Clip from the documentary film “Munich '72 and Beyond.”
Clip from the documentary film “Munich ’72 and Beyond.” (Credit: Munich Memorial)

The idea of an attorney like David Ulich not only being a documentarian, but also being nominated for an Emmy by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences is something of a stunner. That’s quite an achievement and quite a side project.

But Ulich, a partner at Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton in Los Angeles, achieved just that on Tuesday. He was selected to compete for a News & Documentary Emmy in the category of “Outstanding Research” for his work on the film “Munich ’72 and Beyond.” He shares the nomination with his co-researcher on the project, Dr. Steven Ungerleider.

“Munich ’72 and Beyond” tells the story of the Munich massacre, the 1972 attack in which 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team were taken hostage and then executed. It’s presented from the perspective of the victims’ families and follows their 44-year quest to find the hidden truths behind the tragedy and to ensure that the lives of the murdered athletes are memorialized.

Take a closer look at Ulich, and the idea that he would be behind a project like this makes more sense. He heads the nonprofit team at Sheppard Mullin and provides business and tax advice to educational, public and religious charities such as Childhelp USA, the American Film Institute, the Annenberg Foundation, Aids Project Los Angeles, Catholic Charities of Los Angeles and Mission Without Borders.

While he waits for the awards to be presented on Oct. 5 in New York, Ulich talked to us the day after his nomination.

What was the genesis of “Munich ’72 and Beyond”?

It started about 20 years ago when I was asked by a client, Steven Ungerleider, to help set up the Foundation for Global Sports Development to create after-school educational enrichment programs. It used sports to promote attributes like teamwork and fair play, that sort of thing. We formed the foundation, I joined the board and I later became president. Over the years we expanded and we both had a love for the Olympic Games and sports. We started working with some of the Olympic federations and through that we got involved with the International Olympic Committee.

We got to know personally Thomas Bach, who is head of the IOC, and we were at a meeting with him in the Netherlands about five years ago and we found out that the IOC was going to be supporting the construction of a memorial in Munich at the site of the 1972 Olympics to commemorate the victims of the Israeli massacre.

When did the idea of making a documentary film come up?

We were very interested for a lot of reasons. My background is German and Dr. Ungerleider and several of the other board members are Jewish. We agreed that through the foundation we would support the memorial, and because of that we were invited to attend the architectural competition, and then to be on the panel that determined the winning design, which was used for the memorial. On the flight home we looked at each other and said, “Gee, this would make a great film.”

It was intended to be just about the architectural competition [to design the memorial], but we expanded the idea and we actually flew to Israel to interview the family members of all of the victims, because we wanted to hear their stories. We heard things that had never been disclosed before, such as the castration of one of the victims. The film just morphed from being a documentation of the architectural competition to telling the whole story about these victims from a new perspective.

How was your perspective different from other tellings of the story?

We knew there was the film that Steven Spielberg had done (“Munich,” 2005), and a documentary that Arthur Cohn did (“One Day in September,” 1999), which were great films. But we wanted to commemorate the victims, the 40-year struggle of the families, the new evidence that they uncovered and then to tie it in with the construction of the memorial.

And you turned up new information?

Among other things we learned about the evidence of the torture and castration of the victims. We had a big debate about it. My initial reaction was not to put the castration in the film because it was so horrific. When I heard about it, I lost focus for a few minutes because I was thinking about how horrible it would be to have someone do something like that to you. I thought people watching the film would be totally sidetracked

Do you recall watching the attack on TV?

I was 12 years old in 1972 and I remember it vividly. My parents are German but we lived in California, and they were so proud that the Olympics were finally back in Germany after WW II that they bought a color TV. I remember watching on live TV and it was one of the first broadcasts of a terrorist attack, so it had quite an impact.

For you, as a person of German heritage, it must have been painful?

Here they were trying to do everything they could to make it a nonmilitary Games, and it backfired on them into a worst-case scenario of having Jews killed on German soil again.

