Over the last seven months, Diesel Films has been part of the production for Behind Baker, a nine-part docu-series for Facebook Watch and All The Way Up: Baker Mayfield, a four-part documentary for FOX. From managing the 80 terabytes of footage that came in to making sure the story we told was authentic and showed the essence of Baker himself,  producing for both Facebook Watch and a major network presented some unique challenges but was a fulfilling journey from start to finish. Read our Q&A below with Executive Producer Michael Hayden, Producer Seth Shapiro, Director of Photography Chris Velona, Sound Engineer Leandra Dichirico, Editor Lew Holder, Camera Operator / Assistant Editor Sam Burton and Production Assistant Karly Finison. It’s a must read for anyone in the entertainment industry looking to put together a sports documentary.

 

Describe how Diesel Films initially got involved with the Baker project.  

Seth Shapiro: An old friend and colleague, Michael Hayden called me at the end of January and said, “Hey I need help producing an independent Baker Mayfield NFL draft documentary series. Of course, my first response was, “Is this for ESPN or the NFL?” and he said, “No, it’s independent.”  He explained to me a new company called Identifi funded the project.  Initially I was surprised and skeptical, but a week later Mike & the crew were shooting at the Super Bowl with Baker.

Diesel was brought on to handle the post production and some other production elements, such as field audio, which luckily for us was the supremely talented Leandra Dichirico.   We also produced most of the shoots that happened in LA where Baker was living and training during the draft process.

Seven months later we have now completed a 9 episode, 90 minute digital doc series and a four part bio-doc series for FOX.  To say the rest was history would be an understatement.

What were some of the challenges and/or road blocks you faced putting together a network show? Describe how did you addressed them

Mike Hayden: Hardest part is scheduling. When you are in the mindset of being creative, as our team was, you always have to keep in mind the complex delivery schedule that is in front of you. When doing a show of this magnitude you have licensing for footage, lawyers needing to approve it and executives weighing in on each cut. It is important to have a great team in place to support all of that. For Behind Baker and subsequently All the Way Up: Baker Mayfield we had the best in the biz.

Baker and Michael Hayden setting up the shot in Malibu, CA

Lew Holder: A big challenge was trying to balance the “public-facing” story lines with the “behind the scenes” ones. For example, Baker duking it out with Colin Cowherd on live TV was obviously super fun to cut and exciting to watch.

Baker on the set of The Herd with Colin Cowherd.

Lew Holder: It’s important to balance those scenes, though, with the less “headline-grabbing” moments like Baker renting an RV. Everyone see’s the Baker that’s on TV and in the spotlight, but it’s our job to also show the everyday Baker, just being himself. It’s hard not to devote all the screen time to the big scenes, but those other story lines can wind up being very impactful in that different way.

Sam Burton: The biggest challenge for me was learning a new type of filmmaking. I have never really been apart of anything like this before. I come from the narrative type filmmaking where we have shot lists and everything is planned. Working on this was so new to me and I ended up liking it a lot. I just in the end had to just take what I already knew about making a film and transfer it to this. I learned a lot in the end.

Seth Shapiro: Post was interesting to say the least.  Our talented DP Chris Velona, is a RED Weapon Helium owner and operator.  The RED image is pristine and beautiful but to shoot a documentary in 8K is a storage and bandwidth burden to say the least.  We have 2 post operations, one is at our office in Sherman Oaks and our lead editor Erik Butts prefers to edit at his house in Topanga Canyon (Can you blame him?).  So organizing 80 Terabytes of footage in two places and being able to share projects took some major coordination and communication.  For the doc series, it wasn’t too bad since it was all original footage but when we entered into the biographical doc space for FOX that became a major challenge of sharing archives, screeners and hundreds of downloads. We utilized Dropbox to help us manage those archival assets and labeling was a key (although we got to the point where only a select few knew where all the footage was).

The next major challenge is computer processing power and drive speed to handle the RED 8K footage.  Chris made sure to dual record a Pro Res LT proxy in camera but what we actually found is that the high powered iMac and iMac Pro unpacked the 10:1 footage pretty well.  For storage we used multiple Mobius Pro 2 Bays and Seagate Irongate 7200 drives.

All in all we had over 80TB of total footage, It was a beast.  In hindsight we should of Raided together our drives for better performance but footage was coming in so randomally it was tough to estimate how much we would of needed.

