BY TYLER BRADFIELD & CHEYN ROUX | Ball State Sports Link
As Graduate Assistants of Ball State Sports Link, occasionally we are asked to lead productions crews, sit in on staff meetings and even teach in classroom settings.
When the staff met prior to the start of the semester, a weekly SL Film Night was implemented. With a rotating SL staff member presenting each week, the students are now required to attend at least two film sessions per semester. What’s the point of them?
As aspiring producers of sports television, most producers at the student and collegiate level are watching and replicating the same material. Live events are molded off what the big boys are doing at ESPN, FOX, CBS and NBC. Feature stories are being told similar to the framework ESPN follows with E60 and 30-for-30. Social media content is being generated across sports in replication of what many professional teams are doing on Twitter and Instagram.
That is not a bad thing, it is just the nature of it. These producers are aspiring to work for those outlets someday creating content for those platforms. Of course they are going to watch it and attempt to replicate the different techniques in their own work.
So the point of SL Film Night is to show a film, story or video that exposes the students to totally different productions. How are producers shooting documentaries on shoe designers, monks and ballet performers?
Even looking within sports media, what are things we aren’t watching that can be applied into Sports Link productions? What techniques and theories can be pulled from those and pasted into Sports Link stories, live events on ESPN3 and creative social media content? How are they editing and shooting something cinematically we may have never thought of due to the horse blinders focused solely on sports content?
So as GA’s we were tasked with leading the 2018 Semester Week 4 film session. We selected two things to showcase:
- An investigative piece over a kidnapping and torture
- A documentary on a 422nd ballet in New York City that was directed by a 25-year-old.
22 Harvest Street
Over the summer, I first came across this piece produced by Andy Lockett with reporter, Tisha Thompson. I was blown away by it for many different reasons.
The storytelling was tremendous, the reporting and journalism was textbook and the visuals were beyond powerful.
I watched it once by myself. I then had a few friends watch it and even my parents just to compare their thoughts. Feeling extra motivated by the piece, I even sent an email to Andy Lockett to tell him how much I appreciated the piece and if he had time for a phone call to answer a few questions as I picked his brain.
We found a time about a week later to chat. Andy was more than gracious with his time. He discussed how difficult it was to visually display the graphic details of the kidnapping and torturing of two Rochester football players without over dramatizing it.
When is it appropriate to smash light bulbs with bats cinematically and show droplets of blood hitting a bathtub? How far can this be stretched until it is considered manipulation? When are you not showing enough of those to set the viewer in the correct theater of the mind?
Also, how much should a reporter be involved in a story? At the most basic level, stories are about humans who lived through events. If a voiceover by a reporter is used or they appear in the story, they are in a way serving as a character within the story. If done incorrectly it can lead a viewer to believe the reporter was a part of the story.
When and how do you use a reporter? When should they narrate? When should they appear on camera? How often? How about seeing them ask a question to the subject? What’s the correct balance?
These were all topics of conversation between Andy and I over 22 Harvest Street.
One of the most difficult parts of this piece was gathering the evidence and then trying to work around people declining interviews. Most of the time in Sports Link, athletes and parents are beyond helpful when interview requests are made. They want to tell their story. They want their story produced and told. But in this example, some of these people did not.
The piece uncovered a lot of dirty details about the Rochester football program and the school. Obviously the coaches and president did not want to speak and declined the requests of Lockett and Thompson for the interviews. The people being convicted of kidnapping and torture certainly did not want to speak. How do you as a producer creatively work around this to accurately tell the story with limited primary sources? You want the story to carry the same emotional impact, but if the main people involved don’t want to talk, what do you do?
The audio was also fabulous in this piece. Every movement of crime scene photos, evidence or animated movement into highlighted court documents were accompanied by a swoosh or a sweeping noise. We are seeing things move and video cut between shots, the sound helped bring them to life.
Lastly, I decided to show this one because typically in Sports Link, most of the stories we produce are over someone’s life: a life event, a life story, something someone has gone through in life that lasted several months or even years. Rarely are we doing stories over a single event because they just aren’t as common.
Also, its difficult for us to do investigative work like 22 Harvest Street. With the access we are granted through athletics built upon a trusting relationship, the people we would be “investigating” are also the people allowing us in the locker rooms. So by the nature of the relationship between Sports Link and athletics, SL is not an outlet for investigative work. However, many people who graduate from Sports Link will find themselves working in an environment in a news rooms or network production floors where investigative pieces will be assigned.
So for all the above reasons, I had the students watch 22 Harvest Street. I felt like even though it is a piece that aired within sports media and on ESPN, it is a type of storytelling, journalism, and fact gathering we don’t normally practice. Hopefully it was beneficial to the students.
I’m currently sitting on two more videos pieces for upcoming film session. Those who know me well will laugh when they read this because of the truth behind it, but I am a big fan of reality TV shows. So… the next film session for me may involve an episode of one of my favorite reality TV shows.
What show? What network? Well, you’ll have to wait for that. But I think it is an excellent example in production of how to build characters, time reveals to surprise the viewer, and tell a story — especially the development of plots and sub plots.
While words help tell a narrative, sometimes all it takes are visuals to tell a story.
In most documentaries, there are sit down interviews along with narration to help give the audience more information about the story. Ballet 422 is a documentary about the 422nd Ballet in New York City — directed by a 25-year-old.
Throughout the film, we see numerous shots of preparation by the dancers, the orchestra practicing their musical routine, the fashion designers perfecting the outfits for the performers and the light technicians figuring out the best look for the show — all within two months.
Meanwhile, Justin Peck (25-year-old) must manage all these different areas of the production while maintaining a leadership role.
The one thing that I was trying get across with this film is the importance of just simply letting your filming tell the story.
Sure, they could have had numerous people sit down and talk about the process of making a costume, going through a routine, or the decision making in certain lighting displays, but I feel as if the raw showing of it all happening had more value than having one talk about it.
At the end of the day, sometimes the best way to tell a story is through simple moments, and Ballet 422 does just that.
You can find the documentary on Netflix.