Media Musings: Behind the scenes of the behind the scenes “All Access” series


written by R.L. Bynum

Behind the scenes of “All Access” series on Carolina basketball

What is it like to be around a blue-blood college basketball program?

The ACC Network’s multi-part series “All Access: A Season with Carolina Basketball” offers an inside look at the North Carolina program, with plenty of cameras around the program on nearly a daily basis.

The next episode of the series, which debuted Oct. 21, airs at 9 p.m. Tuesday, the day before UNC begins play in the Bahamas at the Battle 4 Atlantis.

ESPN approached UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham last spring with the idea, and it was finalized in July after Stacie McCollum, ESPN’s senior director of programming and acquisitions, talked to Coach Roy Williams about all that would be involved. Williams always enjoyed watching all-access shows but didn’t necessarily want to participate. 

It wasn’t a case of Williams not wanting fans to see what happens behind the scenes. It had more to do with not wanting to change anything in the team’s routine, said Steve Kirschner, UNC’s senior associate athletic director for communications. That was the biggest reason Williams had not wanted to OK a project like this in the past.

“But we also saw how much attention ESPN was showing other schools and thought that we were at a competitive disadvantage because of that,” Kirschner said. “And that’s the reason we did it.”

For a coach who doesn’t even allow his own school’s camera people in the dressing room before games, it was quite a leap. As far back as 2005, the TV rights holder for the Final Four (either CBS or TBS) has always asked every team if it could embed with the team on its flight, on the busses and in team meetings. Williams always has said no.

“They’ve been good to work with and he’s been open to it, which has been great,” Kirschner said. 

Experienced crew

The crew of seven that trails the Tar Heels in practice, during games and off the court brings plenty of experience to the project.

ESPN feature producer Chris Duzan, 29, the producer of the series, has worked the last two years on ESPN’s “Draft Academy,” which profiles six NFL draft prospects each year. With “Draft Academy,” Duzan followed prospects for 100 days. His main focus in the last year was two players who were first-round picks: the San Francisco 49ers’ Nick Bosa and the Oakland Raiders’ Josh Jacobs.

ESPN feature producer Chris Duzan works on the “All Access” program featuring UNC this season

Duzan is familiar with the ACC. He was in Charlotte working for Raycom Sports for seven years before joining ESPN in 2016, helping with the ACC Blitz pregame and halftime shows for Raycom. He grew up in Simi Valley, Calif, before moving to Huntersville when he was 16, later attending Western Carolina and UNC Charlotte.

Some of the freelancers on the crew are with Mooresville-based TA Films, which worked on Amazon’s “All or Nothing: The Carolina Panthers” and ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary “I Hate Christian Laettner,” among others.

Also on the crew are twin brothers Max and Richard Brooke of Charlotte-based 2WAVES Media. They have a long history of covering the ACC for Raycom Sports.

“They are some of the best game shooters that you’ll see in the business,” Duzan says of the Brookes. “When show two comes out, the shots that we have of Cole Anthony’s debut are breathtaking. I don’t think I could have asked for a better crew to be with me on the show.”

There is a camera crew of five that usually rotates with only two or three working on a given day, as well as a rotation of two or three audio guys. They tape five to six days a week, including some days when the team doesn’t practice.

Duzan said there’s a reason he wanted to keep the crew that’s on-site at any given time fairly small. 

“We want the players and the coaches and everybody around the program to feel comfortable with us because we’re in certain situations that media haven’t been allowed to be in at times — practices with Coach Williams and things like that,” Duzan said.

Being respectful of the players and staff

They haven’t had cameras in huddles at the bench during timeouts and they aren’t in the dressing room before or after the game. “All Access” can use any video shot by UNC personnel inside the dressing room after games. It’s part of a reciprocal arrangement with UNC, and why you’ll see some scenes on social media before they appear on “All Access.” UNC will also provide video to “All Access” for the few games it doesn’t staff.

“There are just certain things that I personally want to be respectful of having gone through shows like this for the NFL Draft, with players who are prepping for the biggest day of their career,” said Duzan, who also shoots video at times. “They’re just certain things that you can kind of feel in a situation — should I be [doing this] or should I not — and the last thing that you ever want to do is distract people from what’s most important. And I’m sure at the end of the day, what’s most important is not a TV show. It’s the games that they’re playing and the lessons that they’re teaching these kids. … I would call it being respectful of players’ privacy in certain situations.”

