Inside the Callahan Video: An Interview With Jay Clark

by | May 18, 2015, 8:04am 0

Jay Clark, formerly of Tufts University and Georgia Tech, and now a player with the Atlanta Hustle and Chain Lightning, is known for his supremely athletic plays on the ultimate field. But this year, Clark has gathered buzz in a different way—as a Callahan video editor for Georgia’s Hannah Leathers and Elliott Erickson. His was also the brain behind Nick Lance’s iconic 2012 Callahan video.

I sat down to pick Jay’s brain about the award in general, video editing tips, song selection, and his favorite videos this year.

When you made Nick Lance’s Callahan video, what were you thinking? What kind of mental state were you in when making that? What was your mindset?

I knew Nick was the best player in ultimate in the 2012 regular season, and I wanted everyone to know it. I carried that confidence into making his video. You’ll notice that we never wrote “Nick Lance for Callahan” in the video, description, or communications. It wasn’t really a campaign, more of a declaration: it was just “Nick Lance, Callahan 2012.” I think I’ve noticed this trend catching on recently. And the confidence was in sync with the culture that we had built at Tech that year. We had players who were great athletes and just needed to assert themselves more on the field: “That 50/50 disc is mine.” “This game is ours.” “This matchup is mine.” The music was grand, the plays were grand, the font was grand, etc.

With any Callahan video, I think something the editor wants to focus on is the biggest misconception the public has on your candidate. For Nick, it was just that not many people had heard of him. He came off the first NexGen Tour and we put out two highlight videos that season and created some buzz, but the main focus of his Callahan video was to try the capture the woah that most people feel when they see him throw his first 80 yard flick huck. That’s sort of where the idea for the theatrical music came from.

I was at Georgia Tech while getting my masters in Music Technology, which is a broad field consisting of production, computer science (think stuff like Shazam and Spotify), composition, musical instrument design, etc. I’ve always been interested in film scoring, musicals, and concept albums: anything where the music augments the storytelling and the storytelling augments the music. It’s unbelievable how much subliminal and explicit influence music can have on portraying an emotion or a gradient of emotions. As a result, the music selection was the hardest part of making all three highlight videos we put out that year.

When looking for a song for a highlight video, you want to first find the mood you’re looking for. Is it confident? Ironic? Exciting? Grand? But at the same time, it needs to be conducive to editing a movie. I like to look for songs that have a pretty regular auditory event. For the Public Enemy tune, it’s the big brass hits. For the Inception theme it was the ‘wahhh’s. And then you can match these events up with the plays. They support each other to create a pretty epic feeling.

How’d you choose the plays for the video?

There is a saying in music production, and I’m sure in every other field: “Garbage in, garbage out.” It’s hard to dress up poor content. The easiest way to create great content is to have great source material. Being able to start the video with a layout hammer block from off screen to him picking up the disc and throwing an 80 yard flick goal, unedited, is crazy. Nick produced so many of those plays that I was able to make his Callahan video using about 75% of the clips from Sectionals and Regionals (which was huge, since we had already put out two videos during the regular season). Other than that, I wanted to stay somewhat organized and walk through all of his skill sets.

What else do you think people would want to know about how you make videos?

I use Final Cut Pro X. You can get a fully-functional 30 day trial for free on the Apple website. This technology is an important part of lining your video up with your audio. Play around with having cuts, main events, or titles come and go with the beats/auditory events of the music if possible.

Try to help the viewer out by making it easy to keep track of your subject! One way to do that is zooming in in post production if you’re dealing with a wide shot. You also want to stabilize your footage in post production.

Try to keep your subject in similar spots from shot to shot. If they ended one shot in the bottom right, choose your next clip to have him start in the bottom right, so the viewer doesn’t have to do much searching.

Try to avoid having your subject switch colors between shots. Try to lump together your white-team shots and your dark-team shots.

What do you think about how Callahan videos affect the voting process?

I think that Callahan videos are great for the sport. I’ve heard from multiple people that “When I want to show off ultimate, I show them Nick’s/Jimmy’s/Dylan’s/Brodie’s/X’s Callahan video.” High-quality play with high-quality production goes a long way. NexGen, RISE UP, ESPN3, and Callahan videos are reaching places like Colombia, the Philippines, and Singapore, and they’re legitimately showcasing the mental and physical athleticism of the sport. Amazing plays are happening at every tournament, and it’s exciting that more teams and media outlets are capturing them on camera and producing something consumable out of them.

They are also a great memento for players and their teammates. They serve as a celebration for a player’s career and a thank you for all the hard work they have put into the program. Teammates that played with Nick at Georgia Tech in 2012 love his Callahan video, probably more than him. It serves as a 4:25 dose of nostalgia, representing a spring where we did the impossible. We came together as a ragtag group of guys on a team that hadn’t been to Nationals in 20 years. We committed to each other and redefined the culture of the team. We started playing with nothing to lose. Our region earned our bid to Nationals by something like a tenth of a rankings point. We knew that if we could just take down a deep, storied Florida program we had a shot at winning Nick the Callahan. And then we did it, barely. How special is that?

