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Studio Time: The Tale is in the Telling
Posted Jul 1, 2005 Print Version     Page 1of 1

The art of storytelling has evolved over the course of many millennia, as ancient oral traditions have given way to written words, moving pictures, and most recently digital media. Amid the flashing explosions and unrelenting special effects on in many of today's digital video creations, the actual storyline often is lost. James Carroll and Peter Frechette, the two founding producers of Boston-based studio Fields of Vision, are trying to alter that course and ensuring that the traditions passed down from prior generations remain intact even with the delivery media many generations removed. Their storytelling acumen brought them national attention with the summer 2004 release of Touching the Game, a feature-length examination of the Cape Cod League, a storied amateur baseball league that has proven a training ground for an eye-popping roll call of major league stars. But before we get ahead of ourselves, let's start the Fields of Vision story where most good stories start: at the beginning.

Fields of Vision's roots are found in the duo's former employment at the New England Sports Network (NESN). At NESN Frechette produced and Carroll edited a highly reputed New England sports magazine show called Front Row. The show aired three or four short features per segment and documented a range of sports at several levels. It was here that the two honed their production approach. "We learned a certain style of letting the story tell the story," Carroll recalls. "They gave us the freedom to do long-form stories, and that gave us the basis for doing documentary-style videos."

Field Work
While at NESN, Frechette was approached by Beverley Coughlin, director of development at Boston-area prep school Belmont Hill, to produce a documentary about the school's longtime hockey coach and his historic 500th win. Frechette called in Carroll to assist. The production, which became both a freelance and Front Row piece, garnered much attention in the local New England area.

It also came out during a period of transition at NESN. Frechette and Carroll's nightly show was slated to be downgraded to a weekly or monthly feature, and producer Frechette quickly found himself in jeopardy of losing creative control over the series. Frechette and Carroll then began to discuss the possibility of transitioning into their own studio. "About the time we finished the Belmont Hill piece and we're fairly seriously talking about leaving, I got a call from the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy that they were looking for a documentary. And we thought, if we're going to do this, now is the time to do it. It was like fate pointing its finger at us," says Frechette.

While Carroll remained at NESN, Frechette, who had left the network, took the more active role in establishing Field of Vision. He spent the next year roaming the New England landscape, building the reputation of the newly founded company. Project after project slowly began to follow one another as word spread about the services they offered. After they had established a sizeable client base, Carroll left his steady job at NESN for the promise of entrepreneurial freedom. The two founded the studio on the precept that they would continue to produce documentary videos with the same characteristics as their former ventures. As Carroll explains, "Our goal was basically to keep that mentality from Front Row, which was just telling stories. And let the people tell the story."

There is virtually no story that the two cannot tell, or rather, help others tell, Carroll and Frechette believe. A large component of their work is with local schools and colleges in the New England area, including the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy, Providence College, and Harvard. The films vary in scope, ranging from historic accounts to fundraising appeals. "We both come from a sports background," Carroll says, "but learning about education and various nonprofits is part of what stimulates us and makes us enjoy what were doing."

Regardless of who the client is or what the video is for, their approach remains consistent from piece to piece. "From a content standpoint, it's still the same thing--letting the people tell the story."

The main way that the two allow their documentaries to retain the client's perspective derives from their interview-driven methodology. By talking with as many people connected to the story as possible, Carroll and Frechette acquire an exhaustive, all-encompassing chronicle. The pair first meets with a client and offers a rough production outline, which details the storyline and list of interviewees. However, experience has taught the two to be extremely flexible while shooting a film, as the initial structure can morph into many different forms prior to project completion. But as Frechette puts it, "You have to have a plan in place, so you can change your plan."

Conversation Starters
With a preliminary plan in hand, the two journey out to capture the multitude of perspectives for the story. Probably the best explanation for Carroll and Frechette's success resides in their belief that their interviews are, in fact, not actually interviews. The two liken their interviews to conversations, rather than standard Q & A.

The conversational approach minimizes nervous reactions and guarded responses, Carroll says. "Usually it's just Peter or myself and the cameraperson," he explains. "Where as some people might bring in a crew of ten and set up a hundred lights and wind screens, we just come in and sit down. That's not to say that our interviews aren't lit beautifully or sound terrific, but the person you're talking to is made to feel very comfortable."

Furthermore the two steer away from manipulative questions that force the interviewee to respond according to their mandates; rather, they allow the story to develop uninfluenced. "It's not scripted," says Frechette. "It's real."

This tactic drives the two through a networked web of people connected to various aspects of the story. Carroll and Frechette journey from person to person, slowly amassing a collection of perspectives, as each new interviewee points them to yet another contact. On an average day of interviews the two might speak with eight to twelve people. Often during the course of a project, certain portions of the story are retold by various parties; however, they enjoy this repetition for its diversity of perspectives. Frechette explains, "We may talk to 20 to 25 people and we'll have four or five people talking about the same thing. But in that way you portray a more sincere, stronger message."

Time and Again
Inevitably, the interview-driven approach makes it difficult to quantify a timeline for their projects. The timescales can vary from three weeks to six months, depending on the nature of the film. But the two usually say that after shooting, they can turn around a finished copy in about a month, and the two attribute this quick editing to their former backgrounds.

"One thing that I think we have to our advantage is our television background. Before Front Row, Peter and I both worked on Red Sox or Bruins games and there were moments where you had to cut a feature or highlight package going on air in ten minutes. I think that background really enables us to adjust to tight time constraints."

Nevertheless, editing the film can prove to be quite the chore, especially when sifting through the hours of logged film. Although, most of the audio comes from those interviewed, when necessary the two will occasionally script and add voice-overs during post-production. But in the end, as Carroll puts it, "basically it looks like it's presented by the people who hired us."

New Ballgame?
While Carroll and Frechette are usually hired by others to create their projects, relying heavily on word of mouth advertising, a shift in their marketing strategy may be underway. After the success of their most recent documentary film, Touching the Game: The Story of the Cape Cod Baseball League, Fields of Vision's source of advertising and creative development may change. This documentary delves into baseball's premier amateur league, interviewing current players, locals, and even major league baseball players.

The decision to make Touching the Game came not from being hired by a third party as with previous projects, but from the producers' own desire to portray the history of the league. Carroll and Frechette developed and financed the production independently, producing Flash video and DVD formats for the documentary. This self-financing, product-oriented (rather than service-oriented) approach may define the future direction of Fields of Vision as Carroll and Frechette discuss ideas for their "next big project," Carroll says.

But they both hasten to add that no matter where the impetus to make a film comes from—contract or independent work--or what medium the film is delivered on, the two will always remain true to their original storytelling creed. "For us it's always been about the story," Frechette says. Time will tell where Field of Vision's own story will take them next.

Fields of Vision
Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts

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