If “HARD KNOCKS” is built around a single camp and “ALL OR NOTHING” is built around a single season, this project will be built around a single unifying idea that we are finally tearing down “the black wall” to reveal how the All Blacks cope with carrying the hopes of a nation on their back.
When the focus is on opening the door to the rarified world of the All Blacks, then every creative decision should echo, amplify and ratify that core idea. It’s not enough that cameras are simply behind the scenes. What this project deserves is a fully integrated approach that showcases its unique point of view.
Traditional live sports broadcasting is duty bound to prove that it’s brasher, bolder, and more state of the art than whatever came before. Fortunately for us, it is so preoccupied with communicating objective data within the game that it ignores the subjective experience of what it’s actually like to be an All Black. It is in this vacuum that we find our opportunity to add value.
Just because we see inside a club’s dressing room or their home, doesn’t mean we see inside the reality of a player’s experience. Fans want to feel close to their heroes and they want to escape into a story or a fully immersive experience.
Yes, our cameras will have unprecedented access inside the club’s dressing room. But, in theory, the club is already giving us that. That should be just the beginning. As storytellers and filmmakers, we should look to enhance and highlight the sensation of immediacy and intimacy at every opportunity. Everything flows from this one cohesive idea so that in the end, the project looks and feels like a cohesive unified idea that is fully realized.
The more tools and techniques we use strip away the barrier between All Blacks and the audience, the closer we will get to illustrate the core idea that flips the script on what it is to be a superstar athlete.
THE CORE THEME
It’s been said All Black’s fans are obsessive and absolutely crazy for the game. But global audiences are bombarded daily with imagery of crazy fans from other sports from cultures that are a bit more unhinged then NZ. So global viewers will have over the top expectations of what crazy obnoxious fans look like… and New Zealanders don’t do obnoxious.
The truth is that New Zealanders are more reserved. The “tall poppy syndrome” is real here. So if we set up the expectation that global audiences are going to see the most rabid obnoxious fans, we will not meet those expectations.
Americanizing the sport by falsely exaggerating NZ fandom would be a mistake on many levels. First, it would be a betrayal to the core fans, the New Zealanders who find pride in the All Blacks as a reflection of the national ideal. Second, to try and compete with American sports in the arena of being obnoxious is a loser. Lest we forget, the president of the United States is a one Donald Trump.
The more honest and interesting thing to do is to play to the strengths of the subject matter and flip the script by illustrating what true devotion to a team looks like in unexpected ways.
For example, it’s common to hear that Rugby is New Zealand’s national pastime or that the All Blacks are the nations team. But what does that mean? For starters, there is no Jerry Jones in Auckland. The All Black’s are not a profit center for one man. It is literally owned by the nation. When a citizen says this is his team, its not hyperbole. It literally is his team, and his neighbor’s team.
Most importantly, in New Zealand, rugby is part of the fabric of the society. In villages, hamlets and cities in every corner of the country, grown men come together to play rugby. But they don’t just do so as a pastime. They do so at local rugby clubs as an expression of community. Rugby at this grass roots level is something that binds generations and communities together. There is no equivalent of this in the US.
With this in mind, the best way to see All Black’s fans might not be to show them at their showiest or most unhinged… but rather at their most genuine… by showing Rugby the way the following film does- at its grass roots level and played from the soil of the farmland to the suburbs.
At the highest levels in other countries, elite athletes in the NFL or the NBA or the Premiere League live in gated communities – moated off from their fans by wealth. In New Zealand, the most elite Rugby athletes in the world live among the people. Though they are paid reasonably well, they don’t live opulently nor do they choose to live separately from their fans and countrymen who made them what they are.
In fact, many All Blacks first played for these same amateur rugby clubs in their own hometowns. (Sam Cane actually got his start playing for the Respora club chronicled in this film.) And although they went on to play the game on the sport’s biggest stage as All Blacks at Eden Park, they never left their local club roots behind.
They remain grounded in the knowledge that whether they are playing at the cathedral of the sport in Eden Park, or the humble Rugby field in the middle of farmland, the ground beneath them is New Zealand all the same. This is at the core of what makes the All Black’s experience unique.
Our goal should be to illustrate how Rugby binds a nation by showcasing 4-5 hometown clubs from which current All Blacks emerged. Each club should represent a different geographic, cultural or socio economic corner of the nation.
