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Producing Theme-Driven Online College Sports Shows

For Altair and humanstory, the name of the game in college sports web shows is storytelling, and their theme-driven style is getting them lucrative gigs with top college programs.

When I asked Scott Strimple what he and his collaborators, Martin Montgomery and Bill Gaff, what they planned to call their talented triumvirate as they ventured ever further into the world of intercollegiate sports in their native Virginia and beyond, he acknowledged that they haven't quite settled on a name yet. So on the night before we spoke, they found themselves shooting the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) conference basketball championship semi-incognito, even as they were developing pieces that will be used by the conference and at least one member university in recruitment and promotion online.

On the one hand, there was Gaff's company name, humanstory, although aligning with that name specifically wouldn't really reflect the nature of the collaboration, and as for the company operated by Strimple and Montgomery--United Wedding--the name would be just too wedding for three guys shooting college football and basketball games and building documentary and promotional pieces around them.

That said, the films that Strimple, Montgomery, and Gaff have produced so far share a lot of common elements with their wedding films, and truth be told, the shooting and storytelling style they bring over from the wedding world have been instrumental in getting the gigs. Strimple says that when he and Montgomery first got into professional video production, they were shooting high school and college sports for a decade. Unable to drum up a lot of business in the private school market at the time, Strimple says, sports event production just wasn't profitable for them.

So they crossed over into the wedding market, where they found much success and developed a signature style built around a filmic storytelling approach rather than straightforward coverage.

Humanstory's Giving to the Game from Streaming Media Producer TV on Vimeo.

Mixing Sports Video and Documentary Filmmaking

Recently, when Strimple's oldest son started shooting for the CAA, Strimple and Montgomery found themselves back in contact with folks in the college sports world and with opportunities to shoot there. And after a chance collaboration with Gaff--whose humanstory studio made the EventDV 25 in 2009 for their compelling PBS documentary-like wedding style, but has also found success in commercial work in Virginia--on a piece on the building of a new football stadium on the University of Richmond, they were back in the college sports world with a new story to tell.

"Because they liked Bill's style of storytelling, they thought it would be good to apply Bill's style to their new stadium documentary," Strimple says. So we "married Bill's storytelling style to our cinema style," and an intriguing hybrid was born: not so much humanstory/United Wedding as weddings and sports. "We shoot sports like we shoot a wedding. With a wedding you could get your Uncle Bob to shoot reality. We're hired to capture the essence of the day."

Likewise, they'll shoot the action of a basketball game, but the piece they'll deliver will approach it from a different angle than the telecast: "Let's look at it from the viewpoint of a fan or player. We're filming sporting events, but we're trying to highlight not so much the game as intertwining themes. You see the team play, but there's so much you don't know about the team. We shoot the game, but we use it as b-roll for the underlying story. But people who watch it still get a sense that they're watching a game."

Now they're taking that hybrid of sports and storytelling into an assortment of projects, ranging from recruitment pieces for the University of Richmond to the CAA tournament program to a documentary on the age-old Hampden-Sydney/Randolph-Macon football rivalry.

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