Robbie Spargo, Director of digital content agency Little Dot Sport, provides some tips on how to make the most of your shoot time with elite level athletes.
Access to athletes is difficult to obtain and always time-limited. With that fact, capturing the content you need to sustain insatiable social algorithms and give fans what they want most can be frustratingly difficult.
It is, however, a reality of the sports world; there is no route around it, only the possibility to work within it.
As such, at Little Dot Sport, we often find ourselves forced to compress and even eradicate the explanations, relationship-building and down-time (the multiple takes, the equipment adjustments, the coffee breaks) that longer productions can absorb. What follows are the five tips that we find most useful to make sure every second you get provides you with the broadest and most valuable array of content.
Shoot for multi-format
One huge production development of the past few years has been that vertical video is needed just as much as standard 16:9 formatting. This is to satisfy the growth demands of platforms like TikTok and Instagram Reels, as well as YouTube Shorts and various Stories platforms. While we might sometimes be able to supply dedicated vertical producers to shoot in dedicated windows, the most efficient use of limited time is to ensure that any asset you capture could eventually be used by a vertical video editor in post-production. This means framing every shot with the notion that two fifths might end up cut off either side (easier for interviews than for action shots!). Shooting at a greater distance, allowing for a vertical or horizontal frame to be put around the subject regardless of where they are in the shot also gives you more flexibility, and in this context, a 4K resolution provides greater flexibility to play around with the aspect ratio in post-production.
Shoot for multi-use
Every social media manager will have one asset they feel they couldn’t do their job without. It might be a reaction GIF, a call-to-action, or a celebration sting. Trying to get advance sight of what these will be and adding their production onto the end of any shoot will give publishing teams a huge amount of breathing space to create compelling creative assets throughout the year. Speaking to the social media teams in advance and getting a wish list of scripted lines to capture will make sure your athletes – your rarest commodities – are present in so much more of your content. It’ll also make you very popular…
It’s also worth thinking about the different levels of content you can capture at one time. When creating glossy master assets, think about simultaneously having a producer capturing less polished behind-the-scenes content for added social content. As Will Ingham, our Executive Producer says, “viewers and consumers love extra insight and personality, and this approach tends to bring this.”
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Use known, fun and relatable formats or games
In an appearance window there is little time to explain complex shot lists and turn your athlete into an A-list actor. To avoid the pain of realising this each time you show up at a shoot, work with simple formats or simple games that are trending. Using formats they may recognise from their own media consumption will deliver better results, whereas a complex mechanic will only end in frustrated participants and a disappointing end product. Our Creative Producer, Will O’Sullivan, advises, “have examples and inspiration of the final execution to sell something in”, while David Scriven, our Senior Partnerships Manager, says, “most importantly, keep it fun!” An enjoyable experience will keep everyone on-side and may even buy you a couple of extra minutes.
In an ideal world, we would always use the same producers with the same teams – allowing relationships to build and trust to be developed. This is certainly the best practice, but when it’s not possible, it’s important to quickly win trust and get the athlete on-side – even if they’re having a terrible day.
Bringing another team-mate into the picture can really help put everyone at ease, as can the very simple act of introducing the crew, but key to everything is to be set-up, prepared and ready to go. Will Ingham says, “if talent and agent see you ready with lights, sound and camera as they arrive, they will know you are professional and not wasting their time”. Factor in the frequently changing environment, however. As Robert Lew, our Channel Manager, says, “maintain the flexibility to start early or late as schedules will frequently move”. Every second you have with your participant counts – particularly for a time-poor athlete who is not in their natural environment.
Share the content with the athlete
The final tip is to make sure that – rights permitting – the athlete can use some or all of the content to build their own networks. This will not only have the vicarious benefit of growing the overall exposure of the content, but it’ll also make them more bought into its production and the end result. They’ll know they’re keeping their fans happy and building their own assets at the same time as contributing to the shoot that you are running.