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October 11, 2006

Table of Contents

Field of Vision: Producing Baseball Recruiting Videos
Field of Vision: "Capturing Life" At Philadelphia's Parkway Run
Field of Vision: Devils' Advocate

Field of Vision: Producing Baseball Recruiting Videos

Baseball has been very, very good to a very, very small number of young men. But however remote the chances of eventual major league stardom may be, the dream of playing college ball is very much alive for high school seniors who love the sport. Parents looking for athletic scholarships for their children or who simply want them to play ball in college need to get college recruiters to see their sons in action.

While recruiters from some NCAA Division I schools have the budgets to actually visit promising young athletes, Division II and III schools rely on videos to evaluate the budding baseball players. Parents can contract with an expensive school sports promotion company to make a video as part of a marketing package, they can videotape their sons themselves, or they can hire a professional videographer.

School sports videography is a market niche worth exploring. The National Collegiate Scouting Association, one of the larger promoters, reports that their students receive an average grant in aid worth over $14,000. Parents know that their investment in their youngster can pay off with a handsome scholarship. The boys simply want the chance to play ball at colleges that will help them develop their games.

If you are already videotaping graduations or school performances, you have a foot in the door. If not, just call the athletic directors and coaches at local high schools to find out the best way to contact the parents of their most promising athletes. Perhaps offering to videotape a game at no charge can help encourage the coaches to help you.

Coaches know the value of video: They can run a play in slow motion to analyze a swing or a pitch. They can navigate to a particular chapter to see how the prospective player fields grounders or to check a pitcher's fastball. DVDs are a vital tool for evaluating and training athletes. While coaches might be able to see a player's performance on a homemade video, a professionally produced DVD can give the aspiring athletes a distinct competitive edge.

The Baseball Recruiting Industry
To learn how to produce a recruiting video, simply go to one of the promotion companies' websites. It was our client, the mother of a high school ballplayer who wanted to get an athletic scholarship, who recommended that I visit www.baseballfactory.com. There I saw how Baseball Factory's web videos demonstrate their clients' hitting, fielding, and pitching.

They create entire packages including the players' stats, still photos, and a video of different plays. Along with footage of hitting, pitching, and fielding, the video includes interviews with the athlete, and maybe even with his current coach. The student discusses not only his interest in baseball, but also his academic and vocational goals. Schools want to see a well-rounded recruit, not just a jock. Video gives the viewers a chance to get a close look at the boy's personality and his manner of presenting himself.

Baseball Factory claims that 1,600 college coaches from across the country have access to the company's online videos through a searchable database of web pages. They state that they will send emails to 1,000 coaches encouraging them to "point, click and recruit."

According to the NCSA, nearly 1,500 colleges and junior colleges nationwide have baseball programs. On average, each NCAA Division I and II school offers about ten scholarships. Both NCSA and Baseball Factory post students' videos on their websites and send DVDs to college coaches.

Producing Video for Recruiters
Parents can videotape their baseball-playing sons, edit the video into clips of the best plays, and author their own DVDs. Then they can try to figure out the best way to make streaming or downloadable video files. At the same time, they need to be compiling their sons' statistics, contacting college coaches, and putting together a package in order to present their boys to the colleges. Taking on all these tasks can be very time-consuming, if not intimidating.

Wise parents will hire a professional videographer to make the DVD and web video files. One such family is the Greenwalds, who called my studio to make a promo video of their son, Eli, a high school senior.

They wanted a professionally produced video, but didn't want to take on the expense of hiring a recruiting company. While I have 20 years' experience producing a variety of videos, I had no experience with sports recruiting video. I called a school sports photographer I know, Joe Mulloy, and offered to hire him as the director of the video.

He knew the kind of shots we needed, and we developed a proposal for the Greenwalds. Joe put in two unanswered calls to a friend at the local high school to try to reserve the baseball diamond. When that didn't work, he visited the public parks in the area that have diamonds.

On the shoot day, the park we selected had a game in session. As we waited for the game to conclude, we conducted the interview in a wooded area to the side. Then another game started, so we decided to move to a different park. In retrospect, it might have been better to conduct our site survey on the same day of the week and at the time of day that we planned to shoot the video.

Prior to the shoot day, we sent Eli the list of questions, and we asked him to prepare brief, succinct answers. Joe decided that we should conduct the interview prior to shooting the plays. While I was talking with the parents about the overall production and DVD, Joe chatted with Eli to help him relax. He asked Eli to look at the camera when he gave his answers, as if Eli were speaking directly to the college coaches. In addition to his love of baseball, Eli answered questions about his academic performance and other interests.

