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|| News Item: Posted 2011-04-08

Using Emotions Help Produce 'A Death In Fennville'
By Eric Seals, The Detroit Free Press

“The one thing that I hope everybody can learn from this is you never know when it might be your kid laying out there that’s not getting up and you hug them and love them everyday because yeah, life can be short.” - Laura Bale


Photo by Eric Seals

Photo by Eric Seals

The Fennville burial site of Wes Leonard, a high school basketball player who died tragically of a enlarged heart on March 4th after scoring his team's winning basket in overtime, sending the team into the playoffs.
Wes Leonard the star basketball player in Fennville, a small town on the west side of Michigan had just made the winning lay-up in overtime when he collapsed on the court of a heart attack and died in front of his team, family, friends and school.

What Bale, the mother of a teammate of Wes said was from her heart. She said it with such truth and emotion that it really summed up a piece I spent 9 days researching, interviewing, shooting and editing.

(Wes Leonard: “A Death in Fennville”

Shooting any sport we all feel that rush at times, those various emotions: the anticipation, excitement, focus & intensity as we look for that peak action and reaction. Those emotions however become 100 times greater when the story changes and becomes about a team and town dealing with the sudden and tragic death of their star player. It is no longer the action or reaction of the game we are covering, it becomes about life.

After Wes lost his life, the Detroit Free Press sent me to do video storytelling about how the town and team were able to cope with his death and how the team found the drive to continue playing in the playoffs with Wes on their minds.

Shooting “A Death in Fennville” often made me think about checking my emotions especially when interviewing parents and teammates of Wes still trying hard to come to terms with what had happened. Did I even need to bother putting my emotions away with what was going on or being said?

In a word No!

But this is what I thought about sometimes besides going for the good a-roll/b-roll, the framing in camera, lighting setups, thinking of the story structure, etc. To do a story like this right I think you have to have feelings in it, you have to genuinely care about the story and the people in it. Turning off those feelings you end up turning yourself off a bit, the story suffers and through all this what matters most is THE STORY!

As difficult as this story was to tell I actually found that harnessing my emotions and using them to stay true and focused on what I was trying to tell helped this piece out, it helped me connect with the people I interviewed, they to opened up to me.

The times when the Bale family or even Coach Ryan got choked up in their eyes or their voice at times I did as well and you know what? I could care less about that really. I didn’t let the emotions I was feeling get in the way of my storytelling…it helped me in fact because I was in tune with what they were feeling. I’m the father of two kids so my questioning came from that part of me, the human part.

Photo by

After Wes Leonard lost his life, the Detroit Free Press assigned Eric Seals to shoot a video project about how the town and team were able to cope with his death.
Deep down I believe that’s where the best questions can come from giving you the best pure answers from people. Instead of the dreaded (and we all know better to pull this TV question) “how did that make you feel” I came at them with, “when you finally got to your son on the basketball court walk me around what went through your mind, what you were thinking right before you looked him in the eyes and hugged him.”

I’ve been doing video storytelling for close to three years now for the Free Press, It’s a huge learning curve and a big challenge but with every video something new is learned. For this piece I found when interviewing people, especially in emotional moments, let them breathe a little.

Don’t be so quick to move onto the next question when they stop talking. They are either composing themselves or just staring off into space pondering things. This moment in their minds, they are still reliving the answer to the question you just asked and if you just have patience and keep rolling, it is here at moments like these when they talk where you will get your gold.

It was an interesting, intense, challenging and emotional 9 days work on this but it was one of the most fulfilling things I’ve done in awhile. I just wanted to share some of my thoughts about how I did “A Death in Fennville” and what I learned.

Hope you’ll have the time to watch the piece à

Sport Shooter member Eric Seals is a photo and video journalist for the Detroit Free Press and can be reached at You can see more of his work on his Sports Shooter member page: and at his Vimeo page:

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