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Jeff Green: Heart on and off the Court

At the end of last year, DGA had the pleasure and honor of capturing the inspirational story of Boston Celtic Jeff Green on behalf of ESPN.  Airing Christmas Eve as well as Christmas Day, the piece investigated the trials and tribulations Green faced during the 2011-2012 NBA season, his first with the Celtics.  But Green’s struggles had little to do with the game, the one exception being his forced absence from it.  Off the court the young athlete, 26 at the time, was diagnosed with an aortic root aneurysm.  It was December of 2011 and he needed surgery as soon as possible – if his swelling aorta and leaking valve were not treated immediately, death was inevitable and basketball the least of his worries.

But naturally, the game and his role within it was a huge, immediate concern for Green.  His primary thought being that the thing he loved most in his life was about to dissolve before him.  One day Green was in his prime, just getting started, four years into his professional basketball career, and the next it was all slipping from beyond his grip, from his life, and his return to the game seemed doubtful at best. “I didn’t know if I was ever going to play again, I didn’t know if I was going to make the surgery, I didn’t know if I was ever going to see my family again…”

Both our Jan Maliszewski  and Aaron Frutman worked the piece, filmed over the course of several shoot days.  We tackled the project with ESPN producer Nancy Devaney and SportsCenter reporter Lindsay Czarniak, interviewing Green, coach Doc Rivers, Celtics teammates, including Kevin Garnett, and Green’s best friend Willie Jennings, among others.  We shot on two C300s with Canon prime lenses, using both a Kessler jib and slider.  The stills used in the piece were also taken by Aaron on the Canon 5D Mark II, and would you believe they were not originally intended for ESPN’s final product of this feature?  Leave it to Aaron to capture a couple breathtaking shots just in case, and producer Nancy to recognize their necessity and storytelling capability.

Our interview with Willie Jennings was one of the hardest to bear witness to.  On our last day of shooting, we were welcomed into Green’s home, where we watched him and his buddy play video games and laugh about Green’s infallible obsession with candy – illustrated by the giant bowl on his countertop, always filled to the rim.  The air was light and bright, and optimistic, with the Celtics game that night a topic of discussion.

It wasn’t until Lindsay sat down with Jennings in front of Aaron’s camera that the atmosphere changed and we experienced firsthand the emotional journey the two best friends fought through side by side.  Jennings and Green grew up together as young children, staying close friends into their adulthood and to this day.  Hearing Jennings talk about his appreciation, love, and respect for Green set the scene for the unbelievable battle the young athlete faced just a year before, and its influence on both of their lives.

For one who was always such a strong and positive individual, and who maintained that frame of mind through all hardships, when Green was stripped of his independence, it was painful for everyone who knew him well.  Jennings described one of the hardest moments of their relationship as the day of the five and a half hour surgery in January of 2012, watching Green lay flat on his back, tubes hooked up all over his body.  It wasn’t right, this image of weakness, helplessness.  It didn’t make sense.  Green had always been healthy and fit, he had always taken care of himself.  And to go from that extreme to this one, was nearly impossible to accept.  But Jennings had to fulfill his role, he had to remain confident and cheery; Jennings had to give Green the support he couldn’t muster up on his own anymore.

And with that support, with amazing and fast-acting doctors, and with hope and hard work, this story is given its happy ending.  Green’s courage and determination, along with the aid of all his friends, family, and teammates, lead him out of this struggle even stronger than before.

You could see the easiness in Green’s eyes, regardless of the game that night, he was relaxed and grounded.  He had overcame something he and others doubted he would return from, defeating his greatest fear, and from that developing a clearer perspective.  An understanding, and a pride.

It was an awesome experience for DGA to film this inspirational story.  Green was a such a delight to work with, welcoming and enthusiastic, super cooperative all the way through – from inviting us into his home to embracing us on the sidelines, to letting Aaron and his camera squeeze onto Lindsay’s lap in his Mercedes’ passenger seat, documenting the game-day ride as the team drove Green’s Benz to the Garden.  Enormous thanks goes out to the Celtic for letting us peak into his heart and mind, for sharing his incredible, personal, and forever life-changing journey.

During his interview, teammate Kevin Garnett commented mid grin, “You know what it is?  He’s so good that we forget he just went through major heart surgery.  That’s what you forget.”

And so it is, forgotten.

