Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Art of Darkness

I’m still fairly new to the world of television production. I may have been born into the MTV Generation, was once an avid viewer of the now defunct Project Greenlight (How did Shia Labeouf go from Shaker Heights to the Temple of Doom in three years?), and a graduate of one of the top communications school in the country, but I have only logged one full season on the sidelines with RaveTV. So forgive me for initially questioning the shot list from this past Saturday’s shoot with the Ravens Cheerleading squad.

The Ravens broadcasting department spent the afternoon filming twenty of the team’s most photogenic faces for a new feature called, “Silhouettes.” As a result, more than half of the footage was shot with the lights off! As in, the dark.

The creative minds behind the production decided to invite twenty female cheerleaders to the shoot, put them through make-up, dress them in mini-skirts, get them in front of the camera and flip the switch – the light switch. By now I assume you have a picture in your mind of what could have been and want answers. Well after five hours on the set, I think I might be able to shed some light on the darkness.

First off, silhouettes are a surefire scene-stealer. Picture the opening credits to a Bond movie, the first batch of iPod commercials (before they shined the light on Bono and Dylan), or the voluptuous woman from the mud flaps who gets in the car with Yosemite Sam. In each case, the mystery of the unknown creates interest, intrigue, and eventually, iconic status. RaveTV has similar hopes for “Silhouettes” this fall as part of their weekly line-up on Ravens Report.

During the editing process, the green-screen background will be replaced with game day highlights, while keeping the cheerleaders in the dark. In order to achieve this visual effect, a few details had to be perfected while the cameras were rolling. Most notably, their hair. You would think a girl wouldn’t care about her hair in the dark, but because of the shadow puppets created by the carefully angled ceiling lights, it was easy to spot a stray strand, or as we call it in the biz – a “fly-away”. See, I’m learning more each day. Luckily we also had a few women on hand who were trained to deal with such matters.

The second reason for shooting in the shadows became more apparent as the day wore on. Each participant was asked to describe themselves and what they enjoyed most about being a Ravens cheerleader. Without the benefit of sight my focus remained on what they said. Their stories were as stunning as their smiles:

Talmesha is getting her PHD at Johns Hopkins. Tasha’s father pitched for the Detroit Tigers. Collette has been dancing since she was three. Leslie traveled to the Middle East to entertain our troops. Sarita appeared in a Pepsi commercial as a child. Suzanne speaks French. Incroyable!

Clearly, these women are more than just pretty faces and pom poms. But they’re more than just charitable and charming as well. These girls are also athletic. And backlit back flips, toe-taps, tumbles, and handsprings are beautiful to watch, even if you can’t really see. In fact, these images might be the most important in building an icon. Consider Jim Pollard, Wilt Chamberlain, Julius Erving, Scottie Pippen, and even Brent Barry have all attempted dunks form the foul line, but only one legendary leaper turned it into his own logo.

When the lights finally did come on, it was easy to understand why these women were selected to stand on the sidelines each and every Sunday. And it has nothing to do with their matching 6-pack abs. They are professionals. They are athletes. They are your Ravens Cheerleaders. And this fall, from the depths of the players tunnel at M&T Bank Stadium, they will once again emerge from the darkness and into the spotlight, right where they belong.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Save Ferris

At first glance, the Baltimore Ravens 2007 regular season schedule has the looks of a masterpiece.

Four nationally televised games – two live from our Charming City. Three west-coast road trips separated by a minimum of four weeks each. A mid-season bye. A visit to Buffalo before Thanksgiving and trips to Sun Diego and the Sunshine State long after the turkey has been carved. Of course, looks can be deceiving.

Consider the scene from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off at the Art Institute of Chicago. Cameron is burning a hole in the canvas of a Seurat painting made up of thousands of tiny dots that when viewed from afar, compose a picturesque scene along the banks of the River Seine. But as Cameron comes to realize, when you look a little deeper, things aren’t exactly as they appear.

The trees don’t really have leaves on them. Ferris isn’t the Sausage King of Chicago. And the Ravens have to play three of the top four seeds from last year’s AFC playoffs – in a row!

Seriously, this is a good comparison. The title of the painting in the movie is actually “Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte”. Of course if it was called “Sunday Afternoon on the Field of Lambeau” it would be dead-on, but this is close enough.

So what happens when you look at the tiny dots that connect to form a seventeen-week season?

First, seven straight games to start the year against teams that finished at .500 or below in 2006. Look deeper, however, and you see that this stretch includes back-to-back road trips against some of our former feathered friends in Cleveland and San Francisco, who always seem to pack an extra punch when they line-up against the men in purple.

