I know after last night we all would like to take a break from Purdue basketball, but Sunday night we get a special treat after we (hopefully) right the ship when we play on the Demon Wood of Xibalba. At 8pm on Sunday the Big Ten Network will have the 2012 premier of The Journey. Yesterday I had the chance to talk to Bill Friedman, the lead Producer of the show. He spoke to me about some of the exciting things coming this year on what he calls "a 10 part documentary on the Big Ten season with the players as the main subjects." Here is what Bill had to say about the upcoming season:
Bill: Each year there is a familiarity with all teams & players returning. This definitely helps. We do our best to be experts on Big Ten not just in the sense that we know who the good teams are, but to know the players as well. We try to know the people behind the stories and humanize. Whenever we're out shooting, always open and looking. When there is a good story, we find it. Obviously a player like Robbie is someone that has been there with us before and has a great story of his own.
With the season just starting I can't speak for the incoming freshmen, but we did something with Cody Zeller at Indiana for his first exposure to the league. I don't know if someone like Jordan Hulls spoke to him to prepare him for the cameras, but he was rather smooth on camera.
T-Mill: How do you balance having 12 teams with stories to tell and how has the addition of Nebraska made a difference this season?
Bill: It is a great problem to have, but that really is the toughest balancing act we have. We have a lot of compelling stories and a lot of good teams. Your readers will enjoy the opening episode because we have a great focus on Matt Painter. He has been involved the last few years as a supporting actor to talk about JaJuan Johnson, E'Twaun Moore, and Lewis Jackson, but this is really his first time as a star character. He had a very interesting summer with him signing a new contract, coaching team USA, and such. We went back to his home town of Muncie and got some really great stories about him growing up there.
As for Nebraska, our crew is based in Chicago, so it helps to be so centrally located. Nebraska is great for this conference, but they are sprinting to get up to speed with everyone else. They have their own stories to tell in their adjustment to the league, while everyone else has to adjust to having conference games against an opponent they haven't played in awhile.
T-Mill: How has your presence with the camera effected the players because you're seeing them at great highs and terrible lows?
Bill: Most of the time the players don't even react to the crew. Our goal is to capture the story, not to be a part of the story. We need that in a way that is as minimally intrusive as possible. The element of intrusion is something you can't mask, but there are ways we can film where the players are basically doing their daily motions where we are not impacting.
Each week we try to have a focus on a few players, then mesh it with the games from that week. Last season we had the focus on the Kohl Center building up to a big game with Ohio State coming in undefeated. What we got was a great story with the students rushing the court.
This is not a reality show. It is more of a documentary of the Big Ten season in 10 parts. A reality show has some scripted elements, but we are really in there seeing reactions and documenting the players as they go through the season. One of the games we're looking forward to this year is Indiana against Purdue with both teams at the top of the Big Ten standings. That is a night where we definitely want to have the cameras on scene.
T-Mill: The JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore episode last summer was a favorite of my readers. What all went in to making that one.
Bill: There is definitely some skill involved in making a show like this, but sometimes you have to be really lucky. We obviously didn't know they were going to be drafted to the same team with one going in the first round and the other in the second round. We didn't know they were going to call each other at the end of the night. If I could have scripted it, that is pretty close to how I would have done it.
I really have to give credit to JJ and E'Twaun's families for letting us in there. It started when we did the senior night episode and we wanted to capture the realness of it through the lens of JaJuan's mother, who is a wonderful character. Senior Night is one of my favorite episodes to do because it is one of the few things you know is going to happen every year. You know seniors are going to play their last home game and you know about the Big Ten Tournament. The last two years at Purdue have been excellent because I love that Purdue does theirs after the game. Everyone stays in their seats too. Last year was great with Robbie being there, yet being gracious and kind of pushing JaJuan and E'Twaun forward to address the crowd.
All of our producers love Senior Night. It is just a shame that we have to pick only a few each year.
Thank you very much, Bill, for this inside look at the Journey. Remember, it premiers Sunday night after our game at Minnesota on Big Ten Network. As a reminder, you can follow them on Twitter at @BTNJourney, where they post some deleted scenes and upcoming episode promos. They also do respond to Twitter messages if you have suggestions.