CSMA Master Class: Syracuse Tells One of Sports’ Greatest Stories
Since its inception, the College Sports Media Awards have recognized the best 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 in June, 16 productions were honored for their contribution to sports video. Each Friday this summer, SVG is proud to offer an in-depth look at the personalities and programs that have raised the bar for what college sports video is capable of.
On one of the more lively college campuses in America, Roger Springfield is cutting himself off from the world. His phone is off, his door is locked, and his lights are dimmed.
As the Executive Producer of Media Content and Special Events at Syracuse University, Springfield is typically a social butterfly. Speaking and coordinating with countless people daily both on campus and off. His robust laugh, strong handshake, and friendly persona help him fill a room and make him a perfect fit for his job.
But when it comes to editing? Leave him alone.
On this day, Springfield is working on a project very close to his heart. A video to be played at the 50th anniversary celebration of former Orangemen running back Ernie Davis becoming the first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy.
Under his vast umbrella of responsibilities at Syracuse, Springfield heads up the athletic department’s video production arm, Orange All-Access. Editing videos is a regular part of his daily routine. In fact, in this past academic year alone — its first year producing in high-definition — Orange All-Access posted 930 videos, garnering four million unique views online in the process.
But this one was different.
The story of Ernie Davis is one that is important to not just the university but to the entire country; one of many key steps in the path to equality during the Civil Rights Movement of the mid-20th century. Doing a video was simple. Doing it right was much harder.
“When I set out editing it, I wanted to do it without a narrative script and just let [the interviewees] tell the story,” reflects Springfield. “Sometimes that works, sometimes that doesn’t work. It worked here. All of the natural transitions were there.”
“Breaking Barriers: Building Dreams” features no flashy motion graphics, overlays, or animations; just a raw appreciation of school history. It was a respectfully understated piece that landed Springfield and Syracuse the College Sports Media Award for Best Special Feature in the College Athletics division.
A Long Time In The Making
The first spark of inspiration for Springfield came back in 2004 when he produced a documentary on three legendary Syracuse running backs that all wore the No. 44: Jim Brown, Floyd Little, and Davis. That’s where the love affair with the Davis story took hold.
Then, when producer John Davis, director Gary Fleder, and Universal Studios came calling in 2007 to shoot the Hollywood motion picture The Express, Springfield was fully engrossed in the history, serving as the primary liaison between the university and the movie studio.
Wanting to add a personal touch to last December’s 50th anniversary celebration at the New York Historical Society Museum in Manhattan, Springfield set out to produce his own short piece. On the night before the 2011 Heisman was to be awarded, many key figures would be in the room that night to commemorate the iconic running back. Guests ranged from civil rights leaders to former athletes, and broadcasters. Even Vice President Joe Biden gave a welcome speech.
“It was a big deal,” says Springfield who handled all of the arrangements of the event itself as well. “For me, though, the focal point was the video. What I wanted to do with that is sort of set it up the magnitude of the accomplishment.”
Even Springfield held his breath a little as the room darkened to the atmosphere of a movie theater and his piece began to run. Anyone who has ever produced a video knows that rush: all of your time and hard work about to play out on a screen for everyone to see.
Not All Smooth Sailing
No production, even an award-winning one, is without its struggles. The biggest challenge for Springfield in producing a video such as this was researching the proper interview subjects and arranging times to set up and film.
Springfield and his small crew paid a visit to Brooklyn to visit relatives of Ernie’s: uncle Chuck Davis and aunt Marion Summers. The interviews were shot with Sony PDWF 335L HD XD cameras and everything went well until Springfield got back to upstate New York and checked out his footage to discover there was a back focus issue with the lens and that the footage was too soft and out-of-focus to use. They would have to go back to Brooklyn to reshoot.
Interviews with Jim Brown (in Los Angeles) and Harry Edwards (just outside of San Francisco) were each shot with a Canon 5D. All of the archived footage featured in the video came from Syracuse’s archives and were 16mm. Springfield edited the final piece together on Avid Media Composer Nitris DX.
The video served as an introduction to a panel discussion featuring former Syracuse basketball player Dave Bing, the second African-American to win the Heisman Mike Garrett, legendary sportswriter Frank DeFord, former ‘Cuse football player and NBA star Billy Hunter, and former Syracuse receiver and Pro Football Hall of Famer Art Monk.
It proved to be a hit and, despite bearing a whole wealth of varying responsibilities that night, it was one of Springfield’s proudest moments.
“The cool thing about it, in my view, is that its good old fashioned storytelling,” he says. “I remember when the Video Toaster came out and people were using these transitions like sweat and all of this stuff just because they could do it and it didn’t advance the story. The medium has always been about storytelling and it always will be.”