sort of came to them. Two years ago, when Kelce was contemplating retirement, Andy Greenblatt, CEO and co-Executive Director of the Philadelphia Film Society, introduced him to the filmmakers. At that time, Kelce was interested in exploring what it means when you’ve had a singular purpose and someone takes that purpose away from you, or you decide you can’t do that anymore. What does that look like, and who am I?
No one was exactly sure if there was a story there. But Argott and Joyce and the Kelces hit if off, figured they’d start filming and see where it led.
Where it led: To Jason deciding to play. To Jason and his brother, Travis, star tight end of the Kansas City Chiefs, announcing at an event in Sea Isle City and broadcast on WIP — on the first official day when Argott and Joyce were filming! — that they wanted to meet each other in the Super Bowl. To both teams actually making it to the Super Bowl! To The Kelce brothers’ instantly-successful podcast, New Heights with Jason and Travis Kelce, and the national outpouring of adoration for the Kelce parents, Donna and Ed.
And through it all, to Kylie, giving birth to three adorable daughters within four years and holding down the fort. “It was lightning in a bottle,” Joyce says. “We started out following Jason with no more than the idea of could this be his last year in football, and what does that look like? We were with this family, in their homes and spending time together, for a year before we even got to the success of last season.”
Changing the narrative
As storytellers, Joyce and Argott knew they had something special on their hands. As veteran filmmakers, they knew that bringing that story to life would hinge on getting access to games — and that, given the politics of a giant organization like the NFL, that could be a dealbreaker. But thanks to Kelce and former Eagle-turned-Director of Player Development Connor Barwin, NFL Films came on as a producer, as did Vera Y Productions. Barwin, who’s also co-founder of Make The World Better Foundation, is an executive producer along with David Ellison, Jesse Sisgold, and Jon Weinbach of Skydance Sports, and Ross Ketover, Pat Kelleher, and Keith Cossrow of NFL Films.
And in what might be the ultimate fortuitous, wrap-it-up-with-a-bow timing, 9.14 — the name of Joyce and Argott’s production company, an homage to Argott’s September 14 birthday — happens to fall this year on the same day as the Eagles home opener against the Minnesota Vikings, just two days after the film’s premiere on Amazon.
The couple will be watching at The Linc, holding a celebration with the 9.14 team, knowing their film has been delivered to the world and is out of their hands. There will be critics, of course (this is Philly), but all bets are on the film sweeping the city.
“I really don’t think this city is ready for this movie,” Argott says. “For all of Philly’s bluster and grit, there’s so much heart. There’s so much raw emotion. You see grown men crying because the Eagles lost. It’s real. And this film is about how you live your life, what it means to live a life, what it means to live a life being the best at what you are and what that means to have to hold onto that or let it go at some point.”
Whatever theme you gravitate towards, whatever the critics decide, it’s safe to say, as that Broad Street reveler would surely agree: You’re gonna remember this for the rest of your life.
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