In light of the scheduled Stadium Series game between the Kings and Sharks at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Epix teamed up with the NHL and both clubs to present ‘Road to the Stadium Series,’ a four-part series that would take fans behind the scenes and into the lesser seen areas of both teams and their players in the weeks leading up to the game.
For about a month, each team welcomed an Epix crew into their locker rooms, planes, busses, arenas, homes and everywhere else a camera crew could fit, and the result was arguably four compelling, entertaining, insightful hours of television.
“Our goal is to tell the story of the team,” says Alicia Zubikowski, Epix’s lead producer for the Kings portion of the show.
Zubikowski had the opportunity to work with the Kings last year on one of the championship DVDs, and between that experience and all the research the crews did prior to beginning the project with the Kings and Sharks, she knew exactly what side of the team she wanted to portray to fans through the series.
“This team in particular is so close, they do everything together,” Zubikowski explained. “Even when they’re on the road, it’s not two guys together, it’s 12. That says a lot about why this team wins – their connection is real. Our goal was to show how well the team gets along and how they all like to treat each other the same.”
One of the best examples of the team camaraderie that Epix was able to capture on film was the steak dinner that about half the Kings team attended in Tampa Bay. For Zubikowski and her crew, this was one of the most memorable moments from their chronicled adventures.
“For us, we were able to capture them just being themselves, being together as a team, and it turned out to be a fun time hanging out and gave us a chance to get to know them as well,” Zubikowski shares. “That trip opened them up to us. That whole road trip, yes it was long, but it really gave us a chance to get to know the guys away from hockey and the ice.”
The road trip Zubikowski refers to includes the Kings trip to the White House, which was a special treat and one of the high points for everyone. The trip also included a low point in the Kings season where the team was struggling to win games, and had slipped out of a playoff spot. In the Epix series, practically everything goes.
Filming with such unrestricted access necessarily has its challenges, and walking the fine line between what would make great television and what isn’t appropriate for the teams to display was something that was learned by both sides.
“The biggest thing for us is you want the team to do well when you’re there because you don’t want them to see you as a distraction,” admits Zubikowski, who traveled with the Kings for the entire month with her camera and audio crew. “We wanted to try to blend in and almost become part of them and do our best to fit in so it doesn’t look like we’re outsiders.”
For the most part, both the crews and the teams were respectful of each other’s jobs and over time, a system and bond were developed between the two sides.
“This is as close as I think you can get with this team and the way that things run,” says Kings defenseman Robyn Regehr. “It’s a fine line because their job is to push for as much as possible to make it as entertaining and as good a show as they can, but for us, we want to allow them access, but some stuff you just don’t want to have on TV out there for the public. So it’s kind of a fine line and a balance that has to be found.”
For Steve Lamme and Brandon Goodwin, the lead camera and audio operators for the Kings production, building a rapport with the players and staff was crucial. Eventually they nailed down a system to where they understood which areas and times were open to them and which were not, and they were never in places unnecessarily. Lamme and Goodwin were both taken in as part of the team, and Goodwin was even referred to by players as “Bacon,” a nickname he’s had for years.
“They’re obviously professionals, and they’re really respectful with everything and they aren’t in the way or anything,” says Kings defenseman Brayden McNabb. “It’s pretty cool for hockey fans and anyone who is a fan of the game. I remember watching [shows like this] when I was in Junior, thinking it was pretty cool, so being in it is fun.”
Two crews and a total of 12 crew members were part of the Kings production for the Epix series, and between both crews, practices, games, and everything in between, the total amount of video and audio collected was 70-100 hours – each week.
As the process goes, at the end of each day, the crew would send all their material back to New York, where an editing team would sort through the masses and decide what would make the show and what wouldn’t. The editing process is aided by notes taken by the producers, Zubikowski included. The producers are able to hear all live audio from the microphones, whether it be a game, practice or anything else. Their suggestions and time records are crucial in helping to write storylines as they develop.
Each night the producers would comb through their notes, identify developing story lines and decide which players and coaches would be mic’d up the next day. In the morning, the crew would present a list and the microphones with their transmitters – about four square inches – to members of the teams’ communications and equipment staffs, who in particular became instrumental in sewing the microphones into the equipment of the designated players. Although some were more comfortable wearing mics than others, each player wore one at some point, whether it was a game, practice or morning skate.
As much material as was collected from the Kings side of things, the Kings only represented half of the show, and that 70-plus hours of footage was eventually filtered into less than 30 minutes. The Sharks obviously claimed the other half of the air time, and being that the Director of Photography for the entire series was shooting in San Jose, the camera operators in LA would frequently communicate with the San Jose crew to ensure consistency in shots and interview techniques.
“It’s kind of been a little surreal because you watch those shows on TV and you don’t really know what it’s like and you’d like to think you’d act differently, but when the cameras are around, it kind of throws you for a loop,” shares Sharks forward, John Scott, who was asked to have a hosting part during teammate Joe Thornton’s Super Bowl party in Episode 2. “It’s been nice, you get used to them after a while, but still there’s a camera in your face 24-seven, so it’s a little different.”
The series of course culminated with Episode 4, which featured the game between the Kings and Sharks at Levi’s Stadium, home of the San Francisco 49ers football team, on February 21. The Kings ended up defeating the Sharks by the score of 2-1, and following the game, as the Epix crews were rushing to complete final interviews and wrap up production, all the Kings players approached them with words of thanks and gratitude.
“I think that in the end they appreciated it because this is something they’re going to have to look back on,” offers Zubikowski.
In addition to the kind words, each of the 12 crew members were gifted Stadium Series locker nameplates – identical to the ones the players used during the Stadium Series – with their own names on them by Kings personnel, upon their departure from Levi’s Stadium.
If this isn’t evidence of the crew’s success at blending into their surroundings, evidence does not exist.
For Zubikowski and her crew, it’s all in a month’s work…and on to tell the next story.
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