Once we got on the field, Joe directed Eli to throw a few of each kind of pitch in his repertoire to his catcher. We logged such pitches as fastballs, curves, sliders, and change-ups. We shot Eli pitching from three different angles and included pick-off moves to first base. Later, we would let Eli decide which of these throws he wanted on the final DVD.

So that the coaches could see Eli hit, Eli's catcher then pitched to him. He demonstrated how he could direct his hits to left and right fields and even slugged a couple of homers.

Lastly, we recorded shots of Eli fielding flies, line drives, and ground balls. We logged all the footage and sent a window dub to Eli and his family. Joe made recommendations about which plays and interview answers to include, but we wanted Eli and his parents to make the final decisions. We asked them to list Eli's stats so we could include them as a title screen in the final DVD.

We edited the video and sent the family a copy for their approval. The decision was made to drop the stats from the video. Since Eli's senior season was still underway, those would change; the family simply included them in the cover letters to the schools. On the DVD, we created chapters for each play, and placed the interview answers in between the plays. The Greenwalds contacted prospective schools, put together cover letters with stat sheets, and generally performed much of the work that a sports promotion company would do. We made 10 DVD copies with labels and packaging, and the family sent them directly to schools they selected.

The Outcome
When I phoned the Greenwalds several months later, I learned that Eli had been accepted to Allegheny College in Pennsylvania. While this Division III school is not allowed to offer sports scholarships, they did offer Eli an academic scholarship.

We could have gone an extra step and interviewed Eli's high school coach. Some boys create their own websites and post the video files to them. Some post to sites such as www.youtube.com. Then the college recruiters have a choice of watching the DVD or logging on to the website.

The opportunity to play college sports keeps alive the dream of playing professionally. The competition to get into a high-profile college program is fierce. That's why college sports promotion companies have sprung up. One of their best tools to expose high school players to college recruiters is video.

Parents can pay a pricey promotion company to videotape their sons and send the video to colleges, they can take on all the marketing and video production themselves, or they can do themselves and their children a favor and hire a professional videographer to make a DVD and web video files that show the players in all the sharpness and clarity they deserve. Make the right contacts in your community, and you can help them reach their goal, adding some new pitches to your repertoire in the process.

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Field of Vision: "Capturing Life" At Philadelphia's Parkway Run

Stampeding runners, kids with cancer, impassioned speakers, and thousands of volunteer participants, all gathered together for a brisk 5k race. Sound like an intimidating scene for someone who makes his living shooting weddings?
     Not so with Tim Sudall, award-winning videographer and CEO of VideoOne Productions in Philadelphia. Tim recently filmed the Parkway Run, an annual event to benefit Children's Cancer Research located in Philadelphia. Instead of filming the traditional bride and groom in a sedate church or synagogue, Tim took on a city-wide community event with thousands of participants, many of them cancer survivors, friends of cancer survivors, children with terminal cancer, and charity big-wigs. 
     Creating video outside of the traditional sanctuary-and-steeple atmosphere is not a new experience for Tim. At 22 years of shooting and counting, Tim's experience ranges from shooting news to legal to corporate coverage, and some out-of-the-ordinary wedding sites. "I've been on hot air balloons, mountain tops, and the beach at Maui," says Tim, "I've been to all kinds of interesting landscapes to have for weddings, including campfires. We integrate with the event and just capture the essence of the people."
     So Tim wasn't fazed when the Four Seasons Hotel called him up and asked if he would put together a video of the Philadelphia Parkway Run. An annual benefit that funds research to cure cancer in children, the Parkway Run is a multi-faceted event that would create challenges for any videographer. The Parkway Run does not only involve the run itself (a 5K run and 2K Family Fun Walk), but a range of events and activities, including the hand-printing of the Hyundai Hope on Wheels vehicle by pediatric cancer patients speakers, lemonade tents, clowns on stilts, games, and thousands of registered participants. Big charity events also mean big-ticket sponsors. Hyundai, Kohl's, Comcast, the Philadelphia Children's Hospital, and Philadelphia Insurance Companies all participated in the sponsoring the event.