So do you have a new career?

No, but we were so excited with the process that we looked into making more traditional films and we have set up a filmmaking subsidiary of the foundation. We are looking at the abuse of young girls in gymnastics and other stories like that. [Making "Munich '72"] was fun, but sometimes I wondered if I was trying to be something that I was not. We’d review cuts and the story line. The film ended up pretty good and Steve’s and my input were a part of that.

You’re a producer and credited as a researcher. How hands-on were you?

Very, because we pretty much had to be. It was me and Dr. Steve Ungerleider. We hired a director [Stephen Chrisman] and we hired Michael Cascio, who had been in Hollywood for a while and he guided us through some of the business aspects. When we shot location scenes, we’d hire local film crews to save money.

How did the Emmy voters find you?

We entered in a couple of film festivals and we were lucky enough to win Best Documentary at the L.A. Shorts Festival. That made us eligible for the Academy Awards, and we’re going to make a run at that, though we’re a long shot. We also showed the film on PBS, and that made us eligible for the Emmys. I didn’t have high expectations, but we got nominated, so it’s pretty exciting.

Did the fact that you were an attorney help or hurt in making the film?

I think my training as a lawyer helped because a lot of it was telling the story and making sure it had a logical sequence and that what people were saying on camera made sense. There would be a situation where someone on camera would say something and everybody would say, “That’s great!” but then I’d say, “Is it consistent with what happened, and with what somebody else says?”

I also pushed to have both sides of the story. Even though I personally disagreed with the Palestinians, who say they did it to bring attention to their cause, and succeeded at that, I think it was important to show that they had a reason—as irrational as it was.

What does the recognition you’ve received for the film mean to you?

It was something that, as a lawyer, I never thought I’d receive, but it’s not that I had this compelling need to have an award in my office. It’s more that if we are a part of the awards process, it will bring more recognition to the film and its message, and that’s the reason we made it.

Contact Todd Cunningham at tcunningham@alm.com. On Twitter: @toddcnnnghm.

The idea of an attorney like David Ulich not only being a documentarian, but also being nominated for an Emmy by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences is something of a stunner. That’s quite an achievement and quite a side project.

But Ulich, a partner at Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton in Los Angeles, achieved just that on Tuesday. He was selected to compete for a News & Documentary Emmy in the category of “Outstanding Research” for his work on the film “Munich ’72 and Beyond.” He shares the nomination with his co-researcher on the project, Dr. Steven Ungerleider.

“Munich ’72 and Beyond” tells the story of the Munich massacre, the 1972 attack in which 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team were taken hostage and then executed. It’s presented from the perspective of the victims’ families and follows their 44-year quest to find the hidden truths behind the tragedy and to ensure that the lives of the murdered athletes are memorialized.

Take a closer look at Ulich, and the idea that he would be behind a project like this makes more sense. He heads the nonprofit team at Sheppard Mullin and provides business and tax advice to educational, public and religious charities such as Childhelp USA, the American Film Institute, the Annenberg Foundation, Aids Project Los Angeles, Catholic Charities of Los Angeles and Mission Without Borders.

While he waits for the awards to be presented on Oct. 5 in New York , Ulich talked to us the day after his nomination.

What was the genesis of “Munich ’72 and Beyond”?

It started about 20 years ago when I was asked by a client, Steven Ungerleider, to help set up the Foundation for Global Sports Development to create after-school educational enrichment programs. It used sports to promote attributes like teamwork and fair play, that sort of thing. We formed the foundation, I joined the board and I later became president. Over the years we expanded and we both had a love for the Olympic Games and sports. We started working with some of the Olympic federations and through that we got involved with the International Olympic Committee.

We got to know personally Thomas Bach, who is head of the IOC, and we were at a meeting with him in the Netherlands about five years ago and we found out that the IOC was going to be supporting the construction of a memorial in Munich at the site of the 1972 Olympics to commemorate the victims of the Israeli massacre.