Profiling the disparate and far flung clubs even opens up an opportunity for our transitions to be on point thematically and echo our unifying theme. In order to pivot from game footage to the countryside, quick cuts of aerial drone footage looking perpendicular to various landscapes will incrementally move us from stadiums/cityscapes through suburban sprawl to remote acreage of farmland laid out in grids and finally bring us to ground level of community football clubs.
Video Samples Here and Here
This transitional technique will further illustrate the cohesive unifying idea that the All Blacks are simply the ultimate expression of a culture that plays out in every town and hamlet and suburb in the country. The game, no matter how or where it takes place, is stitched together by the ground of the nation it is played on… and thus so is our series… through connective tissue of this vast, varied and beautiful country.
Though they are a reflection of their fans, the All Blacks do have a unique burden their supporters do not carry. They represent an ideal of how New Zealanders would like to see themselves. To the extent the fall short of the ideal, there is conflict that can drive story.
The teams younger players are the first to be born in the digital age. Thanks to technology, the world is getting smaller- and New Zealand is less isolated, less of an island. And as this new generation of All Blacks grows up more exposed to the outside world than their predecessors, how does their coach keep the traditions and core values of the team relevant against a tsunami of outside culture? The struggle to keep the players connected to the traditions is at the heart of the conflict that will drive the series.
When the team falls short of that ideal on or off the field, the pain for the fan is bigger than a win or a loss. To be a New Zealander means is to be grounded and humble. If a player loses focus or is not buying into the old traditions, does that there has been an erosion in what made the All Black’s special- namely their belief in the All Black way? And what if the recent exodus of veteran leadership creates a vacuum where the young guns lose sight of what it takes to be great?
Once one is invited to become an All Black, one steps inside point of view that only a privileged few will ever know. Now, for the first time, this series will pull down the black curtain of secrecy for an intimate view inside the eye of the All Black’s hurricane. To help illustrate the shared experience, we have developed a visual treatment to set them apart from objective voices such as pundits, journalists, wives, family, fans, etc.
All interviews with members of the All Blacks team and coaching staff will employ shallow depth of field and direct address to create the sensation of immediacy and intimacy. This technique removes the artificial barrier of an interviewer to create an unmediated one-on-one subjective experience with our heroes.
All other interviews with individuals outside of the team will be conducted with a traditional objective eye-line between the producer and the subject.
Implicit in this distinction is that when an All Black is speaking, its an invitation to share their point of view, literally and metaphorically.
In order to keep the focus on the content of the interviews, the formal interviews will be shot using longer lensing which will compress the background and throw it into beautiful abstraction. Strategically placed kino tubes and opportunistic use of bokeh effect are key ingredients in this look as well- creating pleasing compositions that frame our subjects in a consistent style that can be applied in different settings.
CAMERA SPECS AND SAMPLES OF THIS STYLE IN A FEW DOZEN ENVIRONMENTS CAN BE FOUND AT BOTTOM OF THIS THREAD.
An extension of this intimate interview style will be our portraiture. The idea is to inform character by showcasing details of the items the subject choose to surround himself with or wear. This could include details of clothing, furniture, diplomas, photos, championship rings or memorabilia.
At the beginning of the first sound-bite from each of them, we will quickly cascade or tumble through 2 such details (roughly 15-20 frames each) before settling on a wide portrait of the subject. The details that preceded this shot are revealed to be within the portraiture. The portraiture shot itself is wide and contains a subtle “push” or “creep” towards the subject who is looking directly into the lens. The series of shots is no longer than 3 seconds, during which time the subject’s first line of dialog is “L-Cut” underneath the imagery.
Samples of this progression from a previous project can be viewed on the below by reviewing rows of 4 images left to right. I’ll replace with the first samples from this project as they become available.
By the time this quick series of shots tumbles us into the proper interview setup, our appreciation for who this person is will be informed and enriched by our exposure to these details.
The interviews themselves will be shot within the same environment. Although the backgrounds in interviews will be abstract thanks to the long lens, we will retain a sense of place because of the portraiture we quickly passed through before landing in the formal interview setup.
You can also reference the below link to see a string of sample montages showing how they cut together.
The primary responsibility of a live broadcast is to track what is happening at a match, not what it feels like to be inside a match. Within minutes of our first episode, it will be clear that even the most sophisticated live broadcasts fail to capture important elements of what it’s like to play inside the All Blacks.
On match days, up to four of our cameras will cover the action on the field in addition to that of ISOS and line cut from broadcast. However, the photographic style will stand in sharp contrast to that of the original broadcast.