So far, Duzan said that UNC hasn’t asked him not to show something that they have recorded. But Kirschner said he, Matt Bowers (associate director of athletic communications), Sean May (director of operations for the basketball program) and Eric Hoots (director of player development) all gave the crew a sense of what the program might not be comfortable with. 

Williams has offered suggestions. One day in practice, when Brandon Robinson was still nursing a sprained right ankle, Williams yelled over to the crew to make sure they got a shot of Robinson cheering on his teammates.

One of Duzan’s big goals, as with “Draft Academy,” is to leave everybody with a positive experience.

“I want the people that we’re filming with to enjoy having the crew around. I want them to never walk away from a shoot with us thinking, ‘Oh, thankfully they’re gone’ or, ‘Man, that was a lot of work,’ ” Duzan said. “So a lot of this stuff is driven by the players, coaches — whatever they’re comfortable with doing.”

He says the series fits well into what have been the hallmarks of the ACC Network: access and storytelling. There was quite a bit of storytelling in documentaries such as “The Class That Saved Coach K,” “Bowden Dynasty” and “Unbelievable: Virginia’s Improbable Path to the Title.”

“After partnering with several schools on other projects, we knew we wanted to highlight a high-profile basketball program,” Duzan said. “And with Roy Williams having the opportunity to pass Dean Smith’s all-time wins mark here, it just seemed like UNC was a natural fit. We’ve always worked hard to cultivate relationships with the schools and to earn their trust. And I think, because of that, UNC felt the time was right to let our cameras in.”

Episodes not planned but driven by content

Duzan entered the project without clear expectations because he wanted the content to drive how each episode unfolds.

“We’re just focused on how can we create the best content possible with the access that we’ve been given,” he said. “And we just wanted the show to feel authentic and organic. And to give fans an inside look at what makes this program so special. When we’re down there, we show up to the Smith Center in the morning and we just simply document what the team does that day.”

His crew never knows what might transpire. 

They were there to document an academic meeting one day and that turned into the memorable moment when K.J. Smith was told that he was put on scholarship. After the meeting, he shared that news with his dad, Kenny Smith (above tweet). Not included in the part of the scene that was tweeted but was part of the first episode was the emotional reaction of K.J.’s mom.

“I think that’s the perfect example of why you try not to preplan shows like this. You try to react to storylines that present themselves to you,” Duzan said.

There are also light-hearted moments such as (below tweet) when Williams learns about the “Boosie fade” in the first episode, which re-airs on ACC Network at 10 p.m. Monday.

Duzan splits his time between Chapel Hill and Bristol, Conn., usually spending about 10 days editing each episode. He was at the Tar Heels’ Nov. 8 game at UNC Wilmington but he won’t be back with the team until it heads to the Bahamas next week, although crews are at most games. 

Throughout the season, the series will spotlight former players and coaches in the Carolina basketball family. In Tuesday’s episode, you’ll see and hear from UNCW head coach C.B. McGrath, who played for Williams at Kansas and was a longtime assistant at UNC, and Jackie Manuel, a former UNC player who is on McGrath’s coaching staff.

Considering that the crew has multiple cameras recording anywhere from three to eight hours of footage a day, a very small percentage of that ends up in a one-hour episode. Depending on the storylines, there may be some days when nothing recorded makes it into an episode.

 “Some days, it’s having fun debates about how many holes are in a straw, as you saw in episode one,” Duzan said of a scene highlighted in the above tweet. “Sometimes it’s more intense when the players are prepping for a game or when they have an intense practice But I think that’s what makes the show interesting. Because you really get a good sense of who the players and the coaches are and their personalities beyond just what you see on the basketball court.” 

Developing a bond with the program

While they try to stay in the background, the crew spends so much time around the team that they have become friends with Williams, the players and the staff.

Partly because they are both big golfers, Duzan says that Shea Rush is one of his favorite players. He adds that it’s fun to talk to Assistant Coach Hubert Davis, who is always the first person in the gym. 

