Friday, February 29, 2008

Improvisational Jazz

This shoot was supposed to happen on January 22nd, but due to some logistical complications we had to cancel. Fast forward to last Thursday and our second go at shooting basketball. The Zions Bank Basketball Center was gracious enough to allow us to film in their amazing facility. The center doesn't typically allow outsiders onto their court, since it's the practice facility of the Utah Jazz. In addition to getting permission to film from the Center, we also had to get permission from the NBA. This was due to the fact that the Jazz logo would no doubt appear in many of our shots. So, I'm also very grateful to the NBA for allowing us to film. And very grateful that we were able have the logo appear in our production. Especially since our talent is the Wheelin' Jazz.

Jeff and Melissa and Tyler arrived early to begin setting up equipment. Several years ago, when this entire production was still in its infancy, Tyler helped Jeff and I shoot some test footage. We taped swimming, handcycling and canoeing and the experience was very positive. However, Jeff and I soon realized that shooting the project in "standard definition" was a disservice to the subject matter, not to mention our original vision. "Standard definition" was replaced with "Hi Definition" in the hopes of making our project viewable for years to come. Tyler and I have worked together for several years. Back in 1999, I had the good fortune of being a part of his masters thesis: a body piercing documentary called "Steel Identity".

There were a few rules we had to follow in order to shoot at the Zions Center. First, all able-bodied crew had to wear sneakers or shoes that wouldn't mark up the court. Jeff's wife purchased shiny new sneakers for him, which he was reluctant to wear since sneakers aren't commonly worn in the Shire. All kidding aside, I had a blast giving Jeff crap about his sporty new fashion. He wasn't too thrilled about his evening least that's what he told us. I think deep down, he really liked the shoes. So pretty.

Second, stay off Jerry Sloan's court. All crew and talent had to walk (and roll) around the perimeter of the Jazz's court to get to the West Court. No problemo. By now, respecting the turf is something we've become very used to. First, the bowling lanes at the University of Utah, then Utah Aikikai's dojo floor. I can't wait until we can finally be free to tear it up on the Coral Pink Sand Dunes. That is, of course, unless we're asked to maintain the integrity and beauty of the dunes.

Finally, we had to wrap the shoot at 10:00 PM. No exceptions. We worked with Patti and she was kind enough to hang out for the duration of the shoot. Patti remained on hand to ensure that everything went okay and she was great to work with. She donated her time, free-of-charge, and for that I and the entire production team are eternally grateful.

We ended up having eight Wheelin' Jazz players, which was great. A few arrived after we had already started shooting, but that wasn't a problem. The biggest issue surrounding the shoot was lack of control over the action on the court. Most of our shoots, up until now, have been somewhat predictable. A bowler rolls a ball or a nordic skier skis across the snow. Prior to Thursday, we've had a fairly good idea as to what we're going to film, prior to each shoot. With basketball, there's no way of knowing what's going to happen once the action ensues. There's no way of predicting where the ball is going to land, who is going to pass to whom, or which player will inevitably take the shot.

To create some sense of anticipation, I asked the team to come up with two or three plays that they could repeat several times. They did their best to replicate the plays, but of course there's no way to perfectly duplicate a play without making it look staged. And we wanted to avoid staged basketball. So, as players came and went and uniforms switched from white to blue, Jeff and I finally decided that the only way to shoot this sequence was to keep the camera moving. Tight shots, tracking shots, cut away shots...we had to improvise more than we normally would. As always, I had created some storyboards for the shoot. Unfortunately we had to stray from the storyboards in order to A) Improvise shots as needed B) keep the momentum of the shoot moving along C) keep the production on schedule D) keep the players engaged. I liked the frantic style of shooting. It brought a new energy to the production.

Production began around 6:30. We shot all of our steadicam sequences first. Then we moved to locked down shots. After that, Jeff and Tyler shot from the floor. It was a dangerous place to be, given the fact that wheelchairs were careening towards them at top speed. Tyler sat behind Jeff and protected the camera.

Following the floor shots, Jeff hopped in a chair to do some handheld camera work on wheels. Tyler pushed him. It was hilarious to watch the two of them weave in and out of the players. Luckily there were no collisions.

At 9:45, we brought in the jib arm for the final shot of the night. The crew assembled the arm and mounted the camera with five minutes to spare. The clock was ticking, Patti was waiting...we were cutting it very close. But we got the shot. An overhead angle looking straight down as players shot baskets. Several of the shots didn't go in, but in the last 10 seconds...and this is no of the Jazz made a basket. We wrapped at 10 PM with less than 10 seconds of footage left.

So, did we get everything we wanted? I think we did. I would have liked to have shot more footage, but we just didn't have the time. More importantly, we wanted to respect Patti and the Center. She gave of her time and that was incredibly generous. The Center also let us shoot for free, so we owe them a huge debt of gratitude. I think it went very well and I don't think anyone has ever shot wheelchair basketball quite like this before. The team was great to work with and I'm thankful to them for giving up their practice time to help us out. I really hope they like the end result.

Next up...Alpine Skiing!


The Maag Family said...

It looks amazing!

Philosophy Photography by Brandee, Utah Wedding Photographer said...

I don't think people realize everything that goes into a shoot (myself included). I thought photography was bad, but the logistics of a shoot like this--so crazy. Oh but if Stan is working on the project, all is well!

Was this project for the team to use or for something else?

Spinal Cracker said...

Eventually we will put something together for the team. For now,the main goal is to incorporate the footage into a larger project, featuring 32 different sports/activities. It has been a great ride so far.