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.

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