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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.

It's a fascinating approach, one exemplified, perhaps, in the first clip included here, one shot for the University of Richmond to assist in recruiting efforts. Watch a basketball game telecast from the 1970s and compare it to one produced in the last few years, and you'll see (or, rather, hear) how what the broadcasts deliver and what we expect in terms of the level and insistence of commentary have changed. Sensory saturation is now the order of the day, and what we're watching and absorbing is much more than a game; the commentary even competes with the game. In the Strimple/Montgomery/Gaff approach, the effect is much more complementary, and the non-game elements and storytelling are much easier to absorb.

Run-and-Gun Storytelling

"Events make a great framework for a story," Gaff says. "We've found that an event can become a much bigger, broader thing." He likens their approach to a recent documentary called The Last Play at Shea, which is ostensibly about the Billy Joel concert that closed Shea Stadium, but uses that concert as a context for weaving in other stories from Shea's history, such as the Beatles playing there in 1965. "Our approach is to take the event and weave in other stories," Gaff says. "As wedding filmmakers, we have a great sense of how to weave in stories on the fly."

And as with a wedding, most of the surrounding footage and story elements they capture, including the interviews, tend to happen the day of the event. "We do it like we're shooting a wedding," Gaff says, "gathering all the elements in one day. Given what goes on in a basketball game, and how focused the athletes are, maybe it would be better to do some interviews the day before. But we want to show what it's like to be there and to play in those games," and that means doing interviews that capture what the experience is like in the moment, rather than reflecting on it a month later. Of course, it means cramming a lot into one day, but that's nothing new to event shooters, and often crucial to telling the story at hand. "It's good to find out a little about what the story is going to be, but be open to what it is at that unique moment. Sometimes it's best to embrace the moment."

As Strimple says, "There's something special about the impromptu-ness of" a run-and-gun style endemic to event shooting that captures everything in the moment that it happens (or as close to it as possible). "It's a homegrown, fresh approach."

Strimple acknowledges that even Gaff, committed storyteller that he is, didn't immediately see the applicability of this approach to sporting event shoots, at least in terms of what the schools would want to see. Gaff says that producing videos for colleges and private schools is a big part of his business and has been for some time, but he hasn't really applied this story-driven approach to sports until he started collaborating with Strimple and Montgomery.

When Strimple tried to sell Gaff on the idea of going to the game to shoot more than the game, Gaff said, "I don't know if people care about this." Strimple replied, "That's all they care about! Every other shooter there is shooting the same thing! We'll be shooting cheerleaders, the crowd, all the stuff during timeouts when TV has gone to commercials. It's part of the game, it's part of the school spirit, part of the road to the NCAA. Bill started to see the story through all the noise around the game."

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