All this said, I am sympathetic to the Callahan Award vs. MVP debate.  Just like its nearly impossible to have an objective nationwide rating system, it is impossible for all of the voters to be equally informed about each candidate, and that kinda sucks. Some teams don’t have the personnel or resources to play as many games, film, produce a video, etc. It’s also tough to compare apples and oranges. Alex Thorne got some flak for not having a lot of defensive plays in his video. Undoubtedly because he played for an unbelievable team and an especially unbelievable offense that probably didn’t have to play much defense that year. Again, like the rankings, there just isn’t enough objective data or subjective perspective for the vote to be super fair, and that’s where the video comes in. Again, I think the Callahan video does a lot of good for the sport, but I get why people make the point that the Callahan winner isn’t always the most valuable player. I think there is probably a middle ground where we can have both.

You mentioned people showing Callahan videos to to show the sport off. If you had to pick three to do that with, which would you go with and why?

It’s not a Callahan video, but I love the 2007 UPA Club Nationals Remixed video .

As for Callahan videos, I’m obviously biased towards recent ones. Software and cameras have gotten exponentially better and filming games is becoming more of a thing.

I like Nick’s video obviously. I also really like Dylan’s video. The song choice is perfect for him and just oozes of some sort of royal swagger. It also does a great job of capturing that “oh man this kid plays the sport completely differently” feeling that I felt when I first saw him play at Centex when he was a sophomore.

I also really like Jimmy’s 2014 video. Again the song choice is great. “What do you want from me when I’ve given you everything?” Such a fun tongue in cheek message for someone who had been one of the best players in college and club for going on three years.

How about one song you’d love to put in a Callahan video now, and one song you wouldn’t?

That’s a good question. The market was saturated with upbeat pop music, so choosing classical/orchestral for Nick was a nice white space to find. I’m not sure where someone can go to get that fresh sound. I’d be cool if someone took a big risk on genre and went with some melodic prog music or something. Or maybe a good mashup. Given the person, I would just decide the mood/message we’re looking for and find something like I first described: something that moves fairly well with regular auditory events. I wouldn’t pick music that lulls and doesn’t have much momentum.

One of the reasons I contacted you was that I remember reading way back in 2012 some of your responses to haters of the video. What did you think about some of the criticism you got?

I don’t remember too many haters about the video specifically. I remember the aforementioned Callahan v. MVP debate a little. I remember responding to someone who had assumed that since Nick was wearing his Chain jersey in some clips, that we had been using Chain footage. I was pretty proud that we put the video together using 75% 2012 postseason footage and 100% 2012 footage, so I wanted to clear up that misconception. If you have nearly 100,000 views on a video, it’s a mathematical certainty that some people won’t like it.

I’ve seen some criticisms about Nick spiking the disc in a couple shots. I don’t really want to get into that debate too much, but spiking was something we did in 2012 to artificially generate confidence/swagger/camaraderie. We never spiked at other teams or players and all the other teams we played were on the same page.

In general, when I respond to people publicly (which I’m pretty sure I do very rarely) I try to remember that despite the animosity some people feel between teams, people are learning more and more that ultimate players, regardless of their team, are like-minded, open-minded, and generally good people. I’ve been seeing a lot more camaraderie in the club level, thanks to NexGen, U23, TEP, national teams, etc. The other thing I like to keep in mind is that people’s opinions are amplified on the internet. So I use my full name and start a conversation like I would if someone called a foul on me. I tell them my point of view and try to understand theirs.

How much did you talk to Elliott and Hannah about their videos? Why is Elliot’s video so awesome? (They both are, I’m just a big fan of the music in Elliot’s paired with his highlights.)

Elliott and I started talking about his Callahan video in February. I think Tufts put out Tyler Chan’s hype video, and it came up while we were out one night. I casually/jokingly offered to make Elliott’s, not really sure if he would be into the idea. He texted me a couple days later and asked if I was serious. I told him that I would make it with the condition that he found, clipped, labeled, and uploaded all of his highlights. (This is the worst part of highlight video making by far. Pro tip for future editors: make your candidate find and clip his highlights. Its way easier and more fun for him to do it than for you to tediously watch all the game tape.)

We started talking about music and had a similar conversation that you and I had about the landscape of highlight video music. Good pop songs are kind of first come first served, and the movie score idea will always just draw comparisons to Lance’s. I wrote earlier how I liked Jimmy’s winning video—the music was good, but it also had a funny, tongue-in-cheek message. My first thought was poking fun about how announcers love to talk about how short Elliott is. I found “Short People” and thought it would be perfect. I felt a little bad for Elliott, though. You have a fantastic college career, and you finally get to your Callahan nomination, and you sort of want it to be one of those videos that people put on to get pumped up. But instead I chose this bizarre piano-driven folk-pop song. But Elliott was really trusting and always kind of had a “if you can make it work…” attitude.