As a media member, Duzan doesn’t really have favorites. But he already knows that he’ll always root for all of the UNC players and coaches to succeed because of the bond he’s developed with everyone connected to the team.

“I think that the cool thing with fans is that they’re getting to see a side of [Williams] that they haven’t gotten to see before,” Duzan said. “I think he’s a person that if you show him respect, he shows it right back to you. So we haven’t had anything really but great experiences with Coach Williams.”

During Williams’ radio show at Top of the Hill restaurant Nov. 4, he admitted that he didn’t listen very well and thought “All Access” would only cover the first five weeks of practice and was “blown away” when he realized it was for the entire season.

“I think that was wishful thinking on his part,” Kirschner said.

It did take some adjustments for the Hall of Fame coach, who allowed the media to interview freshmen before the opener this season for the first time in program history. 

“The other day at practice, I look around and we had seven cameras at practice,” Williams said, likely exaggerating about the number, on that episode of his radio show. “Dean Smith turned over his grave eight times. Coach Smith never allowed this kind of thing. But I said, ‘All right, we know we’ve got to do more things.’ I’ve got to get into the modern age and all that kind of stuff.”

During that show, Williams called out Duzan for wearing Adidas shoes instead of Nike.

“Coach Williams will pick on me every now and again. But it’s always in a jovial nature as you saw on the radio show,” Duzan said. “Once he’s in the basketball mode, that’s what he’s in. I think his number one priority is turning out great individuals, great people. I think beyond that, he is here to coach his basketball team. So we try to not get too much in the way of that.”

Duzan has been impressed with the interaction he’s seen between Williams and his players and with his crew.

“He’s extremely funny off the court,” Duzan said. “And I think the more you’re around them, you realize why so many former players look to Roy as a father figure. He genuinely cares for people, and he treats people very fairly. So I always look forward to seeing him when he gets to the facility.

“And the one thing that’s really blown myself and my crew away is when you see and you hear Coach Williams and his staff, teaching the game of basketball at practice, you really realize why their teams have been so successful,” Duzan said.

Cameramen are “mad cool”

If there is any player who isn’t fazed by the crew constantly being around the team, it’s Anthony. He was used to media attention during his high school career in addition to his dad, Greg, being a former NBA star and a television commentator.

“Oh, it’s fun just having those cameras around,” Anthony said. “I mean, it hypes up some of the people on the team. Just let them act a fool sometimes. But I wouldn’t say it really is that big of a deal. I mean, most people don’t pay them no mind. It’s just fun having them around. They’re cool people too, the cameramen. They’re all mad cool.”

Duzan has been impressed with Anthony, as well as fellow freshman Armando Bacot, off the court as much as on the court. He says his interactions with both have been the same as with any player on the team.

“Cole Anthony is as humble a young man as you’ll ever find,” Duzan said. “There’s just a very visible culture around the program of treating people fairly, treating people the right way. We really haven’t run into any issues with any of the guys around the program. It’s really been an absolutely enjoyable experience.”

Trying to blend in during games

The crew had three cameras at the season-opening win over Notre Dame and Anthony will be prominently featured in next week’s episode.

“We try to stay out of the way, in places where players and coaches may not see us, because the last thing we ever want to do is be a distraction,” Duzan said of where his crew situates itself during games. 

Often, they are right behind one of the baselines alongside other media photographers. 

“We may have a camera up on a tripod in the tunnel shooting through fans or shooting through the bench, but out of the way. So, we do have a presence of games, we just try to make it kind of a low profile,” he said

Mixed in with the rest of the media in the interview room at the Smith Center are usually a couple of the crew’s camera people along with boom mics.

At their disposal are large MōVI Pro camera movement systems that help the operator keep the camera steady while running or moving fast. Those were used for some Late Night With Roy scenes as players were being introduced and while shooting one of Williams’ daily walks, which you’ll see in episode 2. 

The operator was going backward for 25 consecutive minutes during that shoot highlighted in the below tweet of Williams walking with Clint Gwaltney, UNC’s assistant associate athletic director and a former Carolina kicker who was second-team All-ACC.

Players had to adjust to cameras at first

There already was a big adjustment for graduate transfer Justin Pierce going from mid-major William and Mary to UNC, and this has just added another layer. 