The last major challenge is rendering.  When dealing with a network show, we  had 3 rounds of editorial notes and 2 rounds of Broadcast Standards and Practices notes, it’s painful to say the least. When rendering out a 21:50 show that contains 8K footage mixed with other formats, the renders can be painstakingly long, so most of the time we would render over night to wake up to a file in the morning that we could upload to Vimeo and send out.  Whether it was a iMac pro, Mac Pro Trash Can, etc. the renders were a time killer and something that needs to be accounted for.

What was your favorite shoot and why? 

Chris Velona: My favorite shoot and top 3 of all time, was filming Baker at his parents house in Austin, Texas for the NFL Draft.It was so special to witness and feel the energy of his family and friends and witnessing history. There was an outpouring of love and happiness I’ve never experienced on a shoot. It was spiritual for sure and an epic moment I will never forget.

The crew in Lake Travis for Draft Night.

Karly Finison: Can’t choose one! Definitely loved Rookie Premiere at Cal Lutheran University and the Beverly Hilton where rookies got to wear their NFL jerseys for the first time. It was also a great experience to be on the set of Baker’s Sports Illustrated cover shoot as well as Heisman House, a Nissan commercial shoot featuring past Heisman trophy winners. There were over 100 people on-set from the advertising agency TBWA so it was a new experience to witness a commercial shoot of that scale.

Sam Burton: My favorite shoot I was apart of was most likely the Colin Cowherd shoot. This was the first time I really ever got a chance to film anything like this and it was definitely different. It gave me an opportunity to try something new and also see Baker in his full force. I learned a lot.

Behind-the-scenes with Baker at Rookie Premiere with Steelers WR Juju Smith.

 

What made this project different from any of the other projects youve been a part of?

Chris Velona: What made this project different than any other project was the bond and comfortability with Baker, his family and fiancé and management team. It felt like I grew up with Bake and was close friends with him since birth. Having that type of positive energy everyday on set was a blessing and a key ingredient for success.

DP Chris Velona filming Baker training in Malibu, CA.

Leandra DichiricoI have never had a team say they want to keep the sound person consistent until this one.  It made the entire process so much easier on the families we were filming as well as the team working with the same people.  You are able to trust everyone because you know their work ethic.  It just created a wonderful work environment through and through. 

Karly Finison: I would say the longevity of this project definitely made it different from other projects I’ve worked on with Diesel. We’ve done a lot of shooting for agencies and brands with quick-turn deadlines, so being part of a documentary over a much longer period of time was definitely a new experience.

Additionally, as a PA I was responsible for submitting media requests for footage of Baker from both his high school and college careers. It was definitely interesting to see how news stations handled requests of that nature and which stations/networks were more responsive than others. It definitely brought me back to interning at the sports desk at WHDH-TV in Boston!

What advice would you give to other people in the film & sports industries who want to produce a sports documentary for network television

Lew Holder: My advice to other editors would be “stay organized.” With something as extensive as this project, where you have footage spanning 20 years and hours and hours of content, it’s imperative to know where everything is and have it easily accessible.

Seth Shapiro: Be ready for notes and more notes plus two rounds of Broadcast Standards and Practices clearance.  It’s a lot and very time consuming.  Be prepared for the amount of time it takes to deliver a network show. Mike Hayden, the director, grinded many very, very long nights with our editors to get the show to a place that we were all happy with.  There were many nights I had to go back to the office after I put my daughters to sleep to check on color correction, graphics, editorial, etc.  Bottom line, be prepared for a major time and effort commitment.  Producing and delivering 4 half-hour shows in a 2 month period is no joke.  Having a network show is cool but for the follow up bio doc it was my personal preference to produce a feature length documentary so we could control the timeline and have 100% creative control, but Fox came to the table with an offer that the investors couldn’t refuse.

Michael Hayden: Be aware of the cost. When you want to tell a story about an athlete you inherently need supporting footage. There are great services out there which will help you every step of the way, but it still comes at a cost. Do your research before-hand. Allocate a significant portion of your overall budget to acquiring that footage and have a plan in place before you hit the edit for that footage. Literally every second of footage counts.

Our first shoot with Baker at Proactive Training facility in Agoura Hills, CA.

Michael Hayden: From the creative side, don’t be afraid to take a risk in how you tell that athletes story. Every story is original. Tap into who your subject is as a person and embrace that. Don’t force the story into a preconceived formula. Be fluid and allow it to unfold as natural as it happened. Every action of that persons life has a reaction, find a way to tell the story in a concise, informative and entertaining way.

