CSMA Master Class: A One-Woman Band Changes The Video Culture at University of San Francisco
The SVG/NACDA College Sports Media Awards celebrate the best in college sports-video production. As technology and techniques evolve, the ability to create high-quality video on any budget has proliferated significantly. At the SVG College Sports Summit in May, 16 productions from across the country were honored for their excellence and overall contribution to the industry. This summer, SVG is proud to offer an in-depth look at the personalities and programs that have raised the bar in college sports video.
Sports-video production has experienced a revolution of sorts over the past decade. Chalk it up to HBO, ESPN’s 30 for 30, whatever you like. The day of highlight packages and even coach’s shows is fading. This is the age of insider access and storytelling in the hands of a filmmaker more than a sportscaster. Fans are connecting with athletes’ personal lives, not just their on-field play.
When 15-year professional sports-video vet Katie Morgan came aboard at the University of San Francisco in spring 2013, she brought that mind-set to an athletics department that previously was happy to have just a Website and Twitter account.
Merely a year later, there was Morgan, on the stage at the 2014 College Sports Media Awards ceremony accepting a trophy from ESPN’s Rece Davis. One of her first projects at USF, an intimate, one-on-one documentary-style collection titled To Be a Don, had just been named Outstanding Program Series in College Athletics, topping the likes of Notre Dame, Minnesota, and Penn State.
Growing a Culture
Early in 2013, Morgan had moved clear across country, leaving New York City for San Francisco to take a job as a features producer at the new Pac-12 Networks. The day she arrived in the Bay Area, she got the news that the man who had hired her was no longer with the company and that the network needed to focus more on live event programming. The job she had transported her life nearly 3,000 miles for wasn’t there.
Morgan stayed determined and shortly landed a gig at USF, becoming the school’s first creative videographer. After years producing content for NBC Olympics, Major League Baseball, YES Network, ESPN, and Fox Sports, Morgan relished the opportunity to get back into college sports.
“At the network level, you are telling the stories of these pro athletes, and it’s almost like you’re in their way,” she says. “When I was at MLB, we did a story on [David Ortiz’s] cars and how many shoes Matt Kemp had in his collection. These are not stories where I feel like I’m changing lives or making a connection with the audience. So, when I got to the college level, there’s so many stories to be told and so many things that can be done to bring in a fan base. And these kids! They appreciate it, they’re grateful.”
Despite her enthusiasm, there was no sugarcoating it: the deck was stacked against her. There was no video culture at the athletic department prior to Morgan’s arrival, and the program lacked a true “breadwinner” sport, which presented numerous obstacles for her as she looked to establish herself.
So what does a storyteller do when she doesn’t have a rich history of success to pull content from? Or a nationally recognizable brand? She goes back to the core of athletics.
“What are the things that every athlete has in common?” says Morgan. “There’s passion, hard work, the love for the game. We don’t need to have NCAA championships to show that. So I wanted to go after the aspect of the athlete that everyone connects with.”
That’s where To Be a Don was born. Morgan had the creative vision for what she wanted the series to be, but convincing athletes and coaches who weren’t accustomed to being in front of video cameras was tougher.
“In the beginning, the coaches didn’t really understand what I was doing,” laughs Morgan. “I didn’t get a lot of feedback, and it was a lot harder to get athletes. Now that everyone sees what I’m about, the coaches say, Whatever you want, whatever time you need.”
How do you build that culture? Morgan advises doing research online. Find, watch, study, and share video productions that you would like to emulate.
“We all do that,” she says. “We all take ideas and draw upon ideas from other people. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
According to Morgan, those pieces will help you establish a vision and will make it easier to pitch your ideas to coaches and athletes.
“When you have these great ideas and people aren’t used to that culture,” she says, “they don’t believe you, they don’t think it can happen, and they don’t care because they haven’t seen it yet.”
Once Morgan got the creative process on the To Be a Don series rolling, she had to tackle her production plan. Naturally, given the school’s mid-major status, her resources were limited. Through the first seven episodes of the series, she shot with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II (with an EF 50mm f/1.4 USM lens) for all specialty shots and game action shots; if she needed slow motion, she added the Panasonic AG-DVX100.
She didn’t start shooting with a DSLR until she was already at USF and purchased one out of her own pocket, picking up a 50mm lens on eBay to go with it. In the later episodes this year, Morgan switched to the Canon EOS 5D Mark III, mounted it on a Manfrotto Monopod, and used a Marshall 7-in. field monitor with a sun hood. She’s now using a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM and a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM.
Since Morgan works solo, she also needed to get creative, constructing a dolly of skateboard wheels, PVC pipe, a Glidecam HD2000 stabilizer system, and an additional GoPro camera mounted on the back of a bicycle. She also uses an Aura light kit from Digital Juice, which comprises three 500-W LED lights. She edits her pieces in Apple Final Cut Pro 7 and has a small college deal in place with APM Music to add authorized music to her pieces.
Working with the athletes was a whole other story. Morgan has to lay out a one- or two-day plan when she has decided on the student to film an episode with. Time granted by the coaches can be limited, but, as she continues to build that trust, she’s allowed more and more access.
As for whom she chooses to work with, that’s one of her favorite parts.
“Go after somebody that has a really great story,” she explains. “They don’t always have to be the most athletic one or the star. Honestly, I just want a good story.”