Creating things, whether it’s a car or a film, is very tedious work. But unlike cars, documentary films don’t have schematics to follow. You have to use your creative talents to fluidly weave a story people will enjoy, with the raw material you gather from your subject’s lives. Sometimes, things don’t go as planned and you have to adjust mid-project. We checked in with Dan Napoli, of Disconnected Productions, as he was finishing his latest work for ETV. He walks us through the creative process and the completion of his hardest project so far, One Night In November.
Artifact: One Night In November
By Dan Napoli
Oddly enough, it all started in the shower. I have a stand up shower, and it acts as my little fortress of solitude. It’s where a lot of thinking gets done. And it’s where Artifact was created. It was early 2010, I just got off the phone with Matt Marshall, and he told me the PSP had officially pulled the plug on the webcast for that season. I was getting ready to head downtown and meet friends for drinks in the Old Market here in Omaha,
And I kept thinking about something Yosh Rau mentioned to me at Cup, that basically Rob (from Derder) and I, were the only ones left telling stories. With no webcast, and Pat Spohrer kind of having MWAG on, what’s Fugazi calling it, an extended break, Yosh was right.
We had just wrapped up Rivalry, and Ledz, one of the owners of Planet and a big part of the creative side of the company, and Eclipse were really stoked with it. It was our first attempt at story telling, narration, script, everything. Ledz & Jacko, another big part of the direction of the company, weren’t so sure at first, but they had enough faith in the ETV stuff up to that point, to say, “Ok, give it a shot.” They were happy with the results. Ledz was like, “Ooooh, I like this stuff.”
At the point, the Philly Americans had just folded, like Smart Parts, and a really, really solid paintball story, of a team that rose from being pretty mediocre to having two amazing seasons, and their resurgence, had gone largely undocumented. (Of course, they didn’t shoot Egos, so we never really filmed ‘em.)
I just thought, in the bigger scheme of things, would they even been remembered? That got my thoughts flowing, in general, just about how hard all these kids, all these players, play and live their lives to do this, and what kind of legacy it would have. I think as you get older, (I’m 36,) you think of that stuff more than when you are 22. I do anyway. I literally started composing the opening narration while driving on 680 heading into downtown Omaha, using the voice recording on my iPhone.
I’m old school enough to keep a thesaurus and dictionary in my office, and when I got home, I searched for something that worked. Not to be grandiose about it, but it really occurred to me our videos were what was going to be left behind. I thought “Artifact” fit the bill pretty well.
We are just wrapping our second season, and the project has evolved. Season 1 was a little more of series, a show, so the opening was always the same narration, which I know some kids got tired of. This year, it’s become more of a documentary film series, maybe more akin to ESPN’s 30 for 30. I’m still directing everything, but each release is a stand-alone story.
Season 1 was a little more focused on an episode and story representing an aspect of the tournament game/life (example, Episode 4 “The Grind” featuring Vicious/X-factor about practice, Episode 6 “The Reason” about World Cup’s significance. This year, we focused more it being a subject’s story.
As we wrapped Season 2, I had one of the most interesting experiences in my production career, working on One Night In November, the film we’re about to drop about Aftershock. The story changed/evolved as we were in post, and we kind of had to evolve the film accordingly.
The Paintball Access guys asked me to document that experience a little, to take fans through the process, and give you guys an idea of what goes on behind the scenes, so here it goes…
October 21, 2011: Production meeting with Ledz and Jacko at World Cup. We determine we will send Brad Maughan, one of the most experienced cameramen in the game and a former pro-player himself, to shoot Vegas solo, hopefully getting Dynasty winning the event and the series, and giving us a key component for an upcoming Artifact. Originally, the idea was for it to be called The Cold War, following the season long battle between Dynasty & Russians, but the way the PSP event broke down, that wasn’t going to work. Seeing Dynasty lose in the quarter-finals, but still win the series on cumulative points, we thought it might make for an anticlimactic story, and also make it difficult to really grab the viewers. Hopefully, Dynasty gets a definitive win in the back parking lot of the Riv.
Sunday, November 13 2:35pm CST: Brad texts me from the site. Dynasty-Shock finals. He might miss his flight, as the finals are being played super late.
Sunday, November 13 10:52pm CST: Aftershock wins. Dynasty wins the series.
