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This is how the NBA makes exclusive shows for millions on Snapchat

We tagged along with an NBA video editor to see how they film exclusively for Snapchat.

2017 NBA Finals - Game Two Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

During halftime of Game 2 of the NBA finals on Sunday between the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers, comedian Dave Chappelle left his seats by the Warriors bench and walked through the players’ tunnel looking for the exit.

As rapper Flo Rida entertained the sold-out crowd, Chapelle wanted a smoke.

Anthony Kuzviwanza, a video producer and editor for the NBA, spotted him and gamely sidled up to Chappelle as he walked out to see if the comedian would say a few words into the camera for the league’s Snapchat channel.

"Let me get a cigarette in first and then we can Snapchat all night,” Chappelle said before heading toward the exit.

The video producer, known as AK, is a Chappelle fan so he was happy to wait. But he also needed Chappelle for the Snapchat video — celebrities do well on Snapchat. AK camped out for the next half hour to make sure he didn’t miss Chappelle on the way back to his seat.

The comedian, who recently returned to the spotlight after a near 12-year hiatus, finally strolled back into the arena where AK was waiting. Chappelle looked into the camera, and offered up this valuable nugget: “It’s a good game so far, bro. Nail biter.”

Not exactly a banner interview, but in the world of Snapchat, it works.

“We have to think in Snapchat time,” AK would tell me later. “We have to get these guys to say what we need them to say pretty quick.”

Kurt Wagner / Recode

For the rest of the NBA Finals, AK will be filming for Snapchat — everything from celeb shoutouts to players preparing in the locker room. It’s all intended for the NBA’s new series of Snapchat Shows, professionally produced mini videos exclusively for the app’s young user base.

There is money involved in the deal. Snapchat sells ads and the two sides split what they bring in, but Shows also allow the NBA to reach younger audiences who may not watch its games on TV. Snapchat gets more professionally produced video and the kind of exclusive material Snapchat hopes advertisers want.

The NBA has created Stories for Snapchat in the past, but it started doing these three- to five-minute Shows on Snapchat for the first time during the NBA Finals.

“We already know we have a built-in audience [on Snapchat], so the goal was to kind of take advantage of that new medium that they’ve built,” said Bob Carney, VP of Emerging Media for the NBA, in a pregame interview. A league spokesperson said millions of unique viewers watched the NBA’s Snapchat Show for Game 1.

We asked to see how a Show is filmed. The NBA allowed us to shadow AK for the night and watch him work. (AK has been with the league for 10 years, but because he’s not a spokesperson, the league only allowed me to tag along if I paraphrased him, but no quotes.)

Here’s how a Snapchat Show gets made.

3:03 pm (two hours to tip off): I’m sitting up behind one of the baskets as ESPN’s Rachel Nichols interviews NBA Commissioner Adam Silver live on Facebook.

Each stadium seat is covered in a yellow Warriors T-shirt that reads “All Gold Everything.” A few sections to the left, Carlos Santana answers questions in front of a gaggle of reporters. Nichols started off the interview asking why the league was so open to social media. “I think [our players] enjoy being multi-dimensional,” Silver said. “I think there’s a competition among our players for followers, and they like it! They like to put themselves out there.”

3:22 pm: Sitting just a few rows off the court, I’m introduced to AK, who is sweating. He’s been shooting video for almost two hours when we meet. He tells me he just shot video of Brazilian soccer star Neymar, who is just 10 feet in front of us. He’s also gotten video of celebrity chef Guy Fieri. I would learn later that getting celebrities on camera is key, especially for Snapchat.

Users like it, and getting a celeb to say a few words directly into the camera — directly into your phone — is one of the cool ways to separate Snapchat from more traditional media coverage. AK was dressed in all black with the NBA TV logo across both his chest and back, a look that, along with his badge, got him into almost every nook and cranny of the arena.

Anthony “AK” Kuzviwanza
Kurt Wagner / Recode

3:36 pm: It’s an hour and a half to tip-off and we’re hanging outside the Cleveland Cavaliers locker room waiting for the team to let press inside.

AK starts sharing some of the production details. Even though he’s shooting for Snapchat, he’s still using a wide-angle lens — a Canon C100 — and not a vertical video camera (like a smartphone).

The video will be formatted for a phone in post production, he says, but the wide angle means he doesn’t have to worry so much about getting the perfect angle or shot — things can always be tightened in the editing room, so it’s good practice to have more footage than not enough.

AK will send footage to a crew in New Jersey throughout the night for edits. The plan is to have the final three- to five-minute-long show ready first thing Tuesday morning, but it could go earlier. (And it does. The NBA ends up publishing the three-minute, 38-second Show late Monday night, less than 24 hours after Game 2 ends.)

3:49 pm: We head into the Cavs locker room where players are stretching, watching game film and relaxing with big (presumably expensive) headphones. A comms guy for the Cavs asks me to stop filming on my phone. Two minutes later I get in trouble again for taking a picture. Clearly I didn’t read the rules specific to NBA locker rooms. As a reporter, I can’t record random locker room footage — just audio of player interviews or straightforward video of a player being interviewed. AK is from the NBA, so he gets special privileges that other media members don’t.

That’s great for Snapchat.