Check out our Flickr for more stills from the shoot:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/dgaproductions/sets/72157632602100209/

Officially a Celtic

A Week in the Life

Excuse the length of this here blog, but with a week like the last at DGA there is simply too much to share concisely.  It was a typical week at DGA, very busy at that, what with four shoots, three projects in the editing process, countless equipment rentals leaving our shop, and a possible trip to China in the works for DP Aaron Frutman.  While the international trip did not pan out, each other job plowed on.  Needless to say, as everyone geared up for school vacation with preparations to relax, DGA was 5 days into finals week – all-nighters and exams.

Although the metaphor doesn’t quite encompass our experience, since for us it certainly went beyond work.  Yes, we had a lot of fun.  And we became a part of something greater than ourselves.  Of multiple somethings.

A couple of our jobs were especially inspiring, and an honor to be involved in.  I think first of our work for Stop & Shop’s Triple Winner Program.  Last week’s trip to New York City marked seven years of our involvement with the organization, in partnership with Stone Communications.  Last Tuesday the 12th, Jan Maliszewski and Greg Stone traveled to the Big Apple, staying through the end of the week, visiting Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and filming those influenced by the unbelievable effects of the program.

The Triple Winner Game allows Stop & Shop customers nationwide to purchase scratch off tickets for $1 to compete for awesome prizes.  It’s simple and it’s easy, costing mere quarters or a single bill.  But when each bill and every quarter goes directly to cancer research, we get 60 million dollars aiding an invaluable cause.  Through this program, launched just two decades ago, comes this incredible donation, and its support of brain tumor care and research at the Stop & Shop Family Pediatric Brain Tumor Clinic at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Department of Pediatrics at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.  For Jan and Greg, this experience was yet again an honor: to work on behalf of the program, and to speak with the people most embodying of its cause – the children who overcame their impossible struggles, patients, Survivors, testimonies to the priceless donations.

While Jan and Greg were in NYC, Aaron tackled two shoots simultaneously back here in Mass.  Talk about multitasking, with a PTC job Wednesday to Thursday and a shoot for Weber Shandwick scheduled for that same Thursday.  And of course, Aaron was there for both, no cloning necessary.  Starting off the project at PTC on the first shoot day and moving over to Life is Good the next, Aaron left PTC in great hands with our loyal freelance team members.

Armed with two C300s, the team took over PTC headquarters in Needham for our corporate part of the jam-packed week.  There they filmed a testimonial centered video, which will partner with their new brand video and live on the company’s website.  With 27,000 manufacturing customers around the world and 6,000 employees working to provide their client base with competitive advantage, PTC delivers technology solutions that transform how products are created and serviced.

CEO Jim Heppelmann of PTC prepares for his on camera debut

The beautiful facility made for the perfect setting, both telling of PTC’s accomplishments and of the hard-working, dedicated people who make them a reality.  Even CEO Jim Heppelmann was present, making an appearance in the video, as well.  The result provided a narrative that gave faces to the people of PTC, joining individuals with their high-level work.

Meanwhile, Aaron led another team and yet another pair of C300s, to Weber Shandwick – a leading global PR firm – where we shot a series of interviews for who else but the Life is Good brothers, Bert and John Jacobs – another exciting and admirable project to be a part of.

Graduates from Needham High School, where interestingly enough I was also a student several years ago, Bert and John began their business in 1998, just a few years out of school and into the real world.  The company stemmed from a refreshing t-shirt design – coining the phrase and founding the brand “Life is Good.”  They started selling the design, and others based off of it, out of their van at college campuses and street fairs, and even just on the streets of Boston and soon other cities along the East Coast.  Their customers ranged from students to business people, to children and elderly folk – there wasn’t a specific targeted audience, no common theme among their client base except that everyone could somehow relate; everyone’s personal story had a “Life is Good” moment.

And so on Thursday, we geared up for a crazy day shooting two entertainingly animated brothers and about a dozen, just as entertaining, children.  Throughout the day we heard from John and Bert about their inspiration for the brand and where the premise their business was built upon, that life is good, came from.

Bert and John - Jokesters at Large

The brothers shared a childhood memory with us, and that same idea was not only the foundation of the video, but of their brand so many years ago.  Growing up in a family of six children, every day during dinner their parents would ask the kids what the best part of their day was.  Going around the table, everyone took their turn.  Sometimes the day’s highlight was playing with a favorite toy or receiving a good grade, a play-date or an exciting recess or a TV show awaited all week.  Bottom line was think about the good things, the simple pleasures, if you will.  Bert and John were taught this mindset early on: to always have a good attitude, not to dwell on misfortune and instead to embrace the good things, the happy thoughts, no matter how seemingly minute.