Monday, November 14: Conference with Ledz. We decide to produce something on Shock’s victory. It’s currently 3rd in our production queue.
Wednesday, December 14: Conference call with Ledz. After a discussion, we agree that winning a tournament is so hard, and such a special thing; Aftershock’s victory should become a full Artifact. not just a 4-5 minute ETV “Reel.” We have beautifully shot interviews with Drew Templeton and Nick Slowiak from our studio on Site at Cup to help.
Tuesday, December 20: Two-hour phone call with Matt Marshall, to discuss the direction and tone for the piece. This is typical process for us. I’ll throw out to Matt what I’m thinking, or angles, or questions, and get him to push the idea back to me. For this piece, I don’t want it to focus as much as the Aftershock legacy thing. That was a large part of “The Chase” from last season of Artifact, and I don’t want to retread the story. At the same time, you can’t NOT acknowledge it, and Matty agrees. We decide the film should be focused on the moment of winning a tournament. We should explore what starts to go through your head, how palatable the emotion is, and if you feel it as a player and as a team. We decide to handle the “Legacy” aspect of the film against the framework of revitalizing a franchise, which is interesting. Few teams have actually done it successfully, a Pittsburgh Steelers type thing where they have won championships in different eras and with different rosters. (Note: The Steelers won Superbowls in the 1970s, 1990s, and 2000s if you aren’t a big NFL fan, or old enough to remember.)
I don’t write our scripts at home. Home is for editing. (Disconnected Media operates out of a home-based studio.) I guess it’s cliché, but I actually feel more “creative” and inspired writing at a coffee shop.
I try not to hit a chain-type place, although honestly I hate to admit Starbucks offers a better atmosphere sometimes. I’m meeting a friend for lunch near her office at this little French bistro in the Dundee section of Midtown, (a kind arty/hipster part of town, for lack of better description) and plop down at a back table in Blue Line Coffee, a local coffee shop institution, located next store. I crank for about an hour before bailing for lunch.
Tuesday, December 27: First day back at it after X-Mas. Focusing on the edit. The footage from the Finals in Vegas is rough to say the least. Brad did a masterful job even GETTING me an image to work with, but the finals were played late and under the lights. Things are bleeding everywhere; glaring reflections in other spots, and some areas or bunkers are shadowed pretty hard, once a player gets in his spot. Lighting a paintball field is really, really hard. I make the decision I’m going to color-treat / stylize the finals. I spend most of the day tweaking filters and creating a color treatment I’m relatively happy with, and feel will work for the clips in the three different situations, and I can match it with an acceptable amount of time. I’ll spend the rest of the week/year getting this applied.
Thursday, December 29: Shitballs. I drop the munchkin at school, get the dogs some water, and sit down at my edit bay only to have my IM immediately pop up. It’s John Battistini from Understood. He’s a good friend, we chat often and he’s also assisting me with some music licensing duties/legwork on the project.
“Dude, you been on pro paintball yet?”
Ugh. There’s an article here that says, basically, Aftershock is falling apart. Travis Lemanski from Infamous is taking a bunch of players, including Drew Templeton.
I’m really, really surprised about Drew personally, whom I consider a friend, a good player, and a pretty good creative. (please check out his Grind project) That doesn’t have anything to do with the film or him leaving, but I have a bunch of interviews in the can with him and Nick Slowiak about bro love, and bro-ing down, playing with your boys, etc., and the key theme of the project was that angle.
I hit up Slowiak (also a friend) via text and Facebook IM, and he tells me he just heard from Chris Sosine the night before. The whole personnel cataclysm took him by surprise.
Crap, back to the drawing board. Planet is closed until Jan. 4th, so I can’t even call Ledz to discuss it until then.
Wednesday, January 5th: Ledz and I have a long talk about the situation. The issue I have is about authenticity, and being relevant. If we release a piece solely about the win and Vegas, and about everybody coming together, and without context, then the project looks outdated with all these new developments, and the piece gets dismissed with a, “Oh, this must have been cut right after Vegas.”
It also makes it look like we’re totally out of step, because how does a team win the last tournament of the season, and then fall apart, without there having been strife all season?
And there’s the nugget of truth, of interest, of the story and film. We’ve shot Aftershock all year, have basically documented the turmoil, all the player and coaching departures.