AK films Kyrie Irving stretching outside the locker room.
Kurt Wagner / Recode

4:07 pm: We’ve spent the past 20 minutes running back and forth between the Cavs and Warriors locker rooms. Part of AK’s challenge is that this show has no script — it all depends on how the game plays out. That’s the beauty of live sports, but it’s also what makes it hard to plan. He’s capturing footage of every player he can find.

You never know who the hero will be, he explains.

Snapchat has provided some editorial guidance for the show, he adds, saying that they don’t just want a generic “sights and sounds” video from the finals.

More broadly, Snapchat wants the NBA to focus on the Warriors’ Kevin Durant and the Cavaliers’ LeBron James. What would a title mean to their respective legacies?

The shows are meant to have a narrative, even if you can’t necessarily predict the final outcome.

4:18 pm: We head back to the main court looking for the Cavs’ point guard, Kyrie Irving. Instead, we find a different point guard: Former Seattle Sonics legend Gary Payton, who gives AK a quick interview from the edge of the floor. (As a Seattle native and former Sonics fan, this is amazing.)

AK started the convo by specifically asking Payton if he could interview him for Snapchat. AK mentions Snapchat on purpose. Players and celebrities are usually more receptive if it’s for social media than for traditional media, he explains. They know the sound bites can be short and sweet, and more importantly, they know that they aren’t wasting their time.

Video taken for social media usually makes it to social media. (That being said, AK will shoot a lot of video Sunday that won’t make it into the league’s Show. But I understand his theory.)

4:33 pm: We got to the player’s entrance to catch Mary Babers-Green, the mother of Warriors forward (and resident trash talker) Draymond Green. She has agreed to do an interview for a 360-degree VR video the NBA is shooting, and AK wants to piggyback on that with a few questions of his own. Motivational speaker Tony Robbins shows up all of sudden, all smiles. So does Steph Curry’s wife, Ayesha Curry, and their daughters.

4:47 pm: We watch the Warriors run out of the tunnel. It’s a spectacle that requires a lot of security guards to clear the way. We avoid getting trampled, and the teams are by this point on the floor for a 5 pm tip-off.

5:06 pm: Back to the player’s entrance, where Babers-Green finally arrives in a blue-and-gold Warriors jacket unzipped so you can also see a blue Draymond Green jersey underneath. The VR folks, including some from Oculus, interview her first. It takes another 15 minutes before she’s done and AK gets to ask a few questions. (She’s very gracious with her time considering the game has already started.) AK seems pumped, but tells me they may not even use the clip. It depends on how the evening and series unfold.

5:40 pm: Game time is, ironically, the most low-key time for AK. There are a million cameras catching the game , so his services aren’t needed much for on-the-court action. The ultimate Show will include a lot more than just AK’s footage, though he’s the only photographer dedicated specifically for Snapchat video. Instead, we sit below the arena in a media area, charge our phones, and he sends updates to New Jersey, where they are already editing the footage he’s captured. I eat chicken tenders and try to blend in.

5:48 pm: AK has a new plan: We’re going to find celebrities at halftime and ask them questions for Snapchat, TMZ-style.

6:07 pm: We get Chappelle (see above). It took a long time, but was worth the wait. (The clip made it into the final Show.) Shortly thereafter we see the New York Giants star receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who takes a picture with what appears to be Guy Fieri’s son. California lieutenant governor Gavin Newsom is there. All of this happens while a mini Flo Rida concert is going on on the court for halftime. #Celebrities.

6:48 pm: We make it back to the video/press lounge. AK suggests we try and capture some game and fan footage at the end of the game in case it’s exciting. At this point we have not seen a single second of the game in person. AK says that isn’t uncommon; he usually watches the game the next day.

7:27 pm: We finally find a spot to stand among regular fans. The Warriors are up by 19 and the game has just five minutes left. The Cavaliers take out all of their best players, effectively conceding the game. We watch a total of two minutes of play, then jet back down to the tunnel off the court to catch the players’ exit to the locker room.

7:41 pm: I’m waiting in line with about 50 other press people to get into the locker room, and AK is down the tunnel getting exclusive footage. Again, the perks of working for the NBA, and again, a bonus for Snapchat. AK explains the stuff they use in their Snapchat show won’t appear on other platforms like Twitter or Facebook.

7:54 pm: We enter the Warriors locker room. It’s relatively subdued considering the Warriors just took a two-game lead on their home court. There are dozens of reporters in attendance, but Steph Curry sits casually thumbing through his phone without anyone bothering him. Turns out that players who do full interviews at the podium after the game can’t be bothered by the press at their lockers. Unwritten rules of sports reporting. AK gets footage of Kevin Durant chatting it up with a random reporter who’s probably not supposed to be talking to him; Curry sits on his phone with a big tub of ice water at his feet. We run over to the Cavaliers locker room in time to see Irving give a press conference. At this point, AK has been shooting video for more than six hours.

8:15 pm: We leave the locker rooms and head back to the media lounge one last time. AK has gotten what he needs for the night and has already sent almost all of it off to New Jersey to be edited.

The NBA turned the show around quicker than expected — it was hoping to publish by 6 am ET Tuesday morning, but the show hit Snapchat less than 24 hours after the game ended and is live right now. And while you can read about it here, you can’t watch it here. That footage is exclusive to Snapchat.

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