Telling the Story
How does making a video of the Parkway Run compare to making a video of a wedding? Well, for starters, since Tim agreed to do the job pro bono, he didn't have a budget to work with. Typically, if a couple hires Tim to shoot their wedding, they have a range of options they can choose from which are based what type of coverage they would like, with varying costs to match the options.

Since there was no budget for the Parkway Run job, Tim wasn't able to implement any coverage options that his business typically offers. In fact, the entire shoot consisted only of Tim and his shoulder-mount Sony DSR370 camera. Did the lack of financial resources affect the overall quality of the video? "Regardless of the technical aspect, which we as videographers love," Tim explains, "it's the human aspect that matters, because that's really what the client wants. It's our job to tell the story. We made sure to capture the life of the event."

Instead of making a shot list before the race, Tim simply showed up at the event with his camera and followed the flow of the people, events, and the overall emotion of the scene. Tim's personal philosophy of "capturing life" is the backbone of how VideoOneProductions operates. "I think being an event professional and working with live events all the time gives you a set of skills that are uniquely adaptable to many, many other situations," says Tim.

figure 1Thus shooting video and shooting life are synonymous for Tim. "I've had other people come in to shoot things with me from the wedding side, and they were clueless. It was just about shooting video, it wasn't about shooting life. They didn't get it, like when the bride when up and hugged her grandfather that was on a walker. That was really a moment, that was family history, that was life, and they just sat against the wall because it wasn't on the shot list."

Once Tim has ingrained himself into the flow of the event, he sets about telling the story of the event itself through the shots he takes. For Tim, capturing the life of an event, wedding-related or otherwise, means capturing the shots which are central to what is most important to his clients and his subjects. For the Parkway Run, this meant turning his attention to a broader array of participants than with a typical wedding shoot. "There are athletes struggling to hit the finish line, and you've got the people who are there to support them on the sidelines, the kids in wheelchairs that they're helping sitting there, and you've got clearly terminal kids that are sitting there and you know they're not going to be there much longer," says Tim, "I'm not just here to shoot video."

Start to Finish
After two hours of taping at the Parkway Run, Tim felt he had sufficient footage to put together the video. To assemble the video, Tim used shots that he had taken during the course of the event and combined them with photos from photographer Phil Kramer, an arrangement that benefited them both. By working with Kramer, Tim obtained photos that he otherwise would not have had, and Kramer was able to have his photos incorporated into a three-minute video which has now been viewed over 28,000 times off of a link on Tim's website (it's hosted elsewhere).

The Parkway Run organizers suggested Melissa Etheridge's song "Run for Life" for the video, an appropriate song about the challenges of breast cancer. After only six hours of editing time, Tim was able to combine the video, photos, and song into a short video which captured the emotion, spirits, and energy of the Parkway Run. It can be viewed here.

Winner's Circle
The rewards Tim reaped from producing the Parkway Run video are more than one might expect from a small, pro bono project that yielded a single, three-minute streaming video. "There are so many angles to this. The benefits are, number one, a really great piece that touches a lot of lives. I've got a lot of great thank-you letters," Tim explains. "The video was exactly what the [Parkway Run organizers] wanted."

The video has also provided powerful promotion for all parties involved. Since the Flash video is available online, anyone who receives an email with the link can experience the emotional power of the video. The Parkway Run organizers wanted "a tool to show their advertisers to thank them," Tim says, "and to be able to approach other advertisers and say, ‘There's a lot of runs in town. Here's ours; check it out.' The video is a really good tool to help promote the cause."

figure 1At the same time, the "big charitable organizations, the movers and shakers, people who also run corporations, receive a tool that they can use to show what they got involved in," he says. "When they got the video, they said, ‘Oh my gosh, this is awesome!'" Sponsors and supporters of the event have made the video available to potential donors and others by emailing the link and hosting the video on their own homepages.

And as with much volunteer videography, the Parkway Run has paid dividends for Tim after the fact that have more than compensated for the work he did for free with new contacts and bookings. Tim describes the impact the Parkway Run video has had on his career as the "spiderweb effect." Just as a spider starts at one point and eventually creates a web that spans all directions, so has the publicity from the Parkway Run video expanded Tim's horizons, leading his business in new directions. Thanks to the Parkway Run video, Tim ended up with "two incredibly large corporate jobs, one from one of the event's sponsors," he says. "A large company that was involved with the Parkway Run booked us for a corporate weekend, which was a $14,000 project. Then I got involved in two other charities, including the Shirley Mae Saturday in the Park Run in Atlantic City."