It was really hard to make that song work, though. Songs like the song in Hannah’s video “A Tribe Called Red” do a great job of pushing the momentum of the video along, but this one was laborious. The song isn’t recorded to a click, so the tempo sort of wanders, which makes it a pain to mash up against anything more energetic. It didn’t work super well against some energetic beats, nor to being sped up. I ended up taking some high energy samples (Bass and snare from Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You’, Bass and snare from “Tipsy”) and subtly enhanced the 1 and 3 beats of Short People. I kept rearranging the structure of the video clips, and eventually found momentum in keeping the clips short and explosive. I’m really happy with how it turned out but it was a battle.

As far as clip choices, I really wanted to highlight things that Elliott does better than almost anyone. I feel bad because there are like 15 backhand and flick hucks that didn’t make the video, but when going up against people like Nethercutt, Maxstadt, and LaRocque, you don’t want to try to sell him as a thrower. I just sought to prove that he has all the throws expected of an elite club ultimate player, and focused on things he is the best at. When he has been healthy, Elliott has been one of the best dump defenders and deep cutters that Chain has. Highlighting dump defense was a fun challenge, but I think it worked well. Short People has a bridge that lends itself to less-explosive footage. The challenge was to guide the viewer to Elliott which is why we used the spotlight. Its harder to highlight his great timing for deep cuts, and hucks eat up so much video time and momentum, so a lot of his deep cuts ended up getting cut as well.

Hannah texted me a week or so after I committed to doing Elliott’s. Like with Elliott’s, we struggled a lot with finding music. We spent the first month or so just surfing Spotify looking for something, ideally upbeat with a strong message and a female singer (without too much baggage… I hate Katy Perry). But we couldn’t find the perfect tune. After I got Hannah’s footage, I originally had a few blocks laid out to Robert Randolph’s “Ain’t Nothing Wrong With That.” The “huhhhs” were lined up with her Ds and it worked really well. We were concerned, though, that the song lost some momentum, so we kept looking. I had also found “Hard Hearted Hannah” really early and knew I wanted to introduce her to that song if we could make it work. I eventually ended up cutting it to remove references to Savannah, moving the reference to “Leather” closer to a reference of “Hannah” and then resolving it (which took some autotune on the “meanest girl in tow-wnnn” line.) Even so, the song took too long and the video’s momentum lulled, so we sped it up to match the Angel Haze tempo, and brought in the claps to carry the video into the brutal layout-block section.

I really like how “Hard Hearted Hannah” ended up working for Hannah. It fits her really well. Off the field she’s this soft spoken, humble, elegant, old-fashioned girl. And on the field she goes beast mode. I liked the similar juxtaposition of the style of the music and the content of the lyrics.

As for Angel Haze’s “A Tribe Called Red,” Hannah loves the girl. I hadn’t heard of her but really liked the track. The only thing was that it was missing those regular auditory events, which we needed, especially since Hannah is so explosive. Eventually we found the solution under our nose and just took the events we liked from “Ain’t Nothing Wrong With That” and added them in to enhance the song. Angel Haze was also a good fit for Hannah—confident but very pure/genuine with intent and message.

Any thoughts on the other videos released so far this season?

The other videos have been really good! This is a really exciting time of year where some quality content comes out every few days.

Game of Throws is a really fun theme for a video, and fitting for Nethercutt. I wonder if they could have pulled it off with an orchestral version of the main theme. I’m very impressed with his youth outreach and I think it was smart of them to highlight that. All in all a really really strong candidate.

Stanley Peterson is a freak. The field is full of good throwers and explosive players. But no one can do what he does… which I’m fairly sure is witchcraft.

Tyler Chan‘s music choice is exactly what you look for in a Callahan song choice.

“Don’t Stop Me Now” worked really well for LaRocque. Refreshing departure from typical pump up songs.

One of the earlier videos cut out the flight path of the disc for hucks. I recall seeing that in a couple videos in the past, and I love that idea. Sitting for the whole 6-7 second flight path just really eats up the momentum of a video, and viewers can interpolate what must have happened in-between cuts.

It seems like more and more women’s teams are filming games! Or at least they have access to media outlets’ footage. This is really exciting. The field’s videos this year were awesome.

It’s funny how the whole hashtag thing worked out. It seems like everyone came to the same conclusion after the success of #micklemania that this year would be fitting to try to get some momentum rolling throughout the social networks. It was really cool to search for #callahannah and find random people talking about that video. But I think everyone is kind of burned out on the idea already. All the hashtags were really creative in their own bubble and but then really tired when you look at the whole portfolio. Oh well. 2015 will be the year of the #hashtagahan.

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