ESPN Films Takes Kobe To Work

By Carolyn Braff
On April
13, 2008, ESPN unleashed an arsenal of 30 cameras on the Staples
Center in Los Angeles to follow Kobe Bryant’s every
move. How was that night different from any other night? The added cameras
belonged to a Spike Lee/ESPN Films film crew, which was filming a new feature, Kobe Doin’ Work. The movie, which premiered
at the Tribeca Film Festival this year, will be shown commercial-free on ESPNHD
this Saturday night, May 16 — complete with an audio track of candid commentary
Bryant recorded in February, 2009.
Through the
lenses of 30 Panasonic and Sony DVCPRO HD cameras, basketball fans will be able
to follow Bryant in more detail than ever. Kobe
Doin’ Work begins when Bryant enters the arena and ends as he leaves it,
spending 90 minutes up close and personal with the 2008 NBA MVP.
Lee’s crew
of cinematographers stacked the entirety of the Staples Center
with cameras — including Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson’s notoriously
impenetrable locker room.
“Phil
Jackson was tremendous to give us access,” explains John Dahl, executive
producer for ESPN. “This is something he really never does, and I don’t think
he’ll ever do it again, but he has tremendous trust in Spike Lee. He opened up
his locker room and we’re forever grateful for that because what you see in
those sequences is something you just don’t get to experience anywhere else.”
The film
utilizes 1080i footage from Lee’s crew as well as video from the ESPN/ABC
gameday broadcast crew, as the documentary was shot during a regular-season
game between the Lakers and the San Antonio Spurs.
Lee carried
a Sony prosumer handheld camera around the arena, shooting some of the footage
himself, and several members of his cinematographic crew had sports experience,
having worked for NFL Films and other outlets. Still photographs taken by
additional photographers are also interspersed throughout the film.
Bryant was
mic’d for the game, providing plenty of colorful audio to serve as a
soundtrack.
“We did use
some wireless mics during the game,” Dahl explains. “There were three audio
mixers present and we had access to all the Staples Center
microphones, as well.”
The most
interesting audio in the film, however, was recorded after the fact. In
February 2009, following a 61-point performance against the New York Knicks in
Madison Square Garden, Bryant sat alongside Lee in a sound studio in New York
City to watch the film. His candid running commentary was recorded and is
inserted throughout the film.
“The most
amazing thing about this film is you get to hear Kobe watch this film as you are at home
watching it,” Dahl explains. “It’s really a stream of consciousness in his
conversation with Spike [Lee] as you’re watching the film, and that’s just not
done.”
Bryant
scored just 20 points during the game the film chronicles, and sat out the
entire fourth quarter, but according to Lee, it could have been much worse.
“The thing
about something like this, it’s not scripted,” Lee says. “Kobe scored 20 points that game. Of course,
we would have liked him to score 61 like he did against the Knicks. That’s the
great thing about sports, you can’t determine that stuff. Thank God he didn’t
get into foul trouble, he would’ve been on the bench and we would’ve had no
movie. So you’re really rolling the dice.”
The film
will make its television debut on ESPNHD at 8pm ET this Saturday night, May 16.
Although it originally premiered in movie theaters, there are no plans for any
further theatrical releases at this time.
“I think
ESPN viewers are going to eat this up; it’s perfect for our audience,” Dahl
explains. “The access is what our fans crave and there’s no better place than
ESPN and all our networks and platforms to deliver it. We’re going to give it a
lot of air play and give as many fans as possible a chance to see it.”

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