This week, Jamie Thomas was kind enough to take part in a second interview. As I have mentioned, I love picking the minds of the folks behind the videos we love to watch. Whether it’s the guy behind the camera, running the live stream, or managing the project, my craving for knowledge is never sated. Thankfully, we have some very accommodating people that do the media work in disc golf.
First off, let’s hear some of your background in media work. Did you go to school for film production? How long have you been doing media work?
Let’s see, the first home movie I made was when I was 13, I just borrowed my parents camcorder one summer day and filmed around town. I didn’t really think too much more about it until a few years later, when I would try to make movies instead of writing papers in high school. My first industry gig was in 2006, as a freshman in college, and once I committed to the field I never really looked back. I received my BA in Film Studies, and then my MFA in Film Directing.
What was your first project that you were a part of that you had to film, edit, and publish?
I don’t count that home movie, because there was no deadline. My first real project in that sense was making a movie for a Film & Lit class in high school. It was my close buddies and I doing a take on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. We would then do Agincourt based on Shakespeare’s Henry V, and Flannery O’Connor’s Good Country People. Our teacher was amazing, she outright encouraged us to keep doing it.
Did you start out with consumer level video equipment, or were you in a position to start out with more professional stuff?
We first used my parents old Hi8 camcorder, but my buddy helped with AV for his church, so he convinced them to let us borrow their Canon XL1’s. My parents bought me a DSLR (before they shot video) when I graduated and I just took thousands of mostly terrible pictures, but it taught me the fundamentals of framing, composition, how different focal lengths affect the image, etc.
How and when did you first get involved with doing media work in disc golf?
It was actually for an editing class in grad school. I shot a short documentary on disc golf in the bay area as my final project (link in case anyone is interested). I met Tom Schot, and he introduced me to Avery. Avery was the one who recommended me to Jussi, who needed US-based producers to help get SpinTV off the ground in its first year.
Has any company approached you for a full-time position as media director or something of that nature in the past? What was your response?
I did a short stint working for Discmania USA, but it wasn’t solely media, after about 4 months I decided to go back to contractor status so I can focus on what I love. It’s worked out for the best. I’ve been able to maintain good relationships with that whole crew, and I do genuinely like their discs, so I’m thankful that it did work out well.
Have you intentionally kept yourself an independent contractor so you would have more freedom to pick and choose your projects within disc golf?
Yes, that was the intention, but also the reality is that there aren’t that many full-time gigs out there yet…I hope to create that within SpinTV. I get very attached to my projects so it would hurt to leave. My contractor status has afforded me the opportunity to work with entities like DGA and the DGPT though, so I’m happy with the balance.
In our last interview, you stated you have produced work for SpinTV, Discmania, and the DGWT. How much of that work has involved you actually filming the rounds, editing, then publishing the videos?
Up until European Open 2015, most or all of it. As audience demand has grown, we’ve had to adjust and bring in bigger crews on some of these events. I was making the comment to Ian Anderson recently that the “arms race” to be the channel with the best coverage has totally changed the media game. We’re not fighting each other for views anymore, we’re collaborating and doing more together than we ever could accomplish alone.
The first Spin TV video was published on May 2, 2013, on Youtube. Were you a part of it from the beginning? If not, what was the first project that you had a hand in producing?
Jussi is known for heavily planning his ideas, so I’m sure the first light bulb went off before he knew who I was. However, I was shooting for the channel before it was launched, so in that sense, I’ve been there since the birth, just maybe not the conception. The first videos I produced for SpinTV were the 2013 Disc Golf Masters Cup Highlights, and the Building The Bag series with Avery. I’ve had a voice in planning our content since the early days, so I do feel like there are distinguishable pieces of me in the channel, but it’s always been a team effort. I’m a big fan of the saying, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”.
What is/was HyzerCinema?
Haha, so right around the time I was learning about SpinTV, I was asked to put together a hype cut for the annual tournament in Golden Gate Park – the Safari. It was mainly just for us to enjoy and look back on, possibly show to potential sponsors, etc. Well the SFDGC didn’t have a YouTube account, so I just created one for that video. I guess it’s evolved slightly into, “any side project that Jamie does, that doesn’t have distribution already in place”. In the early days, I had thoughts of growing that brand, I even jumped the gun and ordered dri-fit shirts and bag patches with the logo, but I quickly scrapped that as SpinTV started to take off.
Looking at the videos on the SpinTV channel, it looks as though they were all in 720p until the 2013 European Open videos that were published in early September. From your body of work, was that about the time when 1080p video was becoming the standard, or at least what most content producers were transitioning to?
Resolution has always been a debate. It’s perpetuated by electronics brands and retailers who want you to keep purchasing new stuff. To me, resolution is not the defining metric of quality. I advocated for keeping it 720p as long as possible because science has shown (at least at that time) that screens <38” do not show a discernable difference in 720 vs. 1080. It just wasn’t a big enough jump. There is more merit to the 2K vs 4K discussions, but the data rates at 4K create prohibitively huge file sizes and excruciating render times if you’re on a tight turnaround schedule.
If you had your choice of roles on a media team, what would it be and why? What role would you prefer to fill if you couldn’t have your choice?
I’m a big picture guy, so I’m pretty flexible as long as I understand the overall goal of the work. I think I naturally fall more into a directing/producing role than anything else, I just learned to shoot and edit by necessity. One of the best feelings in the world is coming up with a concept that truly excites me, collaborating with someone else, and seeing what comes out. The best content is made that way.
What event up to the present have you been a part of had the largest media team on site? What was your role in that event and within the media team?
USDGC is always our biggest production. We bring a crew of 10-12, and everybody is doing multiple jobs. Last year I hosted the wrap up show, did analysis and commentary, edited videos, helped publish and hype/spread the content, all on top of my producer’s duties (logistics, scheduling, transportation, coordinating with staff on site, gear rental/return, etc.)