So what really happened to Aftershock was twelve months of craziness, where ultimately they found a way to create a special moment, defeat Dynasty and win the Vegas World Championships, but for individuals on the team, the win didn’t erase the experience of the past year, and what they thought the future held for them.
And this actually gives meaning and context to the win. To see the unpredictability the team went through for 2011, and then to step up and win the last event, I think is really interesting.
Ledz is on board with us expanding the story to be a retrospective of Aftershock’s 2011 season.
Thursday, January 6th: I frantically begin writing a new draft, with a much broader range. The problem now is almost too much information. ‘Shock had so many changes, how much time to do we spend on whom, and what events? Matt and I have a long discussion about how many people we can get away with introducing and name checking before we utterly lose the audience. We also decide that we can’t cheat creatively by simply vilifying the players who left for Infamous, nor attempt to validate their move.
The piece is still going to be anchored by two interviews we have in the can from Nick Slowiak, and Drew Templeton. The script and Matt’s narration is going to have fill in the context, and move the story along.
I believe the reasonable person/audience member would be asking themselves, “Why would anybody want to leave/ break up a team right after they’ve won?”
So we felt compelled to show what 2011 looked like for Aftershock, wins, losses, steps forward, steps back, and leave the audience with questions to ponder.
Additionally, you have this incredibly strong 3rd point of view, that of Renick Miller. Creating ANYTHING that lasts 20 years is pretty amazing. But for it to be a pro paintball team is even more impressive.
We also have to write two different endings, one in case Nick Slowiak stayed, and one in case he left.
Wednesday, February 29th: As I sit here writing this for Paintball Access, I’m basically freaking out. The last six weeks have been dedicated almost non-stop this project. Editing. Licensing music. Color-correcting. Making tweaks, making corrections. Submitting cuts. Trust me, you do not want the point-by-point details of this boring and tedious process.
And the film is STILL not out, even though it’s done! It’s been sitting on a server for almost two weeks now, waiting for the company that IT’s/manages our ETV download store to fix something that shouldn’t even be necessary to fix. I’ve literally looked at my phone ten times while writing this, looking for the email saying it’s “a go.”
Still waiting, sadly.
It might seem OCD, but when you have 250+ hours into a project, and Eclipse has thousands of dollars into it, I just can’t live with releasing a video where the sound has been downgraded so low that, to borrow the eloquent comments of Paul Woods, Eclipse’s creative director, “it sounds like everyone has a lisp or is chewing on a bone or something.” We all really care about putting out good work, good product. That’s Eclipse’s MO, from the stuff they make, to the stuff we make for them.
At this point, only Ledz, Paul Woods, Matt Marshall, Drew Templeton, and myself have seen it. (Drew back-doored himself a copy of a test version that wasn’t suppose to be available. It’s since been removed. He’s crafty like that.)
Hopefully by the time you read this, One Night In November will be available for download. I’m really interested in people’s reaction. I hope everybody, from Renick to Nick, to Cody Mickowski (who stayed on ‘Shock), to the guys who left, feel like they got a fair shake; that the film reflects their experience. Winning a paintball tournament is so, so hard. And doing it during the course of the season Aftershock experienced, was even more impressive. Keep in mind they didn’t win a single game in the first two PSP events of 2011.
I also hope we communicated the chaos isn’t totally abnormal. I think there are a lot of misconceptions about how stable things are on the professional circuits. Would it be better if they were more like the NFL? Absolutely. Is that possible yet? No. But the NFL is almost 100 years old. Read some stories about the NFL in 1920s and 1930s. You might be able to relate.
At the end of a day, I hope people find the film to be a compelling story they connect to, and it makes them excited about the game of paintball and about 2012. I hope it has them rooting against Infamous or Houston Heat. Championing Aftershock-as an incredible underdog now. Or hell, even vice versa. I think the more engaged anybody is with the professional teams, the better off everybody in paintball is. And the only way to engage people, is to let them in, let them see the struggle.
I hope One Night In November is a film that makes kids or teams give up less easily, if their own season is going down the crapper.
Our job is to showcase these stories, and inspire and encourage others to pursue their own story, and then tell that one too.
“…Everybody should remember that the storytellers are always going to be needed. That it’s always going to be about that…So I think we should all be secure in the fact that if we do the good work, it will still translate.”
-A man smarter, and more successful than me.
Watch the trailer here.
Buy the film here.