28 Games — Rise of the Baby Bombers: Julian De Stoop on what goes in to making an AFL documentary
BEING an AFL reporter/journalist these days is like working in a sausage factory.
That’s not a criticism, it’s just the way it is.
With so many different forms of media, so many stories and so many people interested in the game, you simply write/produce a story and then quickly move onto the next one.
WATCH ‘28 GAMES — RISE OF THE BABY BOMBERS’ ON FOX FOOTY ON TUESDAY NIGHT FROM 9PM (AEST)
That’s what made producing a documentary all the more enjoyable. The rare opportunity to spend a lot of time on a project and really sink your teeth into it.
Around 200 man hours were spent on 28 Games — Rise of the Baby Bombers, but it didn’t really feel like work. The fact I’m a 37 year-old Essendon tragic reflecting on one of the club’s greatest season’s certainly added to the enjoyment!
So what goes into making a documentary?
First of all there’s the pitch. Thankfully this was an easy process.
Following the success of Tom Chadwick’s documentary ‘1997’ on Adelaide’s historic first premiership, Fox Footy was all for the project, as was the club given it was the 25th anniversary of the 1993 season.
Once given the tick of approval, it’s time to sink your teeth into some research.
The basics of the story were pretty obvious: Tim Watson’s comeback, the immediate impact of the Baby Bombers (James Hird, Mark Mercuri, Joes Misiti, Dustin Fletcher, Ricky Olarenshaw and David Calthorpe), the shock dropping of Derek Kickett for the Grand Final and the second-half comeback in the preliminary final. These were some of the issues that immediately sprung to mind.
But once I sat down with a notebook and had coffee with Kevin Sheedy (he enjoyed a nice glass of wine), Tim Watson and Gary O’Donnell, other behind-the-scenes stories start to emerge.
From there, a rough rundown is built and it’s time to line up the interviews.
This can take time. Current footballers aren’t always the easiest to get hold of — and they don’t change in retirement!
Some politely declined to be interviewed, which is fair enough. Due to circumstances in his personal life, unfortunately the captain of that side Mark Thompson was unavailable.
In fairness to ‘Bomber’, we had had correspondence and he was keen to participate mid-year. But then things in his life took a turn for the worse
Mercuri is very private and didn’t want to be interviewed, while Dean Wallis also declined as he is having a break from footy altogether.
But in the main, everyone was more than happy to participate
The interviews were the most enjoyable part of the process.
To sit down with Sheedy and Fletcher in the old changerooms at Windy Hill, Mark Harvey, Paul Salmon and Simon Madden at the MCG, Watson at his home, as well as Gary O’Donnell, Michael Long, Darren Bewick and Gavin Wanganeen at The Hangar, it was a fantastic experience.
No time pressures. No off-field scandal to discuss. Just pure footy talk. And when former players, or a former coach, are talking about one of their proudest achievements, the conversation just flows.
What became obvious when Harvey and Paul Salmon crossed paths at the MCG either side of their interviews is footballers don’t change. They hadn’t played together for more than 20 years and may not have seen each other for a while, but straight away they just started taking the you-know-what out of each other. Just as they would have regularly back in the day at Windy Hill.
Salmon is a great character. When cameraman Lincoln Cleak said ‘rolling’, his first comments were: “Right, so this is where you ask me some questions and I tell you how good I was?”
Once the interviews are done, it’s time to timecode them. Basically pick out the best bits for the final cut.
The interviews are one thing, but then you need to find the vision to support the story. The match vision picks itself, but the real gems are found in news stories from the time. Just seeing what the players were wearing to functions is worth the effort alone.
Thankfully through some old colleagues and friends at Channel 9, I was lucky enough to have access to their news library.
Vision from training in 1993, vision of in-store appearances from Brownlow Medallist and sex symbol Wanganeen, news stories by the great Lou Richards and Tony Jones and some great post-premiership vision from in the rooms, as well as Grand Final celebrations, really make the story come alive.
Then it’s time to handover to the editor. Luckily I had access to two of the best in the business: Mike Hirschfield and Toneka Costa.
All up, the edit was a 10 to 12 full-day process. Put the story down, choose the vision you want to accompany it, add some music, include some graphics, watch it six to eight times, organise some promos and you have a documentary.
Like any good story, there are always parts you don’t want to leave out, but you just have to due to time constraints. There were some yarns about the influence of assistant coaches Neale Daniher and David Wheadon, the impact of the loss in 1990 and the role of tagger Sean Denham. But sadly, all had to be left on the cutting room floor.
Hopefully the end result is a documentary that, not only Bomber fans, but all footy fans can enjoy.
Footy is littered with great stories that deserve to be told.