Essentially, my role there is to anticipate my crew’s needs, so they never have to spend any time doing anything other than what they were brought there to do. I have film school to thank for that because having multiple departments in a production is tough enough, but having each team member fill multiple roles across multiple departments adds a layer of complexity.
I’m very thankful that I’ve been surrounded by people like the Jomez crew, Esa, Avery, etc. at the last couple of USDGC productions. They give it 100% and never complain.
With the expansion of those in disc golf media, have you seen a set of standards for edited coverage develop among different coverage teams? Is that something you as a part of SpinTV would like to or have implemented when SpinTV is in charge of media coverage for a tournament?
I wouldn’t call them “standards” quite yet, but definitely common practices that will get to that level eventually. Things such as 2-part rounds, commentary, drone flyovers, etc. It’s great because the “look” of disc golf coverage is evolving as we speak, and the evolution is community managed, which ultimately makes it easier to collaborate as we define those best practices. When I’m hiring crews to shoot for SpinTV I make sure to provide the team with our standard operating procedures, but it’s not so rigid as to strip away their fingerprint on the work. I think we’ll see that as we collaborate with CCDG here shortly, it won’t be exactly like a SpinTV/Jomez collab, and I like that.
Feeding off the above question, what do you like to see in a disc golf coverage video?
Emotion. Videos that only show shots get repetitive and boring by about the 3rd hole to me. As an audience member, I want to understand the importance of the situation and see the reaction to the result. Part of why we watch sports is because we can live vicariously through the success of the athletes, and empathize with their struggles. If we don’t get to share in those moments with them, why are we even filming? The camera is a storytelling tool above all else, sporting events are scripts that write themselves in real time, and the media’s responsibility is to understand how to use the tools we have to tell the story in the moment.
Is there anything you don’t see in the average coverage video that could or should be there that would add value to the video?
Better audio. It’s the last thing most producers think about, and the first thing that every person watching will write you off as an amateur over, even if they don’t realize it. That goes for movies, TV shows, YouTube, etc. If all I can hear is that telltale dull roar from an on-camera mic, it’s a turnoff.
I’ll even point the finger at myself – check out #AskDave Ep. 2 – we had some bad mic malfunctions that I didn’t catch during the shoot (I tried to shoestring the production budget too much) and it’s irreparable. I cursed at myself repeatedly when editing that one, because Dave’s answers are great!
The other day on Facebook DGMike asked for a recommendation about a new computer build. I gave a pretty good one that was a dream build and then edited to fit his budget. What is your current editing rig build? What are your plans for a new one and what components do you want to be the best and fastest to help in editing and rendering video?
Yes! Nerd talk!
My rig is getting a little old by most standards, built in 2013, so I’m probably going to build a new one after this season. Cue a “4K is coming” meme. My current setup is:
ASUS P8Z77 V-Pro Mobo
PNY GTX 275 GPU
256GB SSD / 3TB HDD / 4TB HDD
2 Dell 23” IPS monitors
For rendering in Adobe, it’s so crucial to have the hyperthreading from the i7 series CPU’s, as well as enough RAM (though 32GB is more than plenty). I’m also really excited to try the PCI-E attached SSD method, I’ve been hearing some really good things. Render times are the eternal rival of efficiency because no matter how fast you can train yourself to be, you’re stuck when that render bar is in action. The rapid expansion in popularity of eSports is fantastic for building editing rigs, it drives competition and keeps prices reasonable for high-performance components.
You talked about how 2k/4k video makes for enormous video files, thus increasing render times, etcetera. Do you feel a need for anything more than 1080p60 for the next year or two or longer?
It’s hard to say, if the tech cycles keep turning over this fast, 4K will be standard before we know it. However, the big problem for me is 4K is a loaded term. It’s more about marketing than actual quality increase. You can stuff all of the pixels you want into a frame, if your camera’s sensor sucks (or is cheap), or you can’t light and frame it properly, there’s no resolution on earth that will make the image good.
The biggest improvement that new cameras are making these days is in low-light performance…now that’s impressive.
I know from the purchasing of a new laptop for myself, my wife, and at work over the past two or three years that getting a computer with a 1080 display costs a bit more, and is not standard equipment on your average laptop. Does that play into the output resolutions that you like to publish? Do you feel higher resolutions are needed this year?
At risk of sounding like I’m contradicting myself – the biggest difference in those resolutions (to me) is in graphics that we put on the screen in our videos. So many people are going smaller – from TVs and desktops to laptops and mobile phones. A huge amount of our traffic comes from mobile, so having smaller pixels lets us create sharper and more legible graphics on smaller screen sizes. I think that, more so than perceived image quality from the camera itself, is the catalyst behind any moves to higher resolution outputs.
Now that were about to get into the full season swing, what new efforts in disc golf media have you excited for the year to come?
I’m really excited to work directly with the PDGA on SpinTV’s NT productions this year. The PDGA has always supported media at their Tour events, but in the past, it’s led to some wild west situations, and thereafter carving out territories for the different channels…it wasn’t good for the sport overall. Not that it was their fault, just a result of the popularity of the sport exploding coupled with the demand for more coverage in such a short time. I’m excited to streamline the process and unify efforts at these events, I think that it will make for a better fan experience in 2017 and beyond.
Thanks again for doing the interview. I always love picking the brains of those in the workings of disc golf. I’ll hopefully be filming more of my local tournaments this year and taking all this knowledge into account in what I put out. Looking forward to what SpinTV does the rest of the year.
My pleasure, thanks for shining a light on us media folks! This year I’m more excited than I’ve ever been about disc golf, I just have a feeling it’s going to be a landmark season