As producers of branded content, one of the most important attributes you must have is adaptability. Each and every project you work on is different – even if it’s with the same client. Seldom do you want to simply reproduce content you’ve made before.
With sports stars the challenge is simple; how do you get the best out of them on camera? Yes, you need to understand their journey, their struggles, and of course their achievements; but more importantly, to get the best out of them, you need to get to know the person.
You’re The Coach, Not The Fan
Sports stars, with their physicality, mentality, dedication, and resilience, can at times appear like they are the closest things to super heroes in the real world. However, this doesn’t mean that they will be able to confidently deliver a line to camera, or recreate an action time and time again just because you ask them to. Yet because of their achievements in the sporting arena, an audience can often assume that they will be like this in all walks of life.
To understand this means that as a Producer or Director, you understand this sports star now needs you to elevate their performance on camera in a way that their coaches do off it. You need to see them in a professional light, so that they can see you in one.
Your job is to make that person feel on camera like they do in their sporting arena; comfortable, confident, and focused. You must first gain their trust. No one is going to listen to you if they don’t trust you. The question then, is how you do that?
The author (right), ‘coaching’ British & Irish legend, Brian O’Driscoll
We’re All Different
In life, there tend to be four very general types of personality traits, and this can often have an impact on how you approach the filming process.
Firstly, there’s those who simply want to be told what to do and when to do it. They want to feel like the person running the shoot knows what they’re doing, so you need to be immensely confident in your decision making and instruction. If you show any signs of hesitancy or doubt, then they will start to falter, and so too, will the project.
Then there’s those that want an in-depth explanation of what you are telling them. This person needs time with you leading up to the shoot, and on the day of the shoot itself. They want to be involved and understand the who, what, when, where and hows of production. If they don’t buy what you’re selling, the clock will tick away until they do.
Those that want to have fun and enjoy it above all else can often require a different approach altogether. You’ll need to be relaxed, spend time talking with them, involve your team more, so there is a camaraderie within the production. If the project becomes boring to them, they will start to lose interest, and be more interested in just getting through the shoot than doing it well.
Lastly, there can be those that need constant reassurance that everything is fine. They need to take their time, and need constant reassurance that they are doing a good job. Often this can mean showing them playback of their action on set so they can see that they look and sound good. You have to be patient with them and do everything you can to make them feel as good with you as they do surrounded by their coaches.
Rugby star Owen Farrell getting a view from the other side of the camera
Of course, I’m not saying that any one person is one of these things alone since that would be simplistic, but they are usually more of one of those traits than any other. Once you understand the person you are working with, then you can ensure you have the best set up possible, and by set up, I mean everything from the team you have on set, to the types of food and drink available on the shoot.
In The Field
In live environments such as observational documentaries, you are the one on their turf. You’re in their arena, and in this situation, the most important thing you need to understand is that you, your cameras, and your agenda is secondary to theirs. If they ever feel that you are impeding their focus or performance, then it won’t be long before you will be politely asked to put the camera down. If you can capture a high-pressure situation without causing distraction, then that will go a long way to earning that trust. As the trust builds, the greater the access, and the greater the product you’re producing will be for it.
When it comes to the technicalities of filming in the field, you need to get your kit right. If the equipment you have decided to use is inappropriate for the shoot, then you’re in trouble. It’s balancing ambition with reality. There is little point taking state of the art equipment into a challenging environment if you haven’t the time or resources to use them to their full potential.
Often it’s about being creative and using your experience to know where to be and how to ‘get that shot’, and if you’re moving around a lot, the last thing you need is to be heaving lots of kit around. That said, you won’t just have a standard camera and sound kit you use for each project. Each one will require a team and equipment tailored to the environment you’re filming in. Sometimes that can mean that you’ll have lighting professionals, make-up artists and catering vans, and other times it’ll just require you and your camera.
When you get it right, it’s immensely rewarding for your company. It’s all about making the right impression and conducting yourself in the right manner from development to delivery. If you are filming with a high-profile sports star, then it’s easy to get ahead of yourself and start thinking about how you’re going to put them in your showreel. However, you need to ensure that the sports star firstly enjoys the experience.
They will more than likely compare you to the hundreds of other crews they have worked with. If you stand out and they remember your shoot for all the right reasons, then who knows what the next project with them may be.
It’s Their Life
When your shoot is over, it’s hard not to feel a sense of achievement. But your job is only just getting started. You may have just had a shoot with a phenomenal sports star, who had an incredible story, or did something on camera that made your hair stand up on end. However, when you get into the edit, you may feel that their story hasn’t quite come across as well as it could have. You may also be under pressure to make sure the film is emotional, aspirational, inspiring, but you also need to make sure that what you are producing is authentic and as close to reality as possible.
The last thing the sports star wants to see is an edit where what they have said or how they have said it has been over produced to the point where they feel uncomfortable. It’s their reputation. It’s their life. That must come first as a filmmaker who respects the person they are filming with. Where honesty can build trust and loyalty, dishonesty can undo everything you set out to achieve in the first place.
Sports Stars Sell
When all is said and done, a sports star sells. They are viewed by millions of adoring fans online. They sell millions of books, and have access to many other people that can influence a brand. But, with viewers having a near unlimited choice in what they want to watch online, for branded content to work it needs to be highly engaging and produced to an exceptional standard in order to stop the viewer from moving on to another video clip or various content.
If you have successfully developed a relationship where the sports person’s performance has produced incredible actions, or a compelling story, then that trust has been earned, and you have a foundation upon which you can make something people will engage with – and you have done your job.