The Making Of the Jarvis Varnado Video

Mississippi State will be mailing to a few hundred media members a two-minute video that will be used to help promote MSU basketball player Jarvis Varnado as he heads into what is expected to be a record-breaking season for him. Gene's Page interviewed two men who were involved in the making of this video, Gregg Ellis of MSU Athletic Media Relations and Bennie Ashford of the MSU Television Center.

How did this Jarvis Varnado video come about?
Gregg Ellis - "I wanted to promote Jarvis on a national level. I learned in the summer that while he is widely known in the SEC and the south his name is not a household name. And part of my job is to promote him.

"I wanted to do something that would be funny and something that people would remember. You have probably seen the ESPN commercials. They are funny and you remember them and you remember that they are ESPN. I had that in the back of my mind. Then, I got the okay to do it.

"I had to come up with an idea and everybody knows about his shot-blocking ability. But I didn't want a promotional piece with him just blocking shots during game footage, although it does have a little bit of that in the video. I felt like we could have a lot of fun with this video. Not only could we promote Jarvis but we could also promote our campus. So, the theme of the campaign is, Blocking is always on Jarvis' Mind.

"It is funny skits that he does throughout the video about different things that you can block. Then, at the end it shows why this is important - he is 18 block shots away from an SEC record and 141 shy of the NCAA record."

What were some of the skits that Jarvis did in the video?
Gregg Ellis - "We went to the Sanderson Center to the racquet ball court. We had to get permission from them to do it. And they were very accommodating. We found two people who were playing racquet ball and he's on their court blocking their shots.

"Then, we go to Scott Field and he blocks a field goal. I was a little nervous about that one because if he got hurt diving then I get fired (laugh). So, that was in the back of my mind the entire time.

"From there we went to the Student Union. We used four students who we found at one table. This skit involved something that I do when I'm in a food court or a mall. I wrap up trash and attempt to throw it in the trash cans. So, I had one of the kids throw his trash and Jarvis swats it away.

"Then, we went to the drill field. We had him block a frisbee. Two guys were throwing a frisbee and Jarvis walks in and blocks the frisbee.

"From there, we go out to where all the cars were and he blocks traffic. That only took a couple of minutes to do. And there were only a couple of cars that came by that we had to stop. We actually did that one last when there wasn't much traffic."

Why a video instead of something else like a writing pad with Jarvis' name and face on it or something else similar to that?
Gregg Ellis - "Two reasons: 1) I wanted something that we could promote on our website. And we can promote a video on our website. 2) And also with a video you can put Jarvis a little out of his element. As you know, he is naturally shy and he's not a big smiler. In the video we had him doing things that aren't natural to him. As an example, after every scene we make him turn and look at the camera and smile."

I know you initiated it, but didn't you have to have it approved prior to doing it? If so, who had to give you the go-ahead?
Gregg Ellis - "(MSU Athletic Media Relations head man) Mike Nemeth had to approve it first. Well, first, I asked (MSU head basketball coach) Rick (Stansbury) if I could do it. I had to convince him a little bit because he's all about team. But he liked the idea and allowed me to do it. He even had a few suggestions. When he saw it he laughed. And that made me feel good because I wanted the tape to be funny. It's not supposed to be serious but funny because I want to catch (the media's) attention.

"My goal, when a person is voting for the player of the year, an All-American, All-SEC guy, a John Wooden award winner, is that they will remember him when they see his name on the ballot. Maybe (the video) will cause them to remember him and think about him. If he gets even one award out of it, all the money that was spent and all the time that was put into it will be well worth of it."

How was the video implemented and who did the actual production of it?
Gregg Ellis - "I had the ideas, then I sat down with Bennie Ashford and told him what I would like to do. He listened to me, liked the idea and said we could make it happen."

When Gregg came to you what was the process from there?
Bennie Ashford - "Gregg approach me with his idea and he wanted my thoughts on it from a television production standpoint. I think at that time he really didn't know where the idea would go because it's kind of rare for us to do things like this where we sort of highlight individuals. But we sat down and discussed ideas - should it be comical, should it be serious, how much time would it take, what kind of theme should be use? So, we had a series of meetings to discuss that.

"Obviously, we knew the athlete that we were going to work with had, from a numbers standpoint, a lot to sell. And we decided, really Gregg did, we wanted to do a comical piece showing Jarvis in different locations around campus blocking