“It’s been cool,” he said. “It’s been different because I’m not used to all that media attention. We’re definitely more used to it now than we were in the summer. In the summer, it was a little weird at first; I’m not gonna lie. But I think it’s pretty cool.”

He’s happy that family and friends in the Chicago area who might not get to North Carolina very often can still experience his season as a Tar Heel through “All Access.”

Andrew Platek says that his sense is that they look for the drama more on HBO’s “Hard Knocks” shows and it’s different with “All Access.”

“These guys are a little more laid back,” Platek said. “They’re not like really in your face. They just ask you permission to say, ‘Hey, can we follow you while you go shoot?’ or like, ‘Can you guys talk about this for a little while?’ It’s not as invasive.”

Bacot remembers being startled one day when he opened his locker and there was a camera there.

“It was just kind of creepy but, yeah, it’s cool,” he said. “I love them. I’m cool with all the guys and just being able to have like ESPN following us around is cool.”

One player who wouldn’t mind if the cameras weren’t around at times is Leaky Black.

“Personally — it’s no knock against them — I don’t really like the cameras, especially when I’m trying to work out, you know, kind of under the radar and a camera all in my face,” he said.

Garrison Brooks, who was shown in the first episode playing video games with teammates, likes the project.

“I enjoy it. They cut out a lot of stuff that’s really enjoyable. I wish they kept a lot of that stuff, said Brooks, who wouldn’t elaborate on what didn’t make the cut. “I can’t wait to see the second episode.”

Unlike shows such as “Hard Knocks,” “All Access” has no narration. The closest the first episode came to narration were audio clips weaved in from UNC’s “Carolina Insider” podcast with Jones Angell and Adam Lucas.

“I think it’s a philosophical thing, that I went into it not wanting a voiceover,” Duzan said. “When we’re in certain situations, I want the fan to feel immersed in the access that we have the opportunity to have. So, I didn’t want to take away from that by having a voiceover with somebody that the fan doesn’t know. What better people to put in the show than the people that the fans know and listen to on a weekly basis with Jones Angell and Adam Lucas?”

And once a month during the basketball season, for one hour, fans will get to know everybody connected to the Carolina basketball program a little better.

Triangle newspapers upgrade high school coverage

High school sports coverage at The News & Observer and Herald-Sun isn’t what it was years ago and isn’t likely to ever return to that level. But the coverage this school year so far has dramatically improved over a year before.

“I want us to make preps more priority where we can, especially online,” Matt Stephens, McClatchy’s North Carolina senior sports editor said. “They don’t draw a ton of page views, but they are better subscription-drivers.”

 A year ago, Panther Creek and Green Hope met in a state Class 4-A volleyball championship game, marking the first time two Wake County teams had met for a state title in a team sport. The N&O didn’t cover it.

Two local high schools won state volleyball titles earlier this month and both were covered: Green Hope’s fourth consecutive title was across the bottom of the print sports front the next day and Chapel Hill’s victory for the Class 3-A title was on page 9B with a photo.

Two seasons ago, regular season football game coverage was one large roundup and last season was largely one game story. Nearly every week this season, preps reporter Jonas Pope IV and stringers Tom Shanahan and Chapel Fowler (son of Charlotte Observer sports columnist Scott Fowler) all write game stories that appear online that night and in Sunday’s print editions.

“That’s a testament to trying to work together as one department working in different buildings and different towns, and a lot of that is a credit to Jess Giglio and the work she’s doing trying to lead up our high school coverage,” Stephens said of The N&O’s assistant sports editor.  

Will there be upgrades on basketball coverage as well? Stephens said that his team is still in the planning process.

“Basketball will be much like football,” Stephens said. “Not gonna say identical. It will look much like it in terms of trying to do features and trying to talk to recruits. We want to cover the games we can but also do our players of the week, which has been become a big popular feature for us.”

Charlotte Observer loses Marks

After five months on the Carolina Panthers beat for The Charlotte Observer, UNC grad Brendan Marks’ last day at the newspaper was Nov. 24. According to sources, he appears to be headed to The Athletic to cover the ACC. 

Neither Marks or Stephens would confirm that Marks is headed to The Athletic.

