Friday, May 4, 2012

Off the Cutting Room Floor

         At 12 minutes Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Willis are compelling.  At 24 minutes they should be twice as compelling.  At least that’s the theory behind E:60’s new sub-brand called Profile E:60.
         “Sometimes we have great content on the cutting room floor,” said executive producer Andy Tennant. “Why not branch out and dig even deeper and expand the story further?  It’s a way for our producers to spread their wings.”
          Profile E:60 was conceived last fall after Yaron Deskalo produced a standard length feature on Rodgers, the Packers star quarterback. The story was good at 12 minutes, Deskalo knew, but there was more to tell.  ESPN Programming agreed, and Profile E:60’s first effort, on Rodgers, ran at the start of the NFL playoffs.
         In doubling the length of the Rodgers piece, Deskalo used material about Rodgers’ friendship with a young cancer patient, and his foray into the music business, as well as a sideline interview Rodgers gave reporter Jeremy Schaap prior to the Packers’ 2011 season opener.   None of those elements had been in the original piece.  Moreover, Deskalo expanded the section in which Rodgers’ talked about being backup to Bret Favre.
         “The biggest thing was how to lay out the piece,” Deskalo said.
         The 24-minute piece had three parts and two commercial breaks.  Part One covered Rodgers’ early years - he was underestimated at each step of his career - up to his arrival at Green Bay.  Deskalo decided to forego the traditional “bump” - “E:60 Profile will be back with more on Aaron Rodgers” - before a break in favor of a “cold” in and out.  The first part ended with a question, “What was it like to follow a legend like Favre?”
         Part 2 required a decision.  Fill it with the Rodgers-Favre material and Rodgers’ Super Bowl victory or bring in the cancer material.  Deskalo decided on the latter because it dovetailed with a comment Rodgers made to his mother, which she repeated, about being a good man as well as a good quarterback.  
         “I felt that led perfectly into his charity work and relationship with this kid Jack (Bartosz),” Deskalo said.  “It was an easy way to end that segment because it was so emotional.  Starting a segment with that would have made it hard to keep the emotions running.”
         With the luxury of time, Deskalo let the Rodgers-Favre material run for about 2 ½ minutes.
         “It’s not that we glossed over Favre in the 12-minute piece, we didn’t,” Deskalo said. “But some of the sound we put in really enhanced that section.  You got a feel for what Rodgers went through at that time.”
         Part 3 focused on Rodgers’ marketability and business ventures, and on the Packers’ 2011 season in which they won 13 straight before losing.
          The long form enables the story to expand beyond the playing field to a more rounded portrait, Deskalo said.
         Producer Beein Gim’s profile on 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis, in expanding to 23:40, brought in new material on the tragic drowning of Willis’ brother, Detris, in 2006.
         “We couldn’t get into that in the original story - how do you spend 20 seconds on a death like that?” said Gim.
         In the long form, Gim uses Part One to tell about the abuse Willis and his siblings endured at the hands of their drug-addled father.  Part Two shows how Willis used sports to cope with his problems at home, and concludes as he and his siblings are taken in by his high school basketball coach.  Part Three details his rise to stardom at Ole Miss and with the 49ers.
         “With the longer piece you just let it breathe - you can tell a fuller story,” Gim said. “The shorter piece is harder.  You have to leave things out and weigh things.  You have to be more disciplined as to what fits the spine of the story.”
         Long-form storytelling at ESPN has a proud history, with the SportsCentury series at the millennium, the 30 For 30 series in 2009 and 2010, and more recently the documentaries by ESPN Films.  Profile E:60 aspires to the tradition.
         Tennant said MLB stars Justin Verlander and Matt Kemp could be the next Profile subjects.
         “Our fans look to us for the definitive profile now,” said Tennant.  “We’re getting the sense that athletes, agents and teams understand what we do.  Profile E:60 is now part of the conversation with agents - they’re interested.  It’s great exposure.  We’re getting a lot more buy-in from agents and teams because of this brand.”
(posted by Steve Marantz on May 4, 2012)  


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