Filming Ultimate — Q&A with Videographers

Ultimate Frisbee and technology have both fallen into a similar path of growth, growing quickly in popularity and availability in the past 15 years. On today’s sidelines, you can find 20+ cameras capable of filming 1080p HD video just in people’s pockets with the advancement of cell phone hardware, and for the same price, a full-featured video-camera could be purchased. The options are expansive, if not limitless.

While the highlight-video world is expanding, there is still a lot of room to grow. With higher quality video comes more opportunities for views, and more importantly, for shares: ESPN and other sports networks have proved willing to show Ultimate highlights, but only a select few outlets have produced good enough footage to be shown on these national outlets, most notably Fulcrum Pro and Ditch Media during the All-Star tour. But we don’t all have to shoot for the stars. Sideline footage from teammates/spectators can be used to create great highlight videos on YouTube and Vimeo, and the individual highlight videos for Callahan nominees has made the award and selection process much more exciting and public.

Footage for in-house analysis, public consumption, national recognition; there are many great reasons to film your games. I talked to four videographers within the ultimate community about their process, hardware, and thoughts about filming. Here’s what they said:


Charles “unchuckable” Cleary

  • Location: Portland, Maine
  • Started: 10 years generally, 4 years seriously
  • Outlet: Youtube Channel

Kevin “KK” Kelly

Luke Johnson

Scott “Hallie’s Dad” Dunham

What got you into filming?

CC: I started playing ultimate in high school in 2004; in early 2006 I searched the internet for ultimate video and there were only two results I can remember: a University of Michigan MagnUM highlight reel from 2004, and the video of Beau Kittredge jumping over a guy. Armed with my new YouTube account, I decided to create the content I wished to see in the world. I took my new Sony DSC-W50 — $25 on eBay today — , borrowed a MiniDV camcorder from my friend Sean and filmed my team’s tournaments whenever possible. The footage I had wasn’t much fun on it’s own, but Sean alerted me that my computer had Windows Movie Maker on it. My first highlight reel went up in spring 2006 and I haven’t looked back.

KK: I’ve always enjoyed watching well put together highlight videos, and used to watch Luke Johnson’s Rhino videos when I was in college, and there was not a lot of content out back then. When he came to Machine and filmed a lot of our games in 2011, I realized the benefit of being able to review all your game footage as a team. After he left, I did not want that to end for Machine, so I would borrow his cameras and started a filming rotation for Machine so that we could keep having full game footage for our internal use. Andrew Sheehan and I talked about trying our hand at editing a highlight video, so he got Final Cut Pro and we gave it a go. It was a ton of fun editing and learning how to use effects. I kinda got hooked after that. I had some experience with FCP and iMovie from media production classes in high school, but basically just downloaded FCPx and taught myself how to use it for editing highlights. Its super intuitive and very easy to figure out the features even for a beginner. Anyone can create a pretty nice highlight video if they wanted to.

LJ: I was cajoled into working at a Christian summer camp by the director who knew my youth pastor and thought it could be a great way to keep me growing in my faith. I resisted at first as I had no idea what “AV Friend” meant as a position. That first summer I learned how to use one of the early NLE — Non-Linear Editing — systems along with a Cannon XL1. The entire system was acquired when the camp was awarded a $20k grant.

SD: I wanted to capture my daughter and her teammates in action. It was a way to be involved, while still giving her space. When Hallie made the Australian U23 team in early 2013, I bought my current camera and started filming much more, starting with her Australian club team Phoenix in the series of tournaments leading up to the Australian National Championships and then the U23 World Championships in Toronto.

What equipment do you currently use?

CC: Sony NEX VG-30; an assortment of legacy 35mm film glass — my go-to lens for ultimate is a Nikon 50–300 f4.5 ED from 1979 — ; Blackmagic Video Assist; assorted rods and bits to make a rig; follow focus is genuinely helpful; I’ll admit the matte box is mostly for swag (though I do use 4x4 ND filters when feeling pro); a tripod that shouldn’t fit in a carry-on bag.

KK: We use Greg Slover’s camera — a player on Machine — which is a Canon Vixia HFS10.

LJ: Over the last 3 years our company, Fulcrum Media, has acquired a number of different cameras for different uses. We have to have cameras that can be used in a production environment and this doesn’t work well for the run and gun situations and isn’t what I use for shooting teams like Lakeside or Seattle Riot. For those shoots where I am traveling alone and need a compact solution, I use a Sony NEX-FS700 along with a Metabones T Speed Booster Ultra Adapter to put a Canon EF 100–400mm f/4.5–5.6L IS USM (push-pull) lens on. I use an Atomos Shogun SSD recorder and 7" display to capture. Because the camera has a unique feature that allows it to store 120–240fps for 16–8 real seconds in buffer mode, I needed a solution to record full game footage (because the camera isn’t able to do continuos high frame rate recording). This is also the same camera we use along the sidelines for our ESPN3 productions that give us silky smooth slow motion replay.