Publicity from the Parkway Run event even landed Tim an interview on the the Ultimate Wedding Show Philadelphia's channel 10 local NBC affiliate. "We had a bite to eat with a producer and some of the other crew [while at the Parkway Run], and I gave them my card," Tim recalls. "Two weeks later I get a call, and they're doing a feature on wedding videos. We actually videotaped alongside the TV crew through a live wedding. Then they interviewed me and a photographer about trends in video."

Doing jobs such as the Parkway Run has helped to differentiate Tim from others in his same line of work, and place his business in the public eye. "If you're the one that people think of, whether people think of photography or video, you've got an advantage," Tim says. "By doing a project like the Parkway Run, you create the perception that you're in the game."

By capturing life in the Parkway Run video, Tim broadened the horizons of his own life as a professional videographer. "Now's the time to do those things," he says, "To help people, especially people who are suffering right now. We're not talking about tooting your horn. We're talking about just doing a little community service and letting people know the things you're doing."

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Field of Vision: Devils' Advocate

Videographer Mark C. Lowe, owner of Dallas-based DarkAge Video, describes a recent shoot: "One woman's son, wearing a Piglet outfit, was chased around by a guy wearing a psycho-killer mask." No, Mark wasn't filming an open-bar reception that lasted too long, or a grade-school "Pooh" play gone bad, but a "surrealistic sideshow" at a recent roller derby bout.

Cleaver-brandishing mascots and skaters sporting "blood"-splattered aprons over pink minidresses are definitely not your run-of-the-mill event-video subjects, but Mark, the self-described "roller-skating videographer" and sponsor of the Dallas Derby Devils (DDD), a new, all-girl, flat-track roller derby league, wouldn't have it any other way. "I hope I never have to videotape a wedding. I advertise that I will, but I guess no one's willing to have a company called DarkAge Video do their wedding. But hey," Mark adds, "if a name is all it takes to scare you away, you're probably not the right customer for me."

figure 1
Dallas Derby Devils fans rejoice in the action and the carnage

Mark was introduced to the DDD in February while photographing at a music club, where a league member approached him, expressing their dire need for a videographer. He checked out their website, and was struck by the sport's rich visuals and carnival-like atmosphere. Mark immediately signed on as a sponsor, and with his Sony HDR-FX1 began shadowing the league's four teams—the High Seas Hotties, Slaughterers, Suicide Shifters, and Wrecking Crew.

Since then, he has filmed their weekly practices, monthly bouts and after-parties, and many charitable fundraisers, with three concurrent goals: to help them publicize their activities, produce a sellable DVD of the upcoming August 27 championships, and ultimately create a documentary from his collected footage.

A Bout de souffle
On the first Sunday of each month, Mark laces up his rollerskates, on which he films the teams' three-hour, no-holds-barred bouts at the Skatium in Arlington, Texas. (Mark has also traveled with the league to the Austin Music Hall, where they competed against another Dallas league for the right to play the Texas Rollergirls, subjects of the recent A&E series Rollergirls.)

In a bout, four blockers from each two teams begin moving around the track. Then, each team's jammer starts skating until they pass the pack and make one full lap. On lap two, the jammer earns a point for each skater of the opposing team she manages to leave in her wake while dodging jabbing elbows and shoulders and take-down moves like "the bucking pony."

As a "guerilla videographer," Mark strives to position himself "where the action is, and cram the camera in places it was never meant to go," he says. "I chase them around to get the most amazing shots." For a variety of angles, he alternates between using the shoulder strap to brace the camera out from himself, holding it high over his head to get a bird's-eye-view of the action, and carrying it like a lunchbox with the handle on top, looking up as he skates among the pack.

A benefit to shooting on roller-skates, Mark says, is that the camera is on a moving platform, which steadies it, reducing the need to fix shakiness in post. "When you're not thinking about holding the camera still is when you will hold it the stillest." He calls this the "Zen of Videography." He shoots with a 1/15 sec shutter speed to get a more filmic look, and frequently uses auto-focus.

Mark's other shooting sweet spot is in the riotous center of the track, where the benchwarmers scream on their teammates. In an effort to blend in, he forgoes a tripod and other "hey, look at me, I'm a videographer" giveaways such as obtrusive lighting and mic'ing setups that could get in the way of filming "the experience of things." This fly-on-the-wall approach is central to his vision and company creed: Believe You Are There.

