***Available on iTunes***
If someone comes to you with a project and a plane ticket just say yes.
I spent time in both music and automotive circles before heading over to sports. Diversity has kind of been my thing. Though I didn’t think I’d see the day I’d be unpacking the equipment on the touchline of a soccer pitch. For five seasons I had been immersed in the hockey world, both the National and the American Hockey League. It had been less than a year since completing Push to the Playoffs and I was currently working on a trio of docu-web series. I was approached with a concept and a travel itinerary, and I couldn’t resist the opportunity.
Check out All For One on IMDB
First pitched as a web series, All For One was originally going to be comprised of 15 separate segments which followed Toronto Football Club from the Major League Soccer draft straight through their four week training camp in Orlando. Following the Push to the Playoffs template, the web segments would be produced in a way that could be strung together into four half-hour television shows. The whole plan was hinged on the initial footage we pulled out of the prospect combine in Ft. Lauderdale. In essence, it was our pilot.
After the initial teaser (up top) was presented, the project was immediately green lit. The program format was changed to reflect five half hour episodes, abandoning the previous plans of a web series.
Both on the pitch and in the front office, Toronto FC was an organization undergoing change. Their six year history had yet to produce a single playoff berth and the club was coming off their roughest season yet, having collected only five wins. Kevin Payne, one of the forefathers of MLS, had been brought in as the club’s first ever President & General Manager. Following substantial player movement, Payne announced the signing of Ryan Nelsen as the new coach. At the time Nelsen was still playing in the English Premiere League, which opened the doors to many story lines.
From the first episode through to the fifth, All For One invited viewers into the moments that occur which bond a team together. During the MLS Prospect Combine Kyle Bekker and Emery Welshman sat side-by-side on the bus to and from the training grounds each day – later both were drafted by Toronto FC. The club’s first pre-season victory came in the heavy rain, the worst weather conditions we saw during the entire stay in Orlando. After more than three weeks away from home, younger members of the club stuff themselves in a hotel room to compete in an EA Sports FIFA 13 tournament. Rookies put on a performance for their teammates ahead of the season’s first match.
From start to finish the project was 11 weeks. The cameras found its way into a restaurant with team brass, at both Orlando Magic and Toronto Maple Leafs games, into the homes of Stefan Frei and Danny Califf as well as into the locker room as Nelsen addressed his club ahead of the team’s first home match. It was quite the journey. All For One premiered on TSN and was syndicated on Rogers Sportsnet and GOL TV Canada. The first episode, Old Home Week, first aired February 28th, 2013.
Canon 5D Mark II: It was my first real project with the camera. Aside from a couple test shoots, I hadn’t really been able to break in the 5D Mark II. I was immediately captured by 10 stops of dynamic range. Shooting mostly outside I had wanted a picture that provided a shallow depth of field, without blowing out the sky or losing the fine detail in the subject. Alright, I wanted the best of all worlds. Most of the action was shot at f/2.8 using a high shutter speed. I neutral’d out the sharpness and contrast settings on the camera in order to avoid shortening the dynamic range, making any necessary adjustments in post. Like most, I ran into some problems with rolling shutter with fast camera movement but I adapted my shooting style in time. The only inconvenience came with not having a monitor, making the static display on the camera hard to see at some angles. The size of the camera made shooting in some sensitive areas – like in an airport or on an airplane – a breeze. The H.264 has its pros and cons. A 64GB CF card held roughly four hours of footage, which was great, but for editing purposes all footage was then converted to DVCPRO.
Canon Lenses: The bulk of the workload went to a single lens. The Canon EF 24-70 f/2.8L was the go-to glass for almost the entire series. Aside from the nighttime scenics (shot with the Canon EF 50 f/1.8), I used the 24-70 for the entire first episode. In the remaining episodes I augmented the footage with the EF 70-200 f/2.8L for a little more focal length, helping stretch across large soccer pitches. The trio of fast lenses allowed me to shoot mostly with natural or ambient light, greatly cutting down the amount of gear I was travelling with – which is great when you’re flying solo. Although I have since added to my glass collection, I could confidently enter the field with no more than those three lenses.
Cinevate Atlas 10 Slider: When I picked up the Cinevate slider I was still shooting mostly on the Panasonic HVX-200, requiring something with a little more beef. The benefit to which is that it’s extremely steady when placed on the ground, the drawback is lugging it around. I’ll admit carrying the slider, sticks, lenses and camera around took its toll on my shoulder. No complaints on the construction or smooth action. It produced beautiful shots on all sorts of surfaces. I haven’t yet, but I would suggest picking up the all terrain legs. It allows for far easier adjustment and stability. A quick tip, Manfrotto makes a tripod bag which fits this slider near perfectly.
Manfrotto 701HDV Fluid Head: I am enamoured by the Manfrotto line. Perhaps it’s the simplicity of the logo, or maybe I have come to learn a thing or two about the product. For the price, the 701HDV head performs well in the sports world. It provides a smooth pan with light fluid resistance. Tilts are a little more labourous. Without great control over resistance I found the best way to get slow pans was to place my thumb and forefinger on the head itself, moderating the force applied. The head operated just as well with additional weight piled on, though the left/right movement of a slider created flex and a bowing in the image. I’m considering an upgrade for my next project, but the jury’s still out.