SD: Sony HDR-CX190 and a ladder.

What is the most important technical aspect of Ultimate/sports video? [FPS, resolution, other]

CC: If I had to pick one, it would be: use a tripod. If it has to be about the camera: high frame rates are super cool, and 1080p or now even 4K are desirable, but they really don’t mean much. For a good video, it just needs to be filmed by someone who understands the game a little bit and is motivated to make it look good. The old Ultivillage videos were filmed at 30fps 480p at best I think, and they’re still better than almost anything today.

KK: I am proof that you can have a novice level of understanding about the tech specs of filming, and still do a lot with video footage. At first it took us weeks to make a video, getting really nitty gritty with timing music and effects. Now, I can pump one out really efficiently. Most of the time is spent just reviewing the footage, which I do in fast forward, and just pull the clips that stand out. Once I have the clips I want to use, I can sit down and edit the timing and effects to whatever music in 2–3 hours and have a decent video. I would love it if all club teams had highlights up after each tournament, I think more and more fans would be engaged in the story lines of the club scene, and it might make for better spectator attendance.

LJ: Resolution is more important than frame rate, but I would state that if one had to choose between 4K/30fps vs 1080/60fps, I’d clearly go with the lower resolution and 60fps. In sports, one cannot shoot at 30fps and expect to be able to create a community respected highlight reel. For full game footage though or for a coach’s ability to scout, then 30fps is possible and with the additional resolution to push in, I could see it being more valuable.

Do you have any hardware recommendations for beginners in your area of expertise [recording from the sideline, recording for highlights, recording for information]?

CC: I’ve been almost entirely filming for highlights, usually from behind an end zone. In terms of hardware, this means you need a long zoom range and a sturdy, fluid-head tripod.

KK: I am coming from a captains perspective, where the end goal is to get usable footage for your team to review and learn from, not necessarily footage for use for professional highlights. As long as you have a half way decent camera, you can get what you need. Machine will do a rotation where one crew — 5 guys — are assigned to film each game. They rotate so that no one is spending more than 2 points in a row on the camera, but at least making sure someone is filming each point. We do a little tutorial at the start of the season, just telling guys to lead the action when filming, to zoom in so that you can actually see what is transpiring; if they are completely zoomed out and the disc is at the opposite end zone, you usually cannot tell what is happening at all — or vis versa. At Nationals, each season we usually pay for a plane ticket and lodging for a former teammate or practice player to come with us and do all the filming, so that way everyone can focus 100% on playing. We use the footage for highlights too, mainly because I enjoy making the videos, but also because not a lot of club teams are putting out highlight footage. We want to showcase the type of ultimate that is being played at these TCT tournaments, and we also want to share our team culture with other people. Making highlight videos using footage that was shot at wide angles for internal review means sometimes great plays are hard to see, and requires extra zooming and editing in post to make it work for highlights. It limits what we can do with highlights, but there is usually still enough useable footage to make something cohesive.

LJ: Everyone is different in aptitude, passion, what they want to shoot, what they want to create, what their budget it, etc… so there isn’t a camera I would say is perfect for beginners. That said, someone starting from scratch should stay within their budget and keep things simple. As such, here is what I would recommend based on budget:

$1298 — Sony HDR-CX900 — if shooting at night at all this has incredible low-light performance, also can capture up to 120fps continuous at 1280x720, easy to use.

$799 — Panasonic HC-W850 — unique design has a second camera built in at 270° on the LCD screen that can be recording simultaneously for that second wide angle. It also is able to do 120fps continuously full 1920x1080p.

$599 — Panasonic HC-V750 — like above, but a little less processing power and not as good in low-light.

SD: Is a ladder hardware?

What filming techniques have you found to yield the best results [location relative to field, height of camera, tripod or handheld, or other considerations]?

CC: Lately I’ve been filming almost exclusively from behind an end zone since that’s the easiest way to get a clear view without an elevated position. I like being on the ground anyway since highlights don’t look as cool from up in a scaffold. At the last tournament I filmed, I set my tripod low and sat on a chair since I was lazy, nobody was paying me, and I thought it would look sweet. I was mostly right.

Generally I try to zoom in super close on the action, but I frequently get scared that I’ll guess wrong about where the disc will go. I get caught out occasionally, but usually I just chicken out and zoom back.