Next, fifteen days off before a divisional dual with the Steelers on Monday Night Football. Look deeper, however, and you will see that Pittsburgh will be celebrating their 75th Anniversary that evening and are likely to line ‘The Bus’ up in the backfield with Bradshaw under center.

And finally, the perverbial hat trick: Lighting bolts, freedom fighters, and horseshoes. Possibly the most anticipated three-week stretch in the NFL as Baltimore faces off against the three [other] teams predicted to possibly represent the AFC in the desert next February. But again, look deeper.

Apart from losing their head coach and both coordinators, the Chargers will be sleeping at home for two extra nights following the Thanksgiving holiday, which could only mean one thing – more leftovers. And turkey is a known cause of drowsiness.

The Patriots are clearly locked and reloaded for another run at a title, however, AD might be able to play all 11 defensive positions, but only one at a time. Wes Welker returning extra kickoffs means the Ravens are scoring more often. And Donte Stallworth typically has both hamstrings strained by mid-October.

And then come the Colts. Yes, those Colts. The same team that knocked the Ravens out of the playoffs last year. The same team that won their first Super Bowl since calling Owings Mills home themselves. The same team, however, that not only lost 5 starters, but one stubborn monkey off their back that may have given them the edge they needed to finally win a Championship.

The point of my homage to John Hughes’ classic, or maybe to Seurat’s classic depending on how you look at it, is that no matter how you look at the 2007 season, each game will bring its own storyline, subplots, and media scrutiny that we can’t begin to predict with two weeks left before the Draft! But after a 13-3 regular season seemed to begin and end on an unusually warm night in January, we need to be prepared to enjoy each and every game the league has given us. Monday Nights and Sunday Nights, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, Jamal and AD, LT and Big Ben, South Beach and the Space Needle. To paraphrase the immortal words of Matthew Broderick, “The NFL moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.”

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Bright Lights, Cin City

Aretha asked for it. Rodney never got it. But after a year spent in the shadows of the NFL spotlight, the Ravens may have finally received it. In the immortal words of Ali G – Respek.

The league announced its Kickoff Weekend schedule last week and low and behold, your Baltimore Ravens were up on the marquee. Of course they will be sharing the stage with a full 25% of the NFL, including a rare Monday Night Football double header with the Cardinals and 49ers battling in the bay area in the nightcap. But on September 10th, 2007 at 7PM EST, the eyes of the nation will be on the AFC North as the Ravens visit the Cincinnati Bengals.

Unfortunately, Monday nights boast a brutal line up of entertainment options that even make Jerry Bruckheimer sweat. CSI Caruso is just the beginning as Heroes, How I Met Your Mother, Two and Half Men, Prison Break, and 24 all grab their fare share of Nielsen numbers. If we’re lucky, Jack Bauer could take the fall off to eat and use the bathroom, but ABC is usually good for a reality show or two – Bachelorettes, Ice Dancing with the Stars, who knows. Throw in Howie Mandel and at least one more NBC drama (Studio 60 and The Black Donnelly’s are waging a ratings war as we speak) and it might not be the entire country tuned in to NFL action live from Ohio.

There is still cause for optimism, however, because ESPN will most likely tout the debut of Jaws on Monday Night Football all summer long and the sports world is itching for in depth film review of last year’s classic Thursday Night Thriller between these two division rivals. Although that game was played in a monsoon and every Vegas vet won the under, so the analysis may only take us through the coin toss.

But we are headed to The Queen City. And with an evening start time, the entire day is left open to experience all the city has to offer. You could take a tour of Proctor & Gamble’s headquarters. Or the United States Playing Card Company in nearby Norwood, OH. You could take a boat ride along the famed beaches of the Kentucky coast. Or grab a bowl of chili as Cincinnati boasts more chili restaurants than any other city in the world. Seriously. Their tagline, “All together surprising” is dead on.

No matter how you look at it, after a 13-3 season in 2006, the Ravens have earned some respect among the schedule makers who apparently think fantasy football fanatics are ready to embrace the concept of IDP’s (Individual Defensive Players). The Charm City was also rewarded for their strong season of support with a nationally televised exhibition game on August 19th against the Giants live from Baltimore. The remaining regular season schedule will be released later this month, but for now, Ravens fans can take solace in the fact that after a year of feeling jacked, so far this off-season they’ve received the royal treatment. It all starts with the Queen.