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Digital Discussions: Shooting Kids Shooting Golf

Documentary filmmaker Josh Greenbaum discusses The Short Game

By Tom Inglesby

W. C. Fields reportedly said, “Never work with animals or children. They’ll upstage you every time.” That wasn’t the situation with a recent documentary by Josh Greenbaum titled, The Short Game.

Greenbaum’s team followed eight youngsters as they practiced for and competed in the World Championship of Junior Golf. He remembers how it came about, “Our producer, Rafi Marmor, and executive producer, David Frankel, who has kids in the tour, came to me and said, ‘Hey, what do you think about spending a year exploring the junior golf world?’ When I found out they were as young as six years old, I got excited. It just seemed fresh and interesting, less so about the golf, but about six- and seven-year-olds obviously doing something at a very high level that we adults all struggle to deal with.”

So, did W. C. Fields’ words come into play? “I found working with the kids great. The kids start from six and go all the way up to 16, so I made the choice, ‘Let’s follow the very youngest.’ There is obviously the challenge of them not really being able to engage in a conversation, or tell you how they really feel or answer your questions. Will they get too tired and not want to be filmed anymore? But in the documentary space, I found that was actually a big bonus.”

Amari Avery in The Short Game.  Credit: Phase 4 Films and Samuel Goldwyn Films.
Amari Avery in The Short Game.
Credit: Phase 4 Films and Samuel Goldwyn Films.

As they got comfortable with Greenbaum and his cameras and crew, the project blossomed. “It is that last age before you start self-censoring,” he said. “They just speak what’s on their minds and, as you see in the film, what’s on their mind is often some really funny stuff. It had its challenges, but we chose a very specific camera, the Canon C300, which for a million and one reasons was a great choice. We could strip it down to a pretty compact form, which would be less intimidating to the little kids.”

They didn’t use a boom at all, just wireless mics and the on camera microphone because a boom mic hanging over your head, moving back and forth, can be distracting for a little kid and can remind them that they’re being filmed.

The logistics of covering eight young golfers for a year encompassed a lot of talent in many different countries. There are ultimately five nations represented: China, South Africa, France, the Philippines, and several U.S. cities. Greenbaum recalled, “I kept the crew pretty small to not intimidate the kids. Depending on where we were going, it was usually a crew of three. It was a DP, myself – I directed and usually ran the audio and/or a second camera – and our producer.”

Augustin Valery in The Short Game.  Credit: Phase 4 Films and Samuel Goldwyn Films.
Augustin Valery in The Short Game.
Credit: Phase 4 Films and Samuel Goldwyn Films.

What was it like following kids around, day after day? J. B. Rutagarama was DP for French player Augustin Valery. He recalled, “We basically started when they got up for breakfast. I would shoot the breakfast routine, and then follow them for their practice rounds. All the way through the tournament, back to the hotel and then the night routine when the kid is going to bed and brushing his teeth. So actually we became very, very close. I personally found myself emotionally being attached to the kid. It didn’t affect the film, the teamwork, but I wanted to root for him and, when he was in distress, I felt like going out and giving the kid a hug or encourage him. But obviously you have to be objective, you have to be a fly on the wall and just shoot the game.”

Greenbaum used two C300s for the introduction work when he was going from country to country. Then at the final tournament, the eight kids were there all at the same time. “We needed an entire team,” Greenbaum said. “So we had 18 cameras, with nine DPs working them and nine sound guys and about nine PAs. And they worked as a little field unit who would follow around the kids for the whole week.”

When Samuel Golden Films released The Short Game, Greenbaum had one reaction: “Just having my first feature film ever wind up in theaters like this is just a dream come true. I was giddy, sitting in the theater as the light dimmed. My parents asked, ‘You mean like in a real movie theater?’ ‘Yeah, a real movie theater.’ What more can you ask for?”

December 4, 2013