 

Filming Baker’s master interview in Tarzana, CA.

Chris Velona: The biggest advice I can give to DP’s who are working on a sports doc is to always be ready to capture the essence. Things happen so fast and as they say, if you snooze, you lose. Being a DP was a dream of mine and a really fun career choice but it definitely gets expensive. I used the following equipment for the feature documentary: RED Weapon Helium 8K cinema camera package, MoVi Pro, RT Motion Thumb wheel & Latitude setup, OMOD XLR2, Schoeps Microphone, sigma glass, ready Rig, shoulder mount, Sachtler Tripod, three 512 gig cards and a whole lot of external hard drives.

Karly Finison: It’s definitely important to get to know your talent. Part of the reason the doc turned out so great, is because we always got an authentic Baker. Every time we filmed with him, he made it a point to greet everyone on-set. Not everyone does that, so from the beginning it felt like not only did he have a level of comfort with us, but as a film crew we also were comfortable doing our job with him.

Screening Episodes 3 & 4 at Post Production Inc.

Leandra Dichirico: I don’t think there is any true advice to give to other sound engineers for working on a documentary other than do you your best every day.  Every sound engineer has their own techniques, but our job is to capture the best sound possible every day.  When you are able to work the same project over the course of multiple months, it just helps you figure out your work flow and bond with the people you are filming.  With Baker, we developed a relationship that made the entire process easy, he would even fight for my mic to stay on him when we were filming him do interviews for television networks.

Overall, this was one of the best experiences I have had all the way through.  Beginning to end.  I am still in shock that I worked on this project and that Seth Shapiro and Mike Hayden had enough faith in me to get me on this project for the entirety of it.  When I saw the first cut for the Facebook Watch series, I was amazed how little music they had.  It made me so proud to be on this because they were letting my sound shine in ways that no other project has.  Of course, I owe a lot to the post sound mixer who helped smoothed it out.  But wow.  This project is for the books to cherish throughout my life.

What was your biggest takeaway? 

Sam Burton: Working on the Baker show has not only been fun but has also showed me me what real success looks like. It is really inspiring seeing someone so successful at what they do because of how hard they work. Baker just kinda radiates that in his own way and it is inspiring. It makes me want to get up off my butt and try harder.

Seth Shapiro: Being a part of telling Baker’s story is very special.  Getting to know Baker, the charismatic, friendly, loyal person that he really is and not who the media painted him as was an honor and a privilege. The relationship that the team built with Baker was based on honesty and trust, everything that came from our process was positive, he trusted us and we respected him.

Seth Shapiro with Baker at Rookie Premiere.

Seth Shapiro: Being in Lake Travis for draft week and getting to spend time with Bake and the crew in his hometown is something I will never forget. Then he goes #1?  Come on I must be dreaming, that was amazing, and to think we were closely tied to that experience is something to be very proud of.   While putting out a 9 episode web series in 10 days (produced over 2 months) was very challenging, it was so rewarding to be in the moment of when it all led to Baker being the #1 pick.

The night before the NFL Draft taking the photo that broke the internet.

Seth Shapiro: Also the hard work and effort that we all put into this project.  It was a very lean crew.

First off Michael Hayden, the EP / Director worked tirelessly to make this all come to fruition.  He really brought a passion and commitment to the project that was needed through all the challenges that came with it.

Erik Butts, our lead editor, put in hundreds of hours into editing the content.  His dedication to the storytelling aspect was an incredible effort.  Working with someone like Erik is appreciated beyond words can describe.

Those two guys definitely pushed me to not the drop the ball and keep up my end of the bargain, which was to keep the train on the tracks and keep the production moving forward at all costs.

Our crew led by Chris Velona and Leandra Dichirico, did an incredible job in the field, Chris creating beautiful frames while building a lifelong friendship with Baker.  Leandra capturing pristine sound in all the different conditions that were thrown at her.  Karly Finison keeping up with the day-to-day research and logging, and also helping out on shoots, was invaluable.  So many others to thank who chipped in, really a team effort all the way around.

All in all, we became a family, with all the highs and lows families have, working on a very special project.

Many thanks to Bon Lavi Productions for bringing us on, Baker’s marketing team at Waterhouse Hayes and Team Identifi for making this production possible. Check out Episodes 3 & 4 this Sunday, August 5th, at 3 p.m. ET / 12 p.m. PT on FOX.

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