Q&A: Wizards videographer Ariel Woolfolk
In the next installment of a series of interviews with members of the Wizards’ business staff, Wizards Digital interviewed Ariel Woolfolk, a videographer on the Wizards’ productions team.
Q: Can you talk a little about your career path and what your role is with Monumental Sports & Entertainment?
Well, I started my production career during my senior year in college. At first, I thought I wanted to become a sports news anchor, but after completing an internship with a local television station, I concluded that it was not for me. I then applied and was accepted to an internship program with the Washington Wizards. That internship allowed me to see all aspects of sports media from a team’s standpoint. From on-air talents, producers, editors, and videographers. This is where I discovered my passion for cinematography and storytelling. I was mentored by a past supervisor producer and lead videographer of the Wizards at the time. They let me explore, make mistakes, and learn. From starting as an intern to now being the main shooter for the Washington Wizards, it has been a long but rewarding journey.
Q: When did you first aspire to have a career that you have?
The first time I picked up a camera during my internship with the Wizards, I knew I wanted to learn more and follow this career path. After watching the production department put together stories with the players throughout the season, I knew I wanted to try my hand at this type of video production.
Q: A female lead shooter is unfortunately still not the majority yet in Japan, but what is the male to female ratio in the NBA and in sports from your experience? Have there been any challenges leading up to your role that you remember?
When I first started with the Wizards, I rarely saw a female videographer. There was a female producer with the Wizards during the time of my internship who filmed, produced and edited content. That was my first encounter with a female videographer. I am not sure of the ratio of male to female within the NBA but let’s just say, I have traveled to every NBA arena and have probably only seen a handful of women filming. Although, from the time I started in this line of work until now, the number of women videographers have grown. Unfortunately, that number is still quite small. Also, there have been several challenges being a young, African American woman videographer that I have encountered throughout the years. I would say at the beginning of my career, being a woman, in general, in sports, many people question your motives since you work so closely with the team and players. You have to ignore the stigmas people place on you and just focus on your work. By doing this, people began to focus on my work and no longer on me.
Q: What do you emphasize and value the most in shooting the players off-the-court?
I think I enjoy filming the players off the court more than on the court. The games are fun, and I love capturing all the emotions and passion that happen during the game, but off the court, you get to see who the guys really are. It is such a unique privilege that I get, to immerse myself in their worlds and allow the fans to get to see the players as more than basketball stars but humans first. They have families, different hobbies, and fun personalities. I love storytelling and documentary-style filming, and the NBA social content is now leaning in that direction where fans want to see more than cool dunks and 3-pointers.
Q: What do you do to help bring out a player’s personality when filming?
Most players when they first meet the production team are polite but somewhat quiet. There are rare occasions when the players are outgoing by nature and embrace the cameras. Fortunately for me, I have the greatest advantage: wherever the players are, I am too. I attend every practice, event and game during the season. This allows the players to see me every day which helps them become more familiar and comfortable with me. I never push them to do things they are uncomfortable with because my goal is to make them look as good as possible, showing their true self. If the players are uncomfortable then it shows up on camera and I don’t want that. Being with the team on a day-to-day basis helps me build relationships with not only the players, but the coaches, front office and even medical team.
Q: How do you critique your work personally and define whether or not it was successful?
I am a very tough critic of myself and my work. There are only a few occasions during the course of my career in which I have been 100% satisfied with my work. There are so many areas that you grow to be better in this field and I see so many areas that I can improve upon. I hate things to look the same all the time, so I watch a lot of film and video tutorials. There are so many tips, tricks, and techniques that you could do. It’s amazing. I also like to watch what other teams are doing, not only in the NBA but as the NFL, MLB, MLS, etc. Everyone seems to be coming up with creative content nowadays, so there is always something I can add to my style of filming. But to answer your questions in short, I am not sure how to tangibly explain when I know something is successful, I just know internally when I am genuinely pleased with something I create.
Q: You have shot many players in the past, but do you have a Wizards player that is most memorable?
I have filmed so many great guys over the years but the one player that sticks out to me among the bunch would be Paul Pierce. I remember watching him play with my father when I was younger, and I remember thinking how intense of a guy he was. He seemed so aggressive on the floor and would just be in players faces during the game. He was picked up by the Wizards, that had to be the most amazing year for the basketball team and the productions team. I had such a fun year filming the team and the playoff run, I never thought I would ever be able to personally experience something like that. But Paul Pierce as a person, was so fun to be around. He was dedicated to the team and the players and enjoyed being on camera. We were able to film him in so many different settings and he was so welcoming and genuine. Even when he left the Wizards, when he came back to arena to play, he would always spot me out to catch up and just chat.
Q: What was your impression when the Wizards drafted Rui Hachimura and your first day working with him?
My first encounter with Rui was the day we drafted him. My first impression of him was that he polite and quiet. We filmed him the entire day and then rode the train back with him for his welcoming ceremony at the Wizards arena. He didn’t speak much during the train ride, but he did offer me a piece of Japanese candy, which I thought was very nice of him. It takes a while for players to warm up to you, especially when you start off with having to film on the first day you meet them. With Rui, because of all the media attention he has already had during his basketball career before the NBA, the cameras didn’t seem to faze him.
Q: Many people aspire to be in the position where you are now. What kind of an advice would you give them?
Whenever I am asked this question, I always advise young college students to take advantage of internships. Internships helped me eliminate and determine what I wanted to do after graduation. Also, the internship introduced me to my mentors who wanted to see me learn and grow. Internship greatly influenced where I am today, professionally. The last piece of advice is not to let anyone deter you from you dreams. When I first mentioned to my family that I wanted to work in sports and film, they were supportive but figured that this was phase and that it would pass. Even when I got this position, people still questioned by motives and wondered how long this would last. My faith also played a strong role in my endurance of not giving up when things got tough. I knew what I wanted, and nothing could persuade me to give that up.