Defining Brooks Laich

If you were to put me in the hot seat about my knowledge of hockey, you would be sorely disappointed.  It’s not a sport I grew up with and the thought of putting on ice skates makes me cringe because it’s like they say…The bigger you are, the harder you fall.  About a year ago, in late 2016, CrossFit approached me about doing a documentary feature on Brooks Laich, a well-established NHL® athlete. At the time, I’d never heard of him. To be fair though, I’m not sure I’d recognize any name from the league. Doing a piece like this would be a new challenge for me and I thought, as long as I don’t have to put on skates, I’m game.

Brooks and I began corresponding via email that December. At the time, Brooks was playing in Toronto. My initial Google searches gave me a little insight into his career. The man was a hockey machine. He was a 14-year vet, unheard of in almost any pro sport. I had never been to Canada but I had heard a few horror stories about trying to get camera gear through customs. It was a potential logistical nightmare and the timing was complicated.  Over the next few months, we exchanged emails trying to establish a block of time to begin shooting but our schedules were never able to align.

Flash forward to about six months and I was beginning to think this feature may never happen. Our schedules weren’t working. However, during an early morning exchange in July, our fates aligned. Brooks had just married and on his return in August, could commit to shooting. Brooks and I met for lunch prior to the shoot. He is easily one of the nicest and genuine people I have ever met. I asked him some typical pre-production questions and began to drill down to the specifics for the shoot. By the end of lunch, I was beginning to get very excited about the potential of this mini-doc.  Still, I knew there were going to be some challenges because there always are.

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Going into the shoot, I knew that I would need to capture Brooks in the hockey environment as well as the CrossFit environment. Another aspect to the story is his wife, Julianne Hough. I was hoping to get both a sit-down interview as well as some footage of Brooks and her together at home. She is incredibly busy and it was unclear whether she would be available.

I had never shot nor covered hockey in any fashion before. I knew I could cover on-ice action with a long lens on sticks, but I wanted to get an angle that would be unique. I had the Sail Video System 3rd person rig and I thought it would be ideal to capture a distinctive perspective.

I used the rig with the Panasonic GH4, Metabones Speed Booster and the Canon 16-53mm lens. In retrospect, a full frame DSLR would have worked a little bit better in this situation but I was pretty happy with the shots I got with the rig.

We began the entire shoot at the dog park. At the time, I thought I probably wouldn’t use any of the dog park footage. Little did I know that the dog park would provide such an amazing view of the Hollywood sign as well as an older angry woman who called the cops on me for flying my drone. I would like to add that I operated it both carefully and safely, not flying over people or houses while nailing the shot and leaving before the cops arrived.

I am pretty sure that woman put a curse on me as I would crash my drone two days later while shooting some on-ice action at the rink. There was some magnetic interference that caused me to lose control of the drone. Surprisingly, the drone is still functioning quite well.

I shot with Brooks over the course of four days. One of those evenings, I was lucky enough to capture Brooks and his wife cooking dinner together. Something of a ritual for them. It was pure gold. They didn’t put on a show or act for the camera. Capturing their interactions and pure love for each other is part of what made this piece so good. Julianne was a pro when it came time for her interview as well. My motorized slider decided to stop working prior to this interview. I like to use the B camera on the slider to make it more dynamic. I was forced to scrap that and go with a secondary locked off shot.

The only downside to shooting at Brick CrossFit was the lighting. I wanted to shoot some high frame rate footage of Brooks working out. There was just not enough natural light coming into the gym to make this happen. The best I could do inside was 60 fps. Brooks had the brilliant idea of work outside in the corner of the parking lot. So that is exactly what we did. I was able to capture a multitude of stylized CrossFit footage outside and it turned out really great.

When I was all done shooting, I felt really good about what I had captured but I needed to step back and separate from the shoot. It is really easy to get attached to shots or ideas coming off of a shoot. I prefer to step back and then after some time, dive back in and get reacquainted with the footage. I had the interviews transcribed which allows me to read through and highlight based on themes. Once, I read over the logs many, many times, I can begin to visualize how to tell the story and exactly what the story is.

Generally, I shoot, produce, write, voice, cut these features solo. Every time I make mistakes, but I try to make a note of how and why I made the mistake and I try not to repeat that mistake. I know a lot more about hockey and through shooting with Brooks, I realized that this was not so much a documentary about a hockey player, but a documentary about a man who is at a transitional point in his life and is coming to terms with what truly defines him. I am very happy with how this feature turned out, all things considered.