Manfrotto 547B Tripod: The tripod came as a package deal with the head. Sometimes we all make purchases that fit our budget more than our preference. I would be the first to suggest this set of sticks to those who set up at only one height for the day and then pack it in. The flip levers aren’t my first choice when spending a day constantly adjusting heights, but I appreciate how easy it is to remove the mid-level spreader and drop the head right down on the centre-post. It allows for levelling of the head while at an extremely low angle. By extending the feet out and carrying the camera by the post, it offers a decent counter balance to help steady shots while moving.
Rode Videomic Pro: Don’t be fooled by the size of this miniature shotgun mic. It packs a mean punch. With -10, 0 and +20 dB settings, the mic offers a couple options when shooting with the 5D Mark II and its minimal level control. Set up right, the microphone offers a listening ear with a sensitivity close to our own. While shooting behind the bench or in the locker room the microphone picked up utterances which I would’ve otherwise ignored. There’s a great scene in the second episode of the assistant coach yelling instruction onto the field. The Rode Videomic is by all means a multidirectional microphone. It will pick up all background noise, including a humming air conditioner or chatter in the next room. It’s great for atmospheric sound by not my first choice for interviews.
Sennheiser SK100 Bodypack: Since the lav takes a little more time to setup, I opted to use the Rode far more often than the Sennheiser Bodypack. In fact I didn’t use the Sennheiser after the first episode, and looking back I wish I had. It’s for all the areas in which the Rode fell short that I wish I had used the lav – primarily interviews, especially in loud settings. I would suggest using something to preamp the Sennheiser though. I have since picked up the Zoom H4n to run the lav through, but for All For One I was forced to triplicate the audio to get useable levels.
Sony MDR7506: I was out on location a couple summers ago when the camera op was sporting this fancy pair of Sony headphones. He brags that they are the best in the biz, especially with their consumer level price tag. Thinking about it I chuckle at the iPhone picture I took of the model number and then carried around the Sony store looking for the right pair. Truthfully, since the purchase I haven’t wanted anything else. Although not noise-cancelling, the comfortable cup does a good job at blocking out any ambient noise yet they don’t make my ears sweat (come on, you know what I’m talking about). I hear an impressive amount of highs and lows, with subtle frequencies picked up through the headphones that are missed – sometimes disappointingly so – through television speakers.
Lowepro X50 Attache: Bags and totes seem like a small thing, I know. I have a whole stash of cases I likely would never consider posting about. This one is worth it though. I picked it up days before leaving for this project. I was really attracted by the fact that it’s two bags in one. Normally stowed together, the inner portion can be removed and used as a day-bag separate from the outer shell. Checking your luggage? If it’s a short stay this combo is gold. You can pack your clothes in the shell to use as a carry-on and the day-bag is small enough to count as personal luggage (face it, you’re carrying a purse). When you’re checking multiple pieces of equipment, and the rate inflates at an enormous rate per piece, every bit of savings count.
WD 2TB My Book Hard Drive: Once again, this seems like such a small piece of the production – but when you think about it, it’s huge. Every shred of footage straight out of the camera, formatted for editing or cut together in the final piece is stored on an external drive. All of the clips are mapped to the drives when editing. Integrity of the drive is tantamount to completing the project. The external power source on the WD My Book allows for speedy transfer through the USB 3 connection. They are reasonably priced and easily stacked and stored. Knock on wood, I haven’t had a single corrupt file yet.
The equipment list has grown since my first project, yet it’s still considerably small compared to most productions. I traveled alone with most of it as we bounced between locations. It helped me to learn how to pick my spots for equipment so I wasn’t lugging every piece to every shoot. In a documentary setting it’s near impossible to storyboard the segment or the shoot, but it doesn’t mean you can’t plan out the elements of the segment and the equipment needed to produce it. I never needed my microphones when shooting scenics, just like I didn’t need the slider for interviews.
Aside from the opening sequence (which was done on Avid) the series was entirely coloured edited in Final Cup Pro – you can probably pick out the subtleties unique to FCP. It was a bit of a run and gun series where the first episode aired before the fourth had been shot. For a one man operation, the work flow was a little nutty but it was efficient.
Airings spanned about a six week period on both TSN and Rogers Sportsnet and it still receives infrequent dates on GOL TV Canada. Discussions have begun to add an online option for the five episodes, but nothing is in place just yet.
The show ended with the club’s first win, coming in just the season’s first home game. Newcomers Robert Earnshaw, Danny Califf and Joe Bendik shone alongside familiar faces like captain Darren O’Dea and defenders Richard Eckersley and Ashtone Morgan. The team continues to grow through the bumps and bruises familiar to a rebuilding club and the idea of picking the series back up has been informally tossed around.
It was one of those experiences that force growth, and because of that get filed away among your better memories. If you ever get a chance – if you’re offered a project and a plane ticket – take it, work hard and don’t look back.
Here are select promos from the various episodes. See something you would’ve done different? Let me know. I’m all ears.