How Former W+K Executive Producer Sue Kim Got Her Brilliant Netflix Documentary Made

The Speed Cubers is a heartwarming, personal journey

speed cubers
Speedcuber Feliks Zemdegs (r.) watches Max Park in action. Netflix
Headshot of Doug Zanger

The Netflix documentary Speed Cubers is filled with surprises. On the surface, one might think that the Sue Kim-directed film is a linear look into the world of people who can solve a Rubik’s Cube in less than 10 seconds. But what unfolds is a charming, beautiful and emotional story of two world champions.

Feliks Zemdegs and Max Park have dominated the sport for years, each swapping world records in several categories (Park still holds many records today). The film tracks their rise and path to the 2019 world championships in Zemdegs’ hometown of Melbourne, Australia. More importantly, the 40-minute documentary shows the depths of their genuine and unexpected friendship.

Zemdegs, around six years older, is a vital figure for Park, who was diagnosed with autism as a child and found cubing as a way to bond with his mother, Miki. Not only does Park idolize him for his accomplishments as a speedcuber, but he sees him as a mentor. Park’s parents also credit Zemdegs with being an overwhelmingly positive influence in their son’s life, helping him navigate the rigors and stresses of competition.

The critically well-regarded story is incredibly genuine, originating from Kim’s own experience of her son competing in his first speedcubing competition three years ago. Adweek caught up with Kim to find out how the project came to life and how her former employer, Wieden+Kennedy, became involved.

How did you land on this idea for the film?
I’ve always been fascinated with documentaries and, in my mind, wanted to be in that world. Within 10 to 15 minutes of being in that church auditorium where [her son’s competition] was held, I instantly thought that someone must have made a documentary about this fascinating world. And if they haven’t, then someone needs to.

So I started going to more and more competitions. And I began to understand all of the true intricacies of this fascinating world. And so I decided, at that point, that I was going to help produce a documentary. Directing wasn’t even on my plate because I didn’t think that I could get a film funded with myself as the director.

You were working at Wieden+Kennedy at the time as an executive producer. How did you manage that?
Work/life balance was already tough to manage. Trying to fit in the development of a feature film documentary in my spare time wasn’t working. I tried it for maybe six months, but I couldn’t focus both creatively and production-wise into a side project while I have such a massive day job.

The key moment for me was the summer of 2018. I decided to quit my job. And I know that sounds crazy to a lot of people, but I knew if there wasn’t something holding my feet to the fire to make sure that I followed through on this idea and this passion project, I wouldn’t do it. I only would have found reason after reason to keep putting it off. So I quit my job to fully dedicate myself to get this film developed.

How did you end up becoming the director?
I met a producer who used to run a documentary production company, and he was well-versed in documentary film production. He was the one who impressed upon me that I needed to be the director because I kept telling him what the story was, who the characters were, all of their quirks and how they fit together since I knew this world well. For a couple of months, he kept telling me, “Hey, you can do this, this is your story.”

@zanger Doug Zanger is a senior editor, agencies at Adweek, focusing on creativity and agencies.