Marks would be the latest sports writer in the Charlotte Observer’s Panthers beat to The Athletic pipeline, following the moves of Joe Person in 2018 and Jourdan Rodrigue last summer. The latter departure, along with Marcel Louis-Jacques leaving for ESPN to cover the Buffalo Bills, led Marks to move to the Panthers beat after previously covering NASCAR.

It was just earlier this month that Alaina Getzenberg joined the Observer to cover the Panthers.

“I am very, very sad losing him,” Stephens said. “He’s been great. He is crushing it with driving tons of subscriptions for us. He’s been doing good features but also good enterprise work that isn’t always comfortable topics or stories that make a lot of readers happy, even though I think they’re important stories.”

Marks’ story on Cam Newton’s vegan diet drew lots of page views and interest but also upset some fans.

Stephens hopes to hire Marks’ replacement on the Panthers beat by the end of the season and is still working to hire a NASCAR beat writer.

Andrew Carter returns to sports

After two years on the N&O/H-S investigations team, Andrew Carter — who turned down a job at The Athletic two years ago — is returning to sports.

When he left sports in November 2017, he was the UNC beat writer. He returns to sports as a regional enterprise reporter and he still will write some non-sports stories.

While on the investigations team, he did some excellent reporting covering Hurricane Florence, including taking an award-winning photograph.

His last story as a member of the investigations team was on a UNC Charlotte student who died charging a gunman during a shooting on the campus and how his family has coped in the aftermath.

N&O Saturday print editions to end next year

The McClatchy Company announced earlier this month that it will eliminate Saturday print editions for all of its newspapers in 2020.

The last Saturday print edition of The Herald-Sun was published June 29. It’s one of 12 newspapers that already have stopped printing Saturday editions. The N&O informed its readers of the change Nov. 13.

Robyn Tomlin, the executive editor of The N&O and The Herald-Sun, said via email that they are working on a timetable about when to end Saturday print editions at The N&O and should know more in the next few weeks.

Like with The Herald-Sun since June, The N&O will still produce Saturday pages after the print edition ends that will be available through its e-edition.

McClatchy faces more financial challenges

There was alarming news out of McClatchy’s earnings call earlier this month. As reported by Rick Edmonds in Poynter, McClatchy’s financial issues have the chain exploring options that would include selling the chain.

Edmonds suggests that a hedge fund, Chatham Asset Management, is well-positioned to acquire the chain. There was one report that McClatchy and Tribune have had discussions about merging.

It must make a $124 million to its pension fund payment next year, which is creating more challenges. McClatchy’s share price fell 82% in five trading days last week.

Highlights ACC schools put out can only last two minutes

Under the ACC’s new contract with ESPN and the ACC Network, highlights packages that schools put out on social media can be no longer than two minutes.

Most of those packages are right at two minutes (or a second or two shorter) after those packages went much longer than that in previous seasons. This package of UNC’s second victory over Duke last season lasted 4 minutes and 47 seconds.

Doherty to work games on ACC Network

On Wednesday, former UNC player and head coach Matt Doherty announced on Twitter and Instagram that he’ll be one of the analysts on ACC Network men’s basketball broadcasts.

For nearly two years, he was the associate commissioner of the Atlantic 10 Conference before leaving that job in April. Before that job, he provided color commentary for games on ESPNU.

North Carolina-related sports stories of note

Sherrell McMillan in Inside Carolina wrote about how Kenny Smith went from not being recruited by Dean Smith until his senior season to impressing former players during summer pickup games to starting his first game at North Carolina.

Who determines the ACC kickoff times and what goes into those decisions? In The N&O and Herald-Sun, Joe Giglio found the guy, Kurt Dargis, and wrote about that process

Wide receiver Beau Corrales is one of UNC’s best receivers. But, as Jonathan Alexander wrote in The N&O and Herald-Sun, because Corrales has type-1 diabetes, his daily life is full of many challenges. It’s a lot more difficult for him to be an elite athlete than most other college football players.  

In The Players Tribune, former Carolina Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford (now GM of the Pittsburgh Penguins), who was inducted Monday into the Hockey Hall of Fame, explained the emotions of his job and how complicated and rewarding he is.

In The Athletic, Michael Lee wrote about what a difficult year it’s been for former N.C. State guard Dennis Smith Jr., from losing his step-mother to being traded to the New York Knicks.