They spoke about recognizing that everyone had a stake in their slogan – that at one time or another, everyone wants to let go of the struggles and negatives, of the downfalls and battles – and just focus on the fact that we are living, they we are alive, and that life is good.  Maybe it doesn’t feel that way every day and perhaps some days really just suck, but looking at the greater picture, especially considering struggles you have overcome, life is an amazing thing.  We are all survivors and we are all on this journey together.  As cliche as it may sound, we are lucky to be alive.

Hugging mom is always the best part of the day...

With this idea on the backburner, we asked individual children the same question Bert and John answered every day around the dinner table: what’s the best part of your day?  What is it exactly that makes your day great?  The brothers recognize the simplicity and purity of a child’s perspective, not yet weighed down by stress, by knowledge, and by loss of innocence.  Children provide the best example of appreciating the little things, of excitement of life.

Great days through the eyes of the C300


On that note, let’s appreciate – we did good last week.  We partnered with some pretty incredible organizations, and the results were pretty awesome themselves.  Thank you to all those who made us a part of their work, who hired DGA to share their messages.  Until next time.

Who’s hungry? Fish, Guacamole, and the Lottery

There was a spring-loaded boxing glove and a mess of soapy bubbles, stacks of hundreds, a giant bowl of guacamole AND a giant hurricane fan, a pot of clam chowder, the rest in a bucket on standby.  There was a large, dead, pungent fish.  And then, there was Jim.  Jim Jordan.

New England Clam Chowder

Prior to the day of our commercial shoot with Griffin York and Krause Marketing for the New Hampshire State Lottery – with director Matt Doyle and DGA’s director of photography Aaron Frutman – having read the script and seen the prop list, I was anxiously curious to meet the talent.  Of course, I knew we were prepared, every last detail had been triple checked, and then checked once more after that; however, given the nature of the Jackpot Alerts we were filming, there was certainly the chance for unavoidable disaster, regardless what had been planned for.  Not only did the scenes require our actor to endure some fairly ridiculous, extremely uncomfortable stunts, one after the other, take after take, but the guy had to maintain his character for the length of each experience.  All with a Phantom Flex– the revolutionary high-speed camera shooting up to 10,750 frames per second – staring him tightly in the face; the same face he allowed to be drenched in clam chowder, submerged in guacamole, and slapped by a dead fish.

Fish Face

I highly, severely, positively doubt that there is another being capable of committing in the ways that Jim Jordan did under such circumstances.  After each take, Jim waited patiently, but with much excitement, while our client watched the playback in super slow mo.  No detail went unnoticed, for even the minutest movement, no matter how tiny or speedy, was stretched over frame after frame.  Like clockwork, his grin would arise as he watched our reactions to the footage from his on camera seat – poor Jim was quarantined to his chair what with all the goop oozing over and around him.  But none of that fazed Jim in the slightest, and his wide smile was always followed with a “Need me to do that again? Take two?”

Effortlessly patient and a pleasure to have on set, Jim made a potentially disastrous experience painless and hilarious.  And a whole lot of fun for everyone involved.

Jim turns green

As promised, the day had not one dull moment.  Every single prop was messy and dramatic.  Each take relied on us nailing it with the first attempt.  How do you dump pounds of soup on someone’s head and then ask to do it again because the shot was too wide or too tight or out of focus?  That requires a shower, a new wardrobe, a mop up of the surrounding set – all totally doable, all equally time consuming.  Our props were variables, not constants, and having room for error on a shoot is painfully nerve-racking.  But we were spoiled on this one; not only by the incomparable and cooperative Jim, and by our state of the art equipment – both the Phantom and DGA’s own Canon C300s – producing jaw-dropping results.  We were also blessed with a solid, strong crew and a joyful, satisfied client.  We came together to create a Dream Team, to accomplish what we set out to do for GY&K and the NH Lottery, and first and foremost to have a blast in the process.  There was even a client birthday in the house, although not many were hungry for cake after the fish slap and guac dump.

From prep to wrap, this project was an adventure for all involved – ambitions were high, goals were ambitious, and chaos was looming.  At the end of the day, at the end of the week/month/year, it is the shoots where risks are taken and aggressive goals are set, are required to be met, which make that pat on the back post production feel so damn good.  It is a rare experience that everything comes together flawlessly in the final, crucial hour – forever thankful to all those involved, from the GY&K and NH Lottery teams, to all our DGA people and the folks at High Output.  We Did It.

C300 and our DP