When did the idea of making a documentary film come up?

We were very interested for a lot of reasons. My background is German and Dr. Ungerleider and several of the other board members are Jewish. We agreed that through the foundation we would support the memorial, and because of that we were invited to attend the architectural competition, and then to be on the panel that determined the winning design, which was used for the memorial. On the flight home we looked at each other and said, “Gee, this would make a great film.”

It was intended to be just about the architectural competition [to design the memorial], but we expanded the idea and we actually flew to Israel to interview the family members of all of the victims, because we wanted to hear their stories. We heard things that had never been disclosed before, such as the castration of one of the victims. The film just morphed from being a documentation of the architectural competition to telling the whole story about these victims from a new perspective.

How was your perspective different from other tellings of the story?

We knew there was the film that Steven Spielberg had done (“Munich,” 2005), and a documentary that Arthur Cohn did (“One Day in September,” 1999), which were great films. But we wanted to commemorate the victims, the 40-year struggle of the families, the new evidence that they uncovered and then to tie it in with the construction of the memorial.

And you turned up new information?

Among other things we learned about the evidence of the torture and castration of the victims. We had a big debate about it. My initial reaction was not to put the castration in the film because it was so horrific. When I heard about it, I lost focus for a few minutes because I was thinking about how horrible it would be to have someone do something like that to you. I thought people watching the film would be totally sidetracked

Do you recall watching the attack on TV?

I was 12 years old in 1972 and I remember it vividly. My parents are German but we lived in California, and they were so proud that the Olympics were finally back in Germany after WW II that they bought a color TV. I remember watching on live TV and it was one of the first broadcasts of a terrorist attack, so it had quite an impact.

For you, as a person of German heritage, it must have been painful?

Here they were trying to do everything they could to make it a nonmilitary Games, and it backfired on them into a worst-case scenario of having Jews killed on German soil again.

So do you have a new career?

No, but we were so excited with the process that we looked into making more traditional films and we have set up a filmmaking subsidiary of the foundation. We are looking at the abuse of young girls in gymnastics and other stories like that. [Making "Munich '72"] was fun, but sometimes I wondered if I was trying to be something that I was not. We’d review cuts and the story line. The film ended up pretty good and Steve’s and my input were a part of that.

You’re a producer and credited as a researcher. How hands-on were you?

Very, because we pretty much had to be. It was me and Dr. Steve Ungerleider. We hired a director [Stephen Chrisman] and we hired Michael Cascio, who had been in Hollywood for a while and he guided us through some of the business aspects. When we shot location scenes, we’d hire local film crews to save money.

How did the Emmy voters find you?

We entered in a couple of film festivals and we were lucky enough to win Best Documentary at the L.A. Shorts Festival. That made us eligible for the Academy Awards, and we’re going to make a run at that, though we’re a long shot. We also showed the film on PBS, and that made us eligible for the Emmys. I didn’t have high expectations, but we got nominated, so it’s pretty exciting.

Did the fact that you were an attorney help or hurt in making the film?

I think my training as a lawyer helped because a lot of it was telling the story and making sure it had a logical sequence and that what people were saying on camera made sense. There would be a situation where someone on camera would say something and everybody would say, “That’s great!” but then I’d say, “Is it consistent with what happened, and with what somebody else says?”

I also pushed to have both sides of the story. Even though I personally disagreed with the Palestinians, who say they did it to bring attention to their cause, and succeeded at that, I think it was important to show that they had a reason—as irrational as it was.

What does the recognition you’ve received for the film mean to you?

It was something that, as a lawyer, I never thought I’d receive, but it’s not that I had this compelling need to have an award in my office. It’s more that if we are a part of the awards process, it will bring more recognition to the film and its message, and that’s the reason we made it.

Contact Todd Cunningham at tcunningham@alm.com. On Twitter: @toddcnnnghm.