From All Around to locked down: Wrapping an Olympic docuseries without Tokyo 2020
Marking one year to go until 2021 Olympics
Since April 2019, production company Noah Media Group has been producing an access-all-areas gymnastics documentary following three of the world’s best female gymnasts in their bid to make it to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Produced exclusively for the Olympic Channel by Noah Media Group, All Around production crews have logged 120,000 miles, visited 20 cities, gone behind the scenes at eight competitions and captured 450 hours on film to create the first 10 episodes of the digital series and its linear counterpart.
Now, one year to the day before the delayed Olympics begins on Friday 23 July 2021, we look at how Noah Media Group was able to wrap up this year-long epic without delivering its gymnasts to Tokyo.
All Around took an unexpected turn as the effect of coronavirus impacted both the storyline and the production.
The footage was being shot for two series simultaneously: a youthful 10×15 minute digital series for the Olympic Channel’s online platform, released monthly; and a 5×26 minute linear series for the Olympic Channels rights holders, narrated by five-time Olympic medallist Nastia Liukin, delivered to those broadcasters this month (July 2020).
Both the digital and linear series’ were planned to conclude at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, the lifelong dream of all three gymnasts. Instead, the linear series wrapped with the postponement of the Games, while the digital series is on hiatus until 2021.
Camera crews were embedded in the lives of teenagers Morgan Hurd (USA), Angelina Melnikova (Russia) and Chen Yile (China) for 15 months, capturing their personal journeys in one of the world’s most demanding sports.
The production team followed the gymnasts around the globe, shooting unprecedented access to training, home life and competitions.
The production team were forced to tell the story of COVID-19’s impact via video calls, and self-shot footage from the gymnasts as lockdowns were instated across the world.
Commented series producer and director, Chris Hay, on the final episodes of both the digital and linear versions of the series: “We had to think of ways to tell the biggest story of the series, in a time when filming access was non-existent. We became reliant on the gymnasts to essentially tell their own stories.”
He went on: “Over the course of the year we built up such a strong level of trust and buy-in from the girls and their teams, and this paid off once we became dependant on them for footage. They went above and beyond in providing us with content.”
From the moment the IOC announced that the Olympics would not be taking part this year, the production crew were ready. Hay said: “We managed to record video interviews with all three gymnasts just hours after the news of the Olympics postponement broke, while their emotions were at their most raw. Throughout lockdown, the girls filmed regular ‘video diary’ content, detailing how they were coping with the uncertainty, and how they were trying to stay in shape while working out at home. We also conducted further ‘master’ video calls with them.
“On shoots, Angelina [Russian gymnast] had actually always been really interested in the production process, so lockdown gave her the chance to show what she’d learnt and produce a key part herself!,” he noted.
A challenge in the editing process was to integrate the video calls and self-shot footage without compromising the aesthetic of the series. Hay added: “But actually, seeing the self-shot footage on-screen was an instant reminder of the unique conditions in which the story was being told. So rather than trying to hide the lower quality footage, we made a thing of it; we put it front and centre. Seeing the gymnasts talking to their cameras feels very unfiltered and honest.”
The linear series was produced and edited entirely during the lockdown and delivered as per the original production schedule.
Hurd, the American gymnast, commented on her experience of the series over the past year: “Letting the All Around cameras follow me has been a lot of fun. It’s been a rollercoaster year, and the cameras have seen it all. No one really sees the daily reality of being an elite gymnast and that’s what excited me about the project. I think the series shows what really goes into trying to make an Olympics.”
While Russia’s Melnikova added: “I’ve loved being part of this series. I think it shows what a tough and incredibly beautiful sport gymnastics is, and what the athlete’s life is like. It was a great experience for me and I got so used to the cameras that it’s weird they’re not here anymore!”
Noah Media Group is yet to find out how the Olympic Channel intends to take this series forward to Tokyo 2021.
The Olympic Channel’s rights-holding broadcasters are: North America – NBC, CBC; Europe – Eurosport Discovery, Telesport (Russia); Central and South America – IMC (Caribbean), America Movil, Globo, ICRT (Cuba); Sub Saharan Africa – Supersport, SABC; Asia – CCTV, Sony, Dentsu, Japan Consortium, SBS (Korea), ABU; MENA – BeIN; Oceania – Seven, SkyNZ.
Tokyo Olympics will take place from 23 July to 8 August 2021