I wouldn’t recommend filming handheld, except for maybe some cool filler cutaway shots. There’s too much happening on the sideline and it’s hard to zoom in close on faraway subjects and keep the view steady. I keep my little mirrorless Sony NEX5N on hand in full auto so I can run in and film sidelines and huddles during timeouts and half time.

KK: For us as a team who are doing filming with players and using it for internal review, we have some restrictions here. We usually set up a tripod in the back middle of one end zone, about 5 yards back to give a buffer so it won’t be involved in any action. The camera is left there all game, and players jog down to film when it is their turn. This vantage point gives us a good angle to see cuts progressing, and also avoids people walk in and out of frame. In an ideal world, we would love to film from a high perspective to see more of the field, whether that be at mid-filed or in the end zone.

LJ: Aspects that are critical to shooting sports are:

a. Focus — the ability to find focus with either a very smart auto-focusing system OR practice on a manual focus lens like the one I would purchase is super important.

b. Framing — Are you shooting for highlights or for full game? I have often mounted a GoPro or additional camera ontop of my main camera and set it to be wide angle for this very reason. If shooting for full game footage, one must keep more players in frame and thus need to be wider. If shooting for highlights, you need to push in as tight as possible in order to give viewer the feeling of being on the field as well as allowing the camera to capture the unique and exciting elements that happen with the disc that you cannot see or tell when shooting wider.

c. Location — For when I am the only shooter, I have found that being in the back end zone centered is the best location to shoot from. But this is also because I’m shooting for highlights and don’t need to see the more traditional high 50 angle. I also am often limited to shooting from the ground as I don’t have scaffolding in my pocket, and will often then even set-up with the tripod at the lowest setting at around 2–3 feet from the ground. I have found that shooting at a lower angle gives a more cinematic and exciting shot, especially with layouts or plays where seeing space between the ground and the player take place.

d. Audio — Too often audio is a last thought and not even used in a highlight reel. This is sad because our sport often includes some great speeches and the in-between comments; I would have never caught Jimmy Mickle cuss if I wasn’t thinking about audio.

e. Knowing your gear — This maybe should be the first thing, but honestly, if you don’t know your camera’s menu system inside and out or what color temperature or camera profile you should be shooting in, you’ve got a task before hitting the fields.

SD: My approach evolved based on compromises between quality of results, ease of setup/execution, and desire to be a fan at the same time. I like the sideline as a fan because it allows me to feel much more connected to the game, players and other fans, but initially found it hard to get good video. I found that just using a ladder to get up a few feet made a huge difference. With a ladder, I am above the players crowding the sideline and so get an unobstructed shot. The height also allows a much better view of the layout of the players on the field.

I shoot a lot of video and don’t have a lot of time (or expertise) to do fancy editing, so I mostly edit in the camera. That is, I aim to just shoot what will end in the final video. That allows me to mostly just concatenate the video clips together to make a game video. This can be done very quickly, in much less time than the original game. I go handheld for two key reasons: It it much easier to do from the top of a ladder, and I have found it hard to use zoom with a tripod.

How important is gameplay video/highlight video to a growing sport like Ultimate?

CC: It’s very important. Based on my own experience, ultimate footage is great motivator especially for young players. I looked for the kind of content in the past that we have readily available now, and I think it makes a big difference. Youth ultimate has been growing for many great reasons, but I’d guess the technological realities that have made so much high-quality video readily available have had at least a small part in that. All over social media, kids can instantly see video from all levels of the game produced by AUDL film crews, Ultiworld and Skyd, college teams, and independent videographers. If this work gets kid to quit football and play — eventually, varsity — ultimate, it’s worth it. #SCtop10

KK: The amount of content out right now is incredible, especially coming from the pro-leagues. Obviously there is funding there that makes that possible. For club, aside from the live streaming done by Ultiworld or previously by NexGen, its all on the teams to do their own filming for free. It requires someone volunteering their time to post footage or make highlights, with little to nothing to really be gained from it at the team level. I do think it is important because it spreads awareness of the sport, and in some cases might inspire players to pursue ultimate. I know it did for me when I was younger, and back then there was so little footage available on the internet. From the highlights that there were, I would watch over and over to try and learn what good players were doing, and just to get myself pumped up to play. Especially as pro-leagues grow, club ultimate needs footage and story lines to keep people interested in it, aside from just the players themselves.

LJ: Clearly huge. I am one of the first individuals who has his entire yearly salary paid based on creating ultimate content. The AUDL has seen the necessity to capture and create great content of its’ players and tasked me and a team to showcase that to the world. Additionally, a team like Seattle Riot, who are paying for their season out of pocket, have seen the need to capture their season and contracted with our company to follow them.