The making of 'South High: Fighting against the odds' October 31, 2012

Star Tribune reporter Jason Gonzalez (@JGonStrib), photographer Jerry Holt (@jerry_holt) and I followed the South High football team during their 4-4 season.

South High: Fighting against the Odds – Watch the full video on StarTribune.com.

The South High Tigers weren’t an obvious target. They were an average team in the Minneapolis City Conference. However, there were two important elements that made the story great – access and characters. We knew the head coach, Lenny Sedlock, would be a great character from day one. His motivational speech on the first day of practice was straight out of a movie. More importantly, the school was willing to give us unrestricted access to the football program. Access made the story. We didn’t know what we were going to get, but we knew there would be a story.

The Tigers took the field for their first night game at Barnard Field in school history. Photo by Jerry Holt / ©StarTribune

We spent about three months with the team. Most of our shooting came on game days, but occasionally we would walk with the kids to school or attend one of their classes. I ended up shooting on 12 different days, which resulted in 577 gb of raw video and just under 15 hours of footage. I often shot multiple situations on the same day. There were some very long days.

Photo by Jerry Holt / ©StarTribune

I was incredibly impressed with the maturity of the students and their ability to work with us. I expected it to be much more difficult to catch any real moments. I also expected the camera to be much more of a distraction. Overall, the students handled it really well and were comfortable with us being there.

Read the stories and view photo galleries from the season at http://www.startribune.com/southfootball.

From a storytelling standpoint, my primary focus throughout the video was keeping every situation in the moment and allowing the story to tell itself. I tried to talk with subjects before, during and/or after any action, whether it was a conversation with the athletic director about grades or the sophomore quarterback’s first touchdown on varsity. I tried to keep the interviews active, meaning while they were doing another activity, and worked to avoid any sit down interview shots unless the speaker was revealing an important part of the story.

Photo by Jerry Holt / ©StarTribune

I used a Canon 5D mark III with a Sennheiser ME66 shotgun mic for natural sound. I also used a Tascam DR100 audio recorder with a wireless mic for interviews. I wanted to make my rig as small and unobtrusive as possible. Most of the video was shot with two lenses, a Canon 24-105 f/4L IS or Canon 70-200 f/2.8L IS. I actually used significantly less gear than on a normal assignment.

The most interesting moment from the project came during Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to the South High practice field. Biden was in Minneapolis for a campaign event while I was on the South High practice field. The head coach kept changing the practice time so we knew something funny was going on, but we didn’t know what. While I was shooting, I saw three or four Secret Service agents walking around the field. Shortly after, the Vice President walked out of his car and onto the field. Jerry Holt, the still photographer on the project, was covering his downtown event and just happened to be in the VP’s motorcade as the pool photographer. Neither of us had any idea that we was going to be there.

Joe Biden spoke to the team and McKenna Ewen shot in the background. Photo by Jerry Holt / @StarTribune.

The traveling press was restricted to a specific part of the field as Biden addressed the team. I continued to shoot video in the huddle and ended up with the best access of the day. I was curious why the White House press staff hadn’t kicked me out or made me stand with the rest of the credentialed media. Shortly after, I found out that the campaign staff thought I was a student at South High and shooting practice highlights for the team. My youth and inexperience finally paid off!

The editing took five days for this story. My biggest concern was making sure that a 15-minute video would hold up online, especially on a newspaper website. Most of our videos are 90 seconds or less. My other concern was making sure that it made sense. I didn’t want the viewer to get lost in a story with a bunch of great visuals. I wanted to make sure they knew exactly what was going on the entire time.

My first step was to log each day of shooting and transcribe the interviews. I managed both of these using Google docs. I included notes about who was in the video, the type of shot (wide, medium or tight) and described the action. This allowed me to look back at my footage and make sure that I didn’t miss anything. It also made it easier to focus the story because I knew what footage we had from each of the characters. Next, I divided the story into segments and started writing a rough script. This allowed me to build multiple timelines without becoming completely disorganized. Once the segment was done, I imported the partial timeline into a master timeline. This allowed me to organize my final video without having to break it apart. (I stole this idea from the Compound Clips function in Final Cut Pro X). I eventually merged the project back into one final timeline once I liked the order of the clips. I don’t know if this is the best way to approach the post-production process, but this allowed me to quickly organize my timeline, change the order of clips and make the edit more manageable under deadline.

We published the project at StarTribune.com/SouthFootball. The story ran in print on Tuesday, October 23 with a promo to the website.

I wanted to share this workflow to compare with others who are doing similar types of work. In addition, I’d love to know if you have any suggestions how how to make it better. Feel free to post away in the comments. Thank you for your time, and I appreciate you checking it out!

McKenna Ewen

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