Inspiring Athletic Video Shoot: Discovery to Production

Charlie Maher Tennis Shoot: Discovery to Production

In March 2020, video production across the globe came to a screeching halt due to the spread of COVID-19. The pandemic has had a detrimental effect on the film, television, and media production industry. Many blockbuster films originally scheduled to be released between March and November were postponed or canceled around the world. Productions across the country were put off indefinitely just as companies were about to hit their busy seasons. 

Production in Massachusetts has been feeling the same effects as the rest of the world. Over the past five months, Boston video production company, Skillman Video Group, has been working in an entirely remote environment, while waiting anxiously to get back on set.

athletic video shoot Camera crew on tennis court

In mid-August, as Massachusetts slowly began to re-open, the waiting was over—a great opportunity to work with Charlie Maher on a tennis shoot arose. This shoot is a prominent example of our adaptability, boldness, and passion for our work. It was only fitting that we worked with a client on this project who is as driven as us!

We first met Charlie in 2016. Charlie wants to become a nationally ranked tennis player and a sponsored athlete. Charlie is among an older crowd in the tennis community – he wanted his video to communicate that he is an inspiration for people who are “aging” and still playing sports. Although the timing wasn’t quite right to execute his tennis video in 2016, Charlie came back to us in early 2020 to finally begin his project.

Although the project was interrupted by a global pandemic, once we were able to get out in the field, we persevered and delivered an incredible result. We were happy to take Charlie through the Discovery, Strategy, Creative, Planning, and Production steps of the Skillman Video Group process in such unusual circumstances.

Discovery: A Fresh Start

In the first phase of the process, Discovery, it is our responsibility to gain as much information about the client as possible. We sat down with Charlie Maher for our discovery meeting in March, hours before Massachusetts was shut down due to COVID-19. This was our last in-person meeting for a while. During our two hour meeting, we learned Charlie’s story, nailing down exactly what makes him unique, what story he wanted to tell, and why people should care about his story.

Once we had a better understanding of his vision, both parties had a hand in discussing the style that would best portray his remarkable qualities in the tennis community. We presented him with a motivating, fan-made Nike video that we wanted to use as inspiration. Charlie agreed, and we decided that exhilarating and impactful storytelling was going to be a significant factor in communicating Charlie Maher’s brand message.

Strategy: The Love of the Game

During the Strategy phase, we work with our clients to realize key themes of the video, which are the overall values or moods of the project. We also uncover the client’s key messages of their video project to figure out what will be directly communicated in the narrative of the video.

shooting sports video

The Strategy process with Charlie was an informative and helpful experience. Our client wanted to communicate that although he is a part of the older tennis community, he is still driven, relentless, and competitive, with a deep passion for the game. Since those attributes served as the key themes for the video, we knew that we were going to have to use visuals to communicate those values and establish mood.

Additionally, our client informed us that he wanted the story of the video to break down stereotypes regarding age and encourage others to chase their dreams no matter what. Since those ideas could be better explained through dialogue and narrative, they became the key messages of the video.

Charlie wanted us to film him in action. We decided to film him playing tennis on multiple different courts and training grounds to showcase his experience and passion for tennis. We chose to interview him on the tennis court to communicate his message in an authentic, unscripted video.

Creative/Concept: Down the Line

After deciding on the key themes and messages, we moved onto the Creative phase. In this phase, we worked with Charlie to figure out how to visually reinforce the key themes and messages. We also put together a shot list to guide us in capturing the right material on our shoot day, which included dramatic shots of Charlie working hard at his sport and training relentlessly. We also prepared a list of interview questions to ask our client in order to showcase his value proposition.

Video production Boston shooting tennis player

Since we were shooting Charlie in action on tennis courts, we chose to use a Steadicam to capture his maneuvers. We also shot Charlie’s interview on the Steadicam as well. Steadicams isolate the camera from the operator’s movements, allowing for smooth, dynamic shots. The increased mobility and flexibility of a Steadicam reflect the dynamic nature of tennis. This was especially helpful in capturing Charlie’s sudden leaps towards the ball and precise footwork.

If we were to use a static tripod to capture Charlie playing tennis or telling us his story, the shot would not reflect the dynamic nature of the sport, Charlie’s ambitious personality, or the messages we were trying to communicate.

Although playing tennis is deemed safe under Massachusetts COVID-19 guidelines, we still had to put precautions in place. We used the smallest crew possible, which consisted of a total of six people. We were also shooting outdoors, so staying mindful of weather conditions and planning for a rain date was essential to the success of the video.

Planning/Pre-Production: Approach

The Planning Phase of the Skillman Video Group process involves the technical and logistical details the crew needs in order for the shoot to run smoothly. Because of COVID-19, there was a long gap between our meetings and the actual shoot day. Although we were supposed to shoot at the end of May, we had to wait for the tennis courts to open again. In August, we were finally able to schedule the shoot.

Because we, Skillman Video Group, are also active in the tennis community, we were able to find private tennis courts for our shoot. We made certain that we marked off outdoor tennis courts for our production and booked a private, indoor tennis court. Since we were shooting at three different locations in Beverly, MA (Beverly High School, Bass River Tennis Club, and Beverly Golf and Tennis), a fair amount of planning for travel took place to ensure the production day ran smoothly and the crew was in the right places at the right times. Out of all the video production companies in Boston, we’re not sure how many others are experts in production and tennis!

Filming tennis game

Production: Unprecedented Times

Once we arrived on set for our full-day shoot, we realized the unprecedented nature of the shoot. The crew wore face masks and had to be mindful of social distancing at all times. We set up outside an empty outdoor tennis court and began the day by shooting b-roll and clean audio of Charlie displaying different tennis techniques. We even had our audio operator capture audio of Charlie’s shoes squeaking against the court for another layer of clear sound. Adding in that extra bit of work will take your video to the next level.

Shooting at a public outdoor tennis court did not come without challenges. We had to deal with the sound of traffic and other tennis players shouting on neighboring courts, as well as avoid getting the parking lot and cars in the background of the shots. Neglecting to notice any element that might distract from your main message can greatly decrease the quality of your video, so it is important to remain detail-oriented while shooting.

Additionally, Charlie went through various outfit changes, and we moved to neighboring courts to make it look like we were shooting across multiple different days to showcase Charlie’s hardworking personality. We captured b-roll of Charlie playing tennis in slow motion for both dramatic effect and to provide more options in post-production. We also staged shots of Charlie training on and off the court.

interview tennis player

The sun was extremely strong during the outdoor portion of the shoot, so our camera operator decided it would look best to have Charlie backlit by the sun to prevent shadows. Moreover, Massachusetts was under a heat advisory on our shoot day, so we had to make sure our crew and talent were staying hydrated throughout the course of the eight hour day.

During the interview portion, we moved to an indoor court. We set up minimal lighting, cleared the court of any extra nets or chairs, and kept the interview conversational. This encouraged Charlie to provide us with more personal and detailed information about himself and his journey as a tennis player. When the talent provides more elaborate information, it makes for a memorable video. We concluded the day by shooting more b-roll at our third and final outdoor tennis court location.


Overall, the shoot was a success because of the detailed planning phases that took place between both parties, especially in the middle of such unprecedented times. The next and final stage for us in the process is the Editing & Finishing stage. During this phase, our raw footage is artistically combined into an entertaining video about Charlie Maher’s inspiring tennis story.

For more information, we encourage you to continue to explore our website and blogs about our innovative production process. If you have questions or would like to get started on your own project, contact us at [email protected]