Extreme close-ups will reveal a heightened state of player emotions, and the details we capture will reveal the truths about the game behind the game. But we won’t simply rely on amazing imagery…
Passion, anger, fatigue, pain… emotions, all discernable by the audio “tells” that betray them. And while the typical football broadcast only picks up the occasional aural throwaway and referee’s whistle, the game that these players really experience is something akin to sensory overload. Again, the juxtaposition of the two will be nothing less than shocking…
The camera and audio techniques and tools detailed above are only part of a comprehensive approach.
Immediacy and intimacy can’t be captured by 4k lines of resolution or a quarter-million dollar graphics package. That’s because the game within game is playing out internally within the players themselves.
True intimacy is a mood that can be created only when the tools of technology and production are married to an approach designed specifically to evoke what it feels like to be inside the skin of an All Black.
THE INNER MONOLOGUE
Traditionally, sports reality series will follow their subject home in an effort to learn more about them. The dirty secret is that its usually the lesser players who allow it because they have more to gain from the exposure. It’s more than likely, some of our subjects will balk.
And yet it is that limitation which has forced us to redefine what it means to get the inside story. After all, just because cameras are in someone’s personal space, doesn’t mean we are learning anything personal.
What if we could be privy to the inner most thoughts of the All Blacks? It’s not as complicated as one might think…
It’s almost counterintuitive but when you see these actually reflections by Zidane, it is clear that there is nothing more intimate that an inner monologue. It’s like we are being shared a secret from someone’s innermost thoughts.
Using such a technique will only lend more purpose to the use of subtitles, already a necessity because of the melting pot of characters on any given club. It will give also us the greatest opportunity to get “access” to players who might be otherwise inaccessible.
This stylish and signature device completes the picture. For these men, this is not simply a game– it’s their life. Once we feel like psychologically like we are inside their sacred space on the field, we are finally behind the black wall.
INTV/ CAMERA SPECS
IV’s have been shot using an Eye Direct on the front of the camera with the 70-200mm lens. This mirror system enables the IV subject to look directly down the lens but talking to the Interviewer.
It has been working very well and the talent have felt comfortable doing this. Be careful not to let light leak in to the box. Framing of the subject has been at 1/3 on the left or right of frame thus far. Though center punching occasionally is cool as well depending on the composition. It’s early so we only have a couple samples to share. But you’ll notice that even when they avert their eyes, it is more intimate.
Click here for a few different looks from a past project to see how this style was adapted to a few dozen different environments.
With the 70-200mm nearly wide open ( F 2.8) anything you put in the background (a window, doorway, lights etc.) is going to be completely out of focus and thus take on simple shapes and forms. The single 850mm LED tube is there to lend a reoccuring theme within each frame/location. It is pulled out of its housing/barn doors so it is just a bulb. The bulb (usually daylight) is then positioned with a C-stand arm outfitted with a mayfer clamp. All the guts are out of frame and what you’re left with is a vertical or horizontal band of light traversing through the shot. Again, its out of focus so its kind of a well shaped blob. It is to be used subtly; edging in from frame left or frame right, literally just peeking in to action safe. If it looks bad ass, however, go for it and have it play more prominently.
The key light is a one source Lightstorm with double diffusion running slightly warm around 4600k (or daylight depending on the use of window and doors in most frames) from the viewers side with severe fall off.. its important to get the height right so as not to cast a shadow on the subjects shoulder. As well, be frontal enough to minimize nose shadow but still have the fall off. We have been using a large black sheet as negative fill if need be, we will have cutters available for IV’s.
We’ve been using another light storm to the left of camera as an eyelight. Running at 10% with no diffusion creates a nice light in the eye and is not enough to take away the effect of the single key light.
Backgrounds have been lit using light storms to create shapes and shadows. Running at daylight. We have also added a tungsten light in the background to light up warmer areas of the shot. This creates a nice balance in the shot between cool and warm and makes the talent really stand out from the BG.
The Amira sits on a mediumish tight. Say, head and shoulders with a little chest. We will vary up the shot while the interviewer is asking questions if it has a couple of cool compositions within the master. Just to shake it up but if its cool as is, let it be.
The 2nd Amira or C300 Mark ii is used during the interviews as a profile shot or cutaways of hands, tattoos etc. We put the 70-200 MM on, 800 ISO and set it at 2.8. set it up opposite and a little behind and just find a cool frame that can help on the edit. We will move around during the interview but if it’s a badass frame, I leave it. There is also a second LED tube if needed to add to the profile shot.