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Q&A: Sara Snyder, Buzz (And Controversy!) At The U.S. Open

Q&A: Sara Snyder, Buzz (And Controversy!) At The U.S. Open
Sara Snyder captures video of Rafael Nadal from the Press Pit of the Louis Armstrong stadium during the U.S. Open 2015.

When Sara Snyder, a video journalist and tennis fan, planned to move to New York City from Washington DC, she never thought that two days after arriving she’d be sitting courtside at the U.S. Open. While still in DC, she beat out the competition for an assignment on Storyhunter to produce video and photos for Eurosport’s online and social media properties for the two-week tournament. Her digital-first coverage had some old-school sports reporters shaking their heads.

Using an iPhone, Sara shot slo-mo videos for social media and mobile live streaming of interviews with players and fans via Meerkat. She used a Canon 5D Mark III to help produce dozens of social video packages for Facebook, and Youtube, along with footage for several 1–3 minute mini-docs for Eurosport.com (sorry, can only be accessed in Europe).

We talked with Sara as she recovered from her intensive 2-week assignment. (Read through to see how Sara conquered her “challenge”.)

Sara Snyder: At first, I wasn’t sure I should apply because I knew it would be VERY competitive. The gig sounded like a ton of fun and it would be a great way to start working immediately after moving to NYC (I moved here officially the Friday before the gig started). With nothing to lose, I was wholeheartedly myself in my pitch and I think that’s what made me stand out.
I enjoy watching tennis because my sister played competitively in high school and both her and my mom still compete in women’s doubles tournaments throughout the country. Thanks to them, I knew a few of the bigger players and the rules of the game, which I knew would help as we were shooting.

SH: For most videos and photos, you used your Canon 5D Mark III, but your iPhone for the slow-motion shots. How did that work?

SS: Yes, switching between gear was a no-brainer, but shooting with the iPhone brought much controversy to the Press Pit at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. It was the first year anyone was allowed to do so for a professional publication and not all photographers believed that I was worthy to be sitting where they were sitting with such a measly camera. One producer had no trouble uttering, “Are you even shooting for someone” during the final match when I had staked out the best spot on the court to get my shots. One of the other photographers who’d been working the US Open for over 20 years turned to me and said, “You are on the bleeding edge, honey, and sometimes that’s going to hurt a little. Keep your head up, your confidence high, and trust me you will prove them wrong.” I deeply respected his comment and more than appreciated them in that moment.

SH: Tell us what your day-to-day was like! Start from when you woke up till when you left to go home.

SS: Every day of this assignment was a little different. The earlier parts of the tournament were packed: from shooting the sunrise to player interviews, to producing mini-docs. We really wanted our audience to feel like they were part of the event and that meant trying to be everywhere at once. As the tournament went on and players were knocked out, our mission became a bit more focused. I wasn’t running around to so many of the matches and actually got to stay and get the best videos I could during the most exciting points. By the Finals, for both men and women, I was court-side, watching the top tennis players in the world claim their title.

Sara was stoked to be up close to the women’s final at the U.S. Open.

SH: How many videos/clips did you produce a day?

SS: The assignment lasted for two weeks and I worked on a total of 36 of 39 videos that the team delivered. The production schedule varied, but I shot about five stories per day during the peak of the tournament. We delivered at least three videos every day of the US Open.

One of the most innovative digital pieces we worked on was Eurosport’s partnership with Meerkat. We did three of them hanging out in the coolest spots right next to the top players, coaches and celebrities of the US Open. I shot the first one hanging out in the Players’ Garden. Unfortunately, since Meerkat is a live stream, the hangouts are no longer available. The longer we were live, the more viewers we got. I was behind the camera the whole time, but when you are standing in an interesting location, cool things happen right before your eyes. As we walked through the Players’ Garden, we ran into Novak Djokovic, the Men’s Singles US Open Champion, in addition to many of the coaches and other players. To those watching the live stream, you would feel like we did, just hanging out in the cool spots where you get the exclusive access that comes with press credentials.

In all, we had a team of six, and everyone played a variety of roles as needed.

I cannot give enough kudos to the team I worked with. When I was out alone, they were always checking in and making sure I had what I needed. Especially during the final match, we wanted our final video published minutes after the match concluded. During one of the breaks in the set, the runner grabbed my cards and iPhone for our editor to add into the final piece. And I stayed in net-center spot and kept shooting.

Watch Sara’s slow-motion video of Richard Gasquet, for Eurosport’s Facebook page.

SH: Did you have to create / come up with ideas for the social media formats by yourself?

SS: The most interesting part of this assignment was that it was an experiment, even for them. Many of the concepts were developed before we started, but ideas ebbed and flowed as we were there and had access to on-court action. Our team’s editor was actually the one who shot a bit of slow-motion of tennis on his way into the production trailer. One of the producers liked it so much that we ended up doing it for every match moving forward and the series became some of the most viewed videos we produced.

SH: What do you feel was/were the most challenging aspect(s) of this assignment?

SS: The tournament was very organized but it felt like the rules for where media was allowed and not allowed changed every day. One day you only needed a camera sticker to sit in a particular place. The next day you needed a ribbon. One minute we were allowed to use the iPhone to capture slow-motion video. The next, we weren’t. But the more the rules updated, the more I found new and better locations to shoot from. It helped me learn the tennis center better than anyone else and it paid off in every aspect of shooting. When you know where to go, you get shots no one else does.

Watch Sara’s video of a fast-paced tour of the Billie Jean Tennis Center, where the U.S. Open was held.

SH: How was it separating between your personal excitement as an audience member and remaining professional?

SS: Lucky for me, I like tennis but I wouldn’t say I’m an obsessed fan. Usually I can keep it together around the superstars no matter how close they are to me. After Rafael Nadal (one of my favorites if I’m allowed to admit it) had won his second match against Diego Schwartzman, he kindly signed autographs for his fans for nearly 20 minutes. As he was coming towards the exit where I was standing to get my final shot, he unintentionally bumped my camera and lens coming close to knocking the camera out of my hands when he moved to sign more autographs. It was a pretty funny moment once I realized my gear was safe.

SH: Lastly, tell us about a fun/memorable moment.

SS: I learned a ton from my fellow photographers in the pit. Many of them have been shooting major sporting events, and even major tennis events for decades. After so many serves and so many forehands and backhands, it all starts to look the same. During one of the later matches, a fellow pit-mate challenged me to see if I could get the tennis ball right on the tip of the player’s finger just before it left his hand into his serve. As he said “Challenge yourself. It’s just good practice”.

Sara captures Roger Federer at just the right moment ball-on-finger moment — successfully completing her challenge that day.

Sara Snyder is a multimedia producer, shooter and editor. Her work has been featured in National Geographic, USA TODAY Travel, Clinton Global Initiative, Eurosport, and more.