CSMA Master Class: South Carolina’s Gamecock Productions Is On Fire
Since its inception, the College Sports Media Awards have recognized the best in the college-sports-production arena. As technology and production techniques improve, the ability to create high-quality video on any budget has proliferated significantly. At the SVG College Sports Summit in May, 16 productions were honored for their contribution to sports video. This summer, SVG is proud to offer an in-depth look at the personalities and programs that have raised the bar for what college sports video is capable of.
“Can we do fire?”
Justin Stoll’s eyebrows shot up his forehead. It certainly wasn’t the question he expected to hear from student Valerie Gerfin.
A couple of weeks prior, Stoll, director of creative operations at University of South Carolina Athletics and one of the managers of the department’s postproduction arm, Gamecock Productions, had assigned Gerfin the task of creating an in-stadium intro video for the school’s softball team. He hadn’t expected this.
Once Stoll’s initial shock wore off, he smirked.
‘Heck yeah, I want to do fire!”
What was born was a high energy, eye-popping piece that earned Gamecock Productions a College Sports Media Award for Best Promo, PSA, or Marketing Campaign in the Collegiate Student division.
Stoll’s advice to a student putting together an intro piece is to first find the music. Gerfin struggled to find something that really caught her ear. Then, just a day before she was scheduled to present her idea to the Gamecock Productions staff, pop punk band Fall Out Boy released its new single, “My Songs Know What You Did In the Dark (Light Em Up).”
“It’s a really pumped-up high-energy song, so it fit what I wanted to do,” says Gerfin, who graduated from South Carolina in May and is now working as an assistant of video production at Georgia Tech in Atlanta. “At first, I thought about lighting stadium lights or something like that, but the lyrics about fire just kept jumping out at me.”
Once she got the OK, all that was left to do was to sell the idea to second-year softball coach Beverly Smith.
“Our relationship with the softball team is very, very strong,” says Stoll, who also works as a freelancer for NFL Films. “It’s a new coach. She gets it. Anyone in the university world knows what I mean when I say that. She gets the importance of video and what it does for their program and recruiting.”
Safety Not Guaranteed
The shot was an efficient one, taking just one night to accomplish. Gamecock Productions used two cameras, a Canon 5D and a Canon 7D. The 7D was used as the primary camera while Gerfin worked with the 5D as a secondary camera.
The crew used an old set of wooden bats owned by Coach Smith and attempted to dip them in lighter fluid and light them on fire. When that didn’t work, they needed to get creative. Instead, they wrapped the barrel of the bat in gauze soaked in lighter fluid. It proved to be much more successful
“We sort of improvised as we were going as far as the shots and the way that we could get the fire to look the best,” says Gerfin.
Working with fire comes with its obvious hazards. In fact, there were a couple of instances when wind gusts started to blow the flames up the bat and the players had to drop them to the ground to avoid getting burned. No one was ever in any real danger, though, as Gamecock Productions took the proper precautions.
“If you want to do anything crazy, get the person in charge of controlling it involved,” advises Stoll. “Typically, they are the ones that are going to push the limit of it because they know how to control it.”
On-site for the entire shoot was the University of South Carolina’s fire marshall who, fortunately for Valerie and Justin, didn’t just oversee the project but became an active participant.
“Our fire marshall is literally a giant pyromaniac,” laughs Stoll. “He’s telling us to throw black powder into a basin of fire so it would explode in front of the girls.”
After the successful shoot, Gerfin edited her final piece together over 15 days on Adobe Premiere Pro. Wanting to get it just right, Gerfin admits putting together more than 10 different versions before she was finally satisfied.
“You think that a 45-second video can just be turned around immediately,” says Gerfin. “When you’re a part of something from start to finish, you become a perfectionist. You want it to be the way that you see it in your head.”
A Strong Legacy
Gerfin’s win marked the second consecutive year in which Gamecock Productions won a CSMA for its softball intro video; 2012 graduate Courtney Krebs took the award a year ago.
“[The students before me] laid the framework for everything that I was able to do when I came in,” says Gerfin. “I had little experience coming in as it related to sports video, but I knew that’s what I wanted to do. They showed me the ropes and got me comfortable doing things.”
Gamecock Productions continues to be one of the top postproduction houses in college sports and manages to do so with three fulltimers — Stoll, Paul Danna, and Marissa Kenney — and a handful of student staffers. Those students get hands-on experience that rivals anything they could learn in a classroom.
“They pushed me to be better,” says Gerfin. “Even when I put together a good piece, they would always help me with what I needed to improve.”