People ask me all the time what I've been working on lately. The fact I haven't posted on my sites might lead you to believe I've been sitting around doing nothing all 2018.
Quite the opposite.
My lack of recent posts—which I plan to rectify—are mostly a result of being too busy, but in a good way.
Obviously, the task that keeps me busiest is chasing our fleet-footed 13-month-old boy Jackson (a.ka. "The Adorable Tornado). His first birthday happened on March 27, and per his mother's request, I put together a little video documenting his first year.
Adorable, ain't he? Maybe I'm slightly biased.
But this isn't a blog about domestic life.
Since my last post, my part-time my role in the WRAL sports department only increased as football ended and basketball and hockey seasons progressed.
Highlights included, fighting off the celebratory mob at PNC Arena when NC State upset Duke:
Covering an amazing game between 2nd-ranked Virginia at 4th-ranked Duke:
Traveling to Dayton, Ohio to cover North Carolina Central in the First Four of the NCAA Tournament and turning one my my favorite feature stories ever on Eagles coach Levelle Moton and his son:
Covering the Panthers' win versus the Vikings:
Strapping on the figurative skates for a few Carolina Hurricanes games:
Plus several more game stories:
I've even shot and written a few stories for the newscasts to be voiced by the main anchors. My favorite one, by far, is of local 8-year-old golfing prodigy and Jack Nicklaus lover Ella June Hannant. Click here to see how it aired on TV:
I've been thrown into the mix to shoot several stories for other reporters too, such as a Scotland County deputy killed in a car crash, reaction to Billy Graham's death, live coverage of Rod Brind'Amour's introductory press conference as the Hurricanes' new head coach, the disease that would eventually take the life of UNC radio broadcaster Woody Durham and several more stories, including snow coverage.
I've also had time to continue my freelance work.
The year started by wrapping up an edit for a wedding I shot the previous fall. The edit became a multi-day event because one of the brides had a certain vision for the video, which is fine. Ultimately, it's about making the customers happy with your work and this couple was.
I have a few more weddings booked for this summer and fall, but I'm always looking to add more!
Sometimes, I get requests for pretty basic shoots for corporate speaking gigs. It's light lifting and not a bad way to spend an afternoon.
In March, I shot the Smithfield area Chamber's Women's Business Network conference.
And as can often happen, as a result of that, I got a recommendation for another job to shoot author Vernon Mason Jr. give a humorous speech at a luncheon in Wilson the next month.
It's looking like the Smithfield shoot is also going to land me an extensive project that can last throughout the summer but further details as they become available.
There's a lot of work potentially on the table, and I hope to do a better job of documenting it as it happens.
But for now, one more Jackson pic...
Now that we're in the time of the sports calendar when football, basketball and hockey seasons all overlap, WRAL hasn't hesitated to call me to shoot a few events for them the past two weeks.
A busy few weekends shooting a wedding, visiting family and attending the NC State-Notre Dame game kept me out of the loop for a bit, but I was back on the high school football sidelines two Fridays ago for a Nash County doubleheader. Not only did I sneak in more than my usual amount of pro wrestling references, my second game at Southern Nash was such a blowout, I had enough highlights to leave at halftime.
Normally, leaving my second game before halftime means I would have all the time in the world to finish my story.
When I arrived back at the station, about a half dozen firetrucks and the entire WRAL staff were outside the building. If you haven't heard by now, a small fire sparked in one of the closets in the station.
Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt. I knew it was a scary situation considering how all the bosses had come back or were still there after 9:30pm, but we got the all clear to come back inside after only ten minutes or so after I got there. So no big deal for me.
You can watch a playlist of all my Football Friday stories from this season here.
This brings us to Coach K.
Two Saturdays ago, I shot the Duke exhibition basketball game versus Bowie State. It was my first time shooting in Cameron Indoor Stadium in more than five years.