But with bodies hitting the floor left and right, Mark also has to avoid becoming a squished fly on the wall. "Anything goes," he says, explaining how he took his first tumble. "I was rolling backwards and I came to a dead stop when my skates hit a taped-over cable, and basically I did that funny windmill leg thing, and fell back."

figure 1
With bodies hitting the floor left and right, "fly-on-the-wall" videographer Mark has to avoid getting squished.

While Mark can get his Zen back, he acknowledges that he probably can't fix his camera if it crashes to the floor. "But as long as you're aware of your surroundings," Mark says, "you won't drop the camera." His advice when wiping out: "Keep your arm up."

Capturing more than cacophony is another challenge—one that's exacerbated by the FX1's lack of a built-in mic or XLR connection. To zero in on specific sounds, Mark uses an attached NT4 R0DE stereo mic. "R0DE, an Australian mic, is highly respected among tapers of extremely loud events like rock concerts," Mark says. With a pickup pattern directly in front of the mic, the NT4 gives a "crisp, clear, accurate representation of the sound" without extraneous noise interfering.

Noise isn't all that interferes, though. Mired in the melée, Mark can easily miss important action. "If they screw up my shot," he says, referring to any number of people or objects that might get in his way, "without a backup, it's gone." To ensure full coverage, he hires two or three additional videographers for each bout.

He positions at least one shooter on a balcony or second floor, if there is one, for an unobstructed view of the entire track, where they "can zoom in and follow the action better than someone who's down on the track." The extra shooters typically bring their own Sony SD cameras, and shoot at an 1/30 sec shutter speed. He's been experimenting with various angles for the championship. "I'm still trying to figure out what everyone's roll is going to be," he says, adding that he hopes to use five shooters for that climactic event.

After shooting, Mark immediately logs his footage onto his four Sony cameras: the FX1, VX2000, VX2100, and TRV900. He acknowledges that this isn't the ideal logging method but that so far a hi-def logging deck is out of his price range. But it matters little to him now; doing so hasn't yet shown any detrimental effects on his cameras. Like the skaters themselves, "Sony cameras take a beating," he says. "I've had some for years and they're still going strong. I'm not overly concerned about wear and tear."

Mark then dumps the files on any one of his three hand-built dual-core or dual-CPU PCs. The footage gets stored on RAID arrays across 10 or 15 different hard drives over a gigabit network with an ASUS motherboard.

Using an Intel-based video-editing system, Mark edits with Avid Liquid 7, which he likes for several reasons, including its ability to work with multiple formats and resolutions simultaneously, in the same timeline. With Liquid, Mark can combine SD and HD, and PAL and NTSC in the same project. He can also capture HDV footage in its native format (see Tim Siglin's Liquid 7 review).

figure 1
Liquid 7's real-time image stabilization

A Liquid 7 feature that comes in handy when editing his roller derby footage is a carryover from Pinnacle Systems' Pro-ONE package, absorbed into Liquid after in the the Pinnacle line's 2005 acquisition by Avid: real-time image stabilization. Mark applies this to remove inevitable minor jolts and bumps. The image stabilizer helps by "salvaging an otherwise lost and tragic shot," he says. "For minor perturbations, you can drop the effect on there, and you don't have to do anything else. It stops it, smoothes it right out." It does so by determining where the subject is in the frame, and then cropping the edges and expanding the footage to fit the frame again. "The more back and forth you have, the more it has to cut and tweak around the image," Mark explains.

Liquid 7 also saves Mark time by rendering HD footage in the background. Because of this, a videographer "can do many of the effects in real time, making use of the GPU coprocessor on your video board. You can see the result of an effect immediately."

Circus on Skates
Importantly, though, Mark says, "The effect I use more than any other is the dissolve." Staying true to his cinema-verité-like approach to his productions, he uses effects very minimally. "I like things to look like they look in real life. That doesn't mean you can't make it interesting. That's the trick, to do that without the explosions and the special effects, spinning-around things, and page-turns, and all that cliché stuff."

It's a trick Mark hopes to master as he continues to shoot roller derby, which offers an abundance of interesting elements, to say the least, with its pro-wrestling-like cast of sinister characters (e.g., Ann Thrax, Faye Tality) and teams with spirited rivalries. It's why Mark was so attracted to the subject in the first place. "If you're a videographer or photographer or a person into visual things at all, roller derby has it all: different colors, contrast, characters. It's like going to the circus."

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