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Making TV: The Final Home Run

Moving Hank Aaron’s childhood home to Hank Aaron Stadium, transforming it into a museum and making a television show about it.

By Michael Fickes

Hank Aaron's Restored house
The restored house/museum in its new location at Hank Aaron Stadium.

It was an irresistible project for Today’s Homeowner with Danny Lipford.

House before restoration.
Archival shot of the Hank Aaron house
featuring the brick facade added later.

Shoot a television show about moving Henry “Hank” Aaron’s childhood home from a residential section of Mobile, Alabama to Hank Aaron Stadium, home of the minor league Mobile BayBears, where it would be transformed into a museum celebrating Aaron’s achievements.

The show’s three-person crew was assigned the project, which, by the time of the museum’s grand opening, had become a national sports story.

After all, Hank Aaron was the first slugger to break Babe Ruth’s career home run record and, according to Sporting News, the fifth-greatest baseball player of all time.

The shoot proved long and complicated thanks to the fact that the work was done entirely by volunteers who, having to attend to their day jobs first, largely set their own work schedules.

“As a result, the shoot stretched out over 19 months,” says Scott Gardner, a director with Mobile-based 3 Echoes Productions (www.3echoesproductions.com), a full-service production company that specializes in short and longform projects of all kinds. “We first shot the house in October of 2008, and we shot the grand opening this past April.”

The lengthy shoot began with a specialist’s removal of the brick veneer, which turned out to be made of asbestos, that covered up the original front of the house.

Hank Aaron and Danny on Camera
Hank Aaron gives Danny Lipford a tour of the house/museum as DP Brad Rodgers records the scene.

“On this project, and on many of our shoots, we often had to move quickly and to improvise,” says Gardner who calls the shoot “guerrilla” style. After several false starts by the house mover, for instance, all of a sudden the project was a ‘go.’

Gardner, DP Brad Rodgers and producer Allen Lyle hustled to the site, checked camera angles and discussed possibilities. “On a shoot, we all function as lighting techs, audio techs and grips,” Gardner says. “If we need a second camera for a scene, to get reactions, for instance, I’ll pick up the 2nd unit camera and operate it.”

Rodgers documented the contractor threading steel I-beams under the house and the process of lifting the house with hydraulic jacks. Once the house was high enough, the contractor placed dollies underneath the I-beams, hooked up a truck tractor and set off, with the police, city street department and utility company blazing a trail through traffic, removing any street signs in the way and dealing with power lines obstructing progress from above.

Bricks removed.
The brick-veneer facade of the house was removed prior to relocation.

Scenes and shots were often inspired on the fly. For instance, before the house started on its journey, Gardner had a brainstorm. “A utility worker responsible for preventing the house from hitting power lines had been assigned to watch the move from a bucket truck high above the street,” he recalls. “We gave him a preset Sony HDR-HC1 camera and told him to press the red button when he had a clear view of the house.”

Gardner positioned another HDR-HC1 HD Handycam on the street so that it could shoot up at the truck tractor and house passing over it. The high shots from the bucket truck didn’t make the cut, but the low shots of the truck and house rumbling over the camera did make the show.

While the HDR-HC1 was inexpensive enough to risk being dropped from a bucket truck or run over by a truck, Rodgers shot with the production company’s primary camera, a Sony PDW-F335 XDCAM HD camcorder, usually mounted atop his shoulder. If a second camera was needed, Gardner operated a Sony PMW-EX3 XDCAM EX camcorder.

House on the move
Wrapped and ready to go, the house joins the flow of traffic on its journey to the ballpark.

Rodgers used a Fujinon 13 X 3.3 wide-angle lens which worked “well in confined spaces inside a house being renovated,” Gardner says. “The downside was that cables and lights sometimes inadvertently got into the shots. We fixed those problems in post.”

While most of the lighting for this and other Today’s Homeowner shoots comes from available light, Gardner carries soft, fluorescent Kino-Flo lights tuned to a properly warm color temperature. “These lights are a real help on construction sites,” he says. “Construction sites typically have temporary power poles with two 20 amp [circuit] breakers that prevent you from drawing too much power. We used to run 2,000-watt tungsten lights that will pull 16 to 18 amps. That plus the construction equipment often tripped a 20-amp breaker.

“By contrast, the Kino-Flo lights produce an equal amount of light with 3 or 4 amps. So we can plug in a couple of Kino-Flos on a single circuit. The 2,000-watt lights each needed a separate circuit.”

The grand opening of the museum made national sports news and attracted 50 television and newspaper crews, says Gardner. All of the ENG media teams except 3 Echoes Productions had to rely on a single news feed. But 3 Echoes had its own mic at the podium and its own camera trained on the action. Gardner, Rodgers and Lyle enjoyed the idea that the national news teams were likely asking themselves, “Who are those guys?”

At the end of the 19-month shoot, the production company got its reward. Gardner, Rodgers, Lyle and Danny Lipford had front-row seats at the grand opening to watch Reggie Jackson, Willie Mays, Ozzie Smith and other baseball greats talk about Hank Aaron.

And the day after, with no other media present, Aaron did a one-on-one, on-camera interview with Lipford and escorted him and the 3 Echoes crew through his childhood home-turned-museum. Scenes of the grand opening and interview anchor the episode, “Homecoming for Hank: Moving Henry Aaron’s Childhood Home.”

Hank Aaron might not have thought of the interview as a home run. But if you’re a baseball fan and watch the interview, you’ll see that Today’s Homeowner knocked one out of the park.

To watch “Homecoming for Hank,” go to www.dannylipford.com. Click on videos, then episode 720 under Season 12 (2009-2010).

December 7, 2012