So imagine my surprise (and probably everyone else's in the room) when in his postgame press conference, Mike Krzyzewski--the winningest coach in men's college hoops history--spots me in the back of the room by my camera, in the middle of taking questions, stops and says "hello" to me and ask how my family is doing.
Pretty cool, right?
It was definitely a career highlight for me.
But completely unexpected? Not really. Let me explain.
My dad has basically known Coach K since they day he arrived at Duke. Seriously. Ever seen the video of Coach K's introductory press conference in 1980? Dad shot that. In fact, it was only Dad's third week working at WRAL back when he was the sports photographer. So he and Coach K basically arrived in the Triangle at the same time. This was also the era where the only media at press conferences were a beat writer or two and the local television stations, and most people had only three or four stations to watch. Local media had viewing power yet sports coverage had intimacy. Media and coaches got to know each other better.
Over the years, I got to talk to Coach K in more informal settings than the average person, but I know he only knows me as "Jennings." But hey, that's better than nothing! It's his wife, Mickie, whom I've talked to more because of some freelance projects Dad worked on with her. However, Coach knew I had left WRAL because I interviewed him for awhile when he came through Tampa a few years ago.
Fast forward to last weekend, and I somewhat suspected coach would acknowledge me at some point. At the very end of the game, I got close to him with my camera as he walked off the floor thinking he might me a quick nod but he had tunnel vision. When the presser started, I thought--at most--he would give a quick "hey" after everything had wrapped up. I suppose since it was just an exhibition game and there were probably no more than two dozen people in the media room, it was a laid back enough setting for him to basically do a, "Hey, how's the family?" right in the middle of it.
So, not to completely downplay what was clearly a cool moment, but I was thrilled yet not surprised. I don't claim to know Coach K personally, but what I do know is that he would have done that to many people. He gets a bad rap nationally--mainly out of envy--but this is completely in character for what he's become in his later years at the local level.
As for the game, I thought I told a fun story for what was an expected blowout. Would you expect to hear references to Wale, Drago vs. Creed, or the late Challenger astronaut Christa McAullife?
I was also slightly surprised how easily I got back in the groove shooting basketball after not doing much over the last five years. Then again, I always say shooting is like playing an instrument. Once you develop the muscle memory in your hands to zoom and focus properly on the fly, it comes back to you. Also, in basketball--unlike football--there aren't any play-action passes or as man other ways to get faked out.
The next day brought another episode producing The Logan Zone after taking the previous week off to attend the NC State-Notre Dame game. This show is really finding its groove. Watch how we match the video with the talking points throughout the entire A Block. Sounds easy but it takes practice, flexibility and familiarity with the hosts when you're basically following a semi-structured yet mostly free-flowing conversation.
You can also watch a playlist of every Logan Zone I produced here.
The following Tuesday, I put on my news hat for Election Night coverage, which is something I haven't done since college. The Raleigh mayoral race had gone to a runoff, so I was assigned to go to the election version of "the losing locker room" and shoot Charles Francis' concession speech at Noir Lounge on Glenwood South. A bunch of the other news photog's were planning on shooting from their tripod, but I realized quickly this would be an off-the-shoulder shoot. No big deal because it really was like being in a locker room.
Here's Franics' speech.
I hooked up a LiveU so the web folks could stream it live. Francis showed up super late and talked super long, but I get paid by the hour.
It was back for high school football on Friday for the first round of the state playoffs. No fire this week. Quite the opposite. It was the coldest Friday of the year so far with temperatures in the 30s.
The good news? I got three quick touchdowns in my second game and was able to get back to my warm car midway through the third quarter.
The bad? I got back to the station and realized I had no audio! The joy of sharing cameras. I foolishly forgot to check the settings.
So I took the natural sound from previous high school stories I had done this season and laid it underneath in this one. Can you tell? Would you have known if I hadn't said anything?
Saturday, I was back at Duke to see my BFF Coach K.
