CSMA Master Class: Creativity, Passion Fuel Michigan’s “Timeless”
Since its inception, the College Sports Media Awards have recognized the best in class in the college sports production arena. As technology and production techniques improve, the ability to create high quality video on any budget has proliferated significantly. At the College Sports Video Summit, six universities and two professional networks were honored for their work in sports-related video content. Each Thursday this summer, SVG is proud to offer an in-depth look at these personalities and programs that have raised the bar for what college sports video is capable of.
Alumni pride: most schools have it by the truckload, but few do it better than the Wolverines.
So when the University of Michigan looked to commemorate the rededication of iconic Michigan Stadium following a $226 million renovation project, it made sense to turn to someone who had worn the maize and blue themselves for help.
After a few years of, what he affectionately called, “begging” of the university to be involved in a video project, Michigan alum and former Wolverines lacrosse player Michael O’Leary was hired by the athletic department to serve as writer/producer on a video recapping the day’s events of the 2010 football season opener.
O’Leary had even bigger plans in mind.
“I suggested to them that we do a short promo video about the stadium history which was something I was kind of interested in doing,” says O’Leary, who works fulltime as associate director of promotions and advertising for AT&T in Atlanta. “I described the idea to them and they liked it, so they hired me to do both.”
At the College Sports Media Awards last month in Atlanta, that video “Timeless” earned top honor – the XOS Digital Award for College Sports Video of the Year – in addition to taking home the title for best video in Promotion or Marketing Campaign – College Athletics.
The Product and Reception
“Timeless” fantastically blends the Wolverines’ storied football past with its freshly expanded home. The two minute and nine second video overlays historical footage from the school’s archives on top of sparkling new shots taken of the renovated stadium by O’Leary. Black and white scenes of fans in the stands are put into place just where they would be at the new stadium; Michigan players from the 1940’s in leather-helmets plunge into the current end zone during a goal line stand; and type-writer keys click away as smoke rises from the pipes and cigars of fedora-wearing reporters filing their stories in the stadium’s shiny new press box.
“The general consensus was that we all thought that it was really amazing,” says Barbara Cossman, director of production on the project and publications coordinator at the University of Michigan. “It was just really neat to see that overlapping of history and current day.”
Cossman played a key role internally at the university in making the project come to fruition. Having had conversations with key members of the Michigan athletic department, Cossman expressed her own belief that the university needed to do more in the way of promoting its facilities, both from a historical and recruiting standpoint. She got the finances and stadium access approved for O’Leary’s project despite Michigan already housing its own video production team.
“When I see something that I think has a lot of potential, I jump on board and I get really excited and I bust my butt to help see it through,” says Cossman.
Award-Winning Work on a Limited Budget
A common misconception is that working for a large school automatically means a huge budget at your disposal. That wasn’t the case with O’Leary who said the project cost no more than “a few thousand bucks.”
“He’s his own shop basically,” says Cossman. “He told me from the get-go, I am way more affordable than anyone else you will find.”
O’Leary used a single camera (a Panasonic AG-HVX200), a tripod, and his own makeshift dolly with a PVC pipe track. He walked that around Michigan Stadium pulling in all of the shots and angles he wanted.
The rest of the budget went towards postproduction (editing and color correction were handled in Adobe After Effects), narration, and music licensing. But while much of the talk of video production seems to come down to dollars and cents, a project can never be great without two things: creativity and passion. For this effort, O’Leary had plenty of both to go around.
“He cares very much about his end product because it represents him, but in the long run it also represents his university,” says Cossman. “We care very much about things that represent us and we want it to reflect the character and integrity that our athletic department and university are known for and he did everything in such a classy way and that’s really how we like things done.”
When it came to recreating the images of some of the most iconic moments in the stadium’s history, O’Leary had to put in plenty of preparation to make sure he made the most of his access to the venue.
“I went into it knowing what historical footage I had and having been there for so long as a student I knew my way around and I knew what kind of shots I was going to get,” says O’Leary, who had produced nearly 40 videos for the University of Miami — one of which, The Great Storm, won a CSMA in 2010 for Best Special Feature. “I was pretty systematic about where I needed to get a shot and what piece of historical footage was going to go in that place.”
O’Leary’s CSMA victory furthers the case that the college sports video landscape is being bolstered by the increased affordability of video production in the Internet era. O’Leary agrees that his video is proof that anyone with an original idea and a vision can produce something special.
“I think the mistake that a lot of people make is trying to recreate something like an ESPN or HBO feature; something where those groups are really spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to produce a very short piece,” says O’Leary, “but if you do something that is both visually unique and thematically unique than a lot of the technical distinctions are kind of blurred and you can get away with using lesser-quality equipment.
“The best thing to do is to do something unique and creative.”