The game against Utah Valley was a formality to get to Krzyzewski becoming the first coach ever to win 1,000 games at one school. The schedule makers just happened to place this game on Veterans Day, and of course, Coach K in a Army vet. Here's video I shot of the postgame celebration and Coach K address the crowd.
Sunday was a great day to make some of that straight cash, homey.
I was pulling double duty producing Logan Zone and shooting the NC State basketball game.
Once again, I thought we were clicking in the all-important first block of the Logan Zone this week. Two shows left in the season after this one.
Shooting the State game that afternoon versus Charleston Southern was fun because it's been so long since I've worked a game at PNC Arena, it had a different name the last time. After shooting hundreds of State/Hurricanes games in that building my previous years there, I had gotten to know some of the arena staff so it was nice to surprise them that I was back. State games are also the ones where I just happen to see the most amount of random friends. This one was no different.
As for the game? I think I told a story that captured it pretty well. Mary, the WRAL anchor, said I could go as long as I wanted. Give an inch and I'll take a mile so it went a whopping 1:52. Too long for a State-Charleston Southern game? Yeah, probably.
The schedule stays busy this week.
I'm shooting UNC basketball on Wednesday night, high school football on Friday, either Duke or UNC football on Saturday and the penultimate Logan Zone airs Sunday.
And unlike when I was here before, this time I get to spend my off days with this guy:
We're past the midway point in the high school football regular season, which means I'm overdue to share all the stories I've done so far for Football Friday on WRAL. To watch a playlist of all them, simply click here.
Week 1 is always where you want to get out of the gate strong. Thankfully, I had some help. 1) My first game at Nash Central was a blowout, which always makes the day easier. 2) My second game included a few deep passes right to me.
Oh, and I should mention a few of us have a bit of a running bet on how many WWE references we can work in. I get that out of the way early.
A beach vacation and then bad weather kept me off the field for the next two weeks, and I certainly showed my rust on a deep TD pass in my first game between Wake Forest and Leesville Road. Normally, I edit around it to make myself not look stupid. But at this point, it's more fun to make the mistake something more fun a viewer will remember.
In my second game, I realized how long I've been out of the Triangle sports loop because I had no idea Torry Holt and Willie Parker were assistant coaches for Dewayne Washington at Heritage High now.
Make sure you watch this catch at the end of the highlights, too.
The next week was a little tricky because we thought both my games were 7pm kickoffs, but it turned out my first game at Southern Durham started closer to 7:30. That meant I could only stay so long in order to get to my second game at Durham Riverside in time to get enough meaningful highlights there.
Fortunately, the Orange High running back in that second game recognized me and knew to run right at the camera after scoring his last touchdown, which made the atmosphere seem more exciting than it actually was.
Again, my rule of thumb is at the very least, make what you're doing memorable to the viewer. We've all seen thousands of highlights of guys scoring touchdowns. While that's all good and it makes the night easier, sometimes it's the lack of highlights that make me have to get more creative. Or in the case of my first game at Durham Jordan, much more sarcastic. But hey, my lack of good highlights was memorable, wasn't it?
Remember how I said blowouts make the night easier?
It will never get any easier than last Friday. First, I had the "Football Friday Showdown", which is basically our game of the week. Clearly, it was a weaker slate of games because the game of the week between old rivals Wallace-Rose Hill and Midway was a shellacking. I could have left after the first quarter and had all the highlights I needed if I wanted to, but then I would have been sitting at the station with my story all edited while still waiting for a final score for 30 minutes. So I stayed for the first half, edited my story and was in home in Holly Springs by 10:45pm.
The unpredictable road of life is one my family and I travel with the pedal down to the floor and with several unexpected detours. The last five years has taken us from Raleigh to Tampa to Knoxville and back to Raleigh and included our wedding, our baby boy and several job changes.
Now that we have moved to our new house in Holly Springs two months ago, we plan on doing the old "settling down" that most people in their mid-30s have already started years before.
But best laid plans, and whatnot.
Meantime, I've enjoyed returning to WRAL for my part-time work shooting/editing high school football stories for Football Friday and producing the Logan Zone. More on all that in a post next week.
Earlier, I finished up a few projects I had already agreed to shoot in Knoxville before we left town.
The most recent one was a wedding I drove back for in early August for Susie and Sebastian Clerge. Here is the highlight video.
The venues for the wedding and the reception were both gorgeous: Sacred Heart Cathedral in Knoxville and the Tellico Village Yacht Club in Loudon, TN. The event was an incredible melting pot of cultures too because Susie's family is Palestinian and Sebastian is Hatian.
As you can see from the video, we tried something different with the bride and groom reading the letters they had received from each other. It obviously led to some emotional moments for Sebastian. Neither I or the ones reading the letters had seen them before we shot those scenes.
I probably leaned on less video from the actual ceremony in the highlight video than I usually do because—even though the venue was beautiful—the access on where you can shoot an indoor church wedding lessens the variety of shots available. I think it still worked, especially with the cool video of the bride and groom on the boat before the reception!
Three weeks before that, I shot a quinceanera right before we moved to NC. What an experience! I had never been to one before. I suppose the best description of a quinceanera would be that it's like a Latin American bat mitzvah. It's a church service and a party celebrating when a girl turns 15.
The family and the event planner asked that I do mainly raw video for this event so it's a lot longer and not nearly as flashy as the wedding highlight video:
Do yourself a favor and scroll to the 58-minute mark and beyond for some of the choreographed dance numbers to get a feel for how much time (and money) goes into these parties.
As you can probably tell, the ceremony was also held at Sacred Heart Cathedral and the after-party was at The Barn Event Center in Townsend, TN. Cool place!
Special thanks to event planner Esther Johnson for hiring me for both the quinceanera and the wedding! I'll always be willing to travel back to the area to shoot more events like those.
I've often said shooting weddings are like shooting sports. You only have one chance to get the shot, but enough experience around these events will help put you in the right position.
Earlier this month, the sports world and wedding shooting world collided for me at the wedding of Cade and Lauren Holliday. Why? Because football fans might be familiar with Cade's father, Doc, who is the head coach at Marshall and was an assistant for a national title team at Florida and was at NC State during the early Chuck Amato years before that. The wedding actually took place in Raleigh at the historic Merrimon-Wynne House, which is a gorgeous venue (I booked the gig thanks to an old high school friend, who was a bridesmaid.).
The father-son connections didn't stop there either. Thanks to the handy location of the wedding being by my old stomping grounds, this was the first wedding I had the chance to shoot with my dad, Jay! When you have a gajillion-time Emmy winner as your second videographer, it's hard to screw things up, as hopefully is evident in the highlight video above.
But as the saying from the old Ginsu Knives commercial went, "But wait, there's more!"
This won't be the last work I do in Raleigh. Not by a long shot. Because I'm moving back there in two weeks!
My wife, Martha, will be taking the Managing Editor position at WRAL, which is the same station where we both used to work and where we met almost ten years ago.
As for me, WRAL has been gracious enough to offer me some work doing what I used to do: SPORTS! (See how I brought it all back full circle?)
This football season, I'll be producing the Logan Zone hosted by former ECU football coach Steve Logan and 99.9 The Fan's Adam Gold. As Bart Scott would say, "Can't wait!" Adam is an extremely nice guy and his talent speaks for itself. I've only spoken to Coach Logan a few times, but the man's two greatest loves seem to be blues music and red wine so we'll have plenty to talk about.
In addition to the Logan Zone, I get to shoot/report high school football games again for Football Friday. Anyone who knows me as an employee knows this has always been the most rewarding gig for me. I basically learned how to do this TV thing from tagging along with my dad when he worked on the show in the 1990s.
There may be some opportunities beyond this at WRAL, but we'll just play it out and see where this goes. Maybe you'll see me on the sidelines at the occasional Duke, UNC or NC State game.
But for now, I'll continue to freelance. I actually have another wedding and a quinceanera(!) to shoot in Knoxville, and I definitely plan to keep doing that in Raleigh!
So if you know anyone getting married, or have any other events that need to be shot or edited, I'd love to help! Hopefully it will be as fun as this last wedding.
My busy week with Bike Elf finished with a shoot in Sevierville, TN where the charity challenged the local Boys & Girls Club to earn bikes with a fitness challenge. This is unique for Bike Elf because it's the 1) first time they have partnered with a group in Sevier County and 2) this is their first time Bike Elf has used physical fitness as incentive to earn bikes. All their previous challenges have been based on academics.
By now, I'm starting to get the routine down for shooting these challenges. The key is to make the videos different from before. I thought the music I found for this one gave it a fun vibe.
The Bike Elf shoots will calm down a bit this summer. But exciting things are on the way! I'll explain more soon...
The good folks at Bike Elf are keeping me busy this week, with three shoots in an eight-day span.
The stretch of shoots started yesterday in Maryville, TN at the Boys & Girls Club, where Bike Elf is challenging the roughly 200 kids in the Brain Gain summer academic program. The top 25 finishers will earn a bike, helmet and lock from Bike Elf!
This was a fun shoot because I'm starting to get the handle on how these events are structured. Basically, I mic'd up the main speaker, Leigh Wilson for the early part of the presentation. Then I roamed around with my Canon 70D and left a GoPro Session on the platform behind her. After a little b-roll of the kids getting measured and a pair of interviews, it was an easy story to tell.
Monday's shoot could be interesting because I'll likely have to bring my son Jackson with me, who will be turning 10 weeks old that day. Here's the look he'll give me when I tell him he has to come with.
What do I love doing most? Telling stories, especially feel-good feature stories.
It's one of the main reasons I love shooting for Bike Elf. Recently, the founders pitched an idea that should play to my storytelling strengths. Why not pick out a few of the people who make Bike Elf great—whether it be bike recipients, volunteers, donors—and tell their stories as part of a series?
And voila, "Bike Elf Stories" was born.
The series begins today with the Tucker brothers: Phillip and Josiah. It's a standard story of how kids have to earn their bicycles from Bike Elf. The bikes aren't simply handed to them.
Expect to see more stories every few weeks. Some will simply be a series of photos and others will be more like the Tuckers' feature, with interviews and more in-depth shoots.
This was a fun first. I've used my GoPro Hero4 Session in several situation where it would go under water. But under a beer? Sure, why not?
Last week, I shot Bike Elf's Pints for a Purpose event where the charity raised money from raffles and beer sales. It was a pretty straightforward shoot. I had very little available time to edit the video so it lacks a lot of the color corrections I like I normally do. My main goal was to make it move and flow, which isn't easy to do when you have what we referred to in journalism school as "BOPSA": bunch of people standing around.
However, I'll remember this video mainly for the opening shot. I placed my GoPro at the bottom of a beer mug for bartender to pour a frothy IPA over and it got the exact shot I wanted. So of course, I had to open with it.
I'm proud to say the video I produced for Bike Elf for the Selective Insurance #thinkBIG video contest finished in 3rd place! As a result, the charity earned a $1,000 reward which it will use toward refurbishing more bicycles for deserving children.
As a reminder, the goal of the contest was to produce a one-minute video featuring the founders of the small business/charity explaining why they think their small business is a big deal. By my count, 82 videos were submitted. The ten videos that received the most votes by the public advanced to the final round, which was then judged by a panel of voters affiliated with Selective.
Bike Elf received the third most votes (more than 4,000 of the 59,000 votes cast). Thanks so much to those who voted! We could not have done it without you!
And one more time, here is the contest entry:
Jason Jennings is a freelance videographer based in Knoxville, TN. He previously spent more than a decade covering sports for television stations in Florida, North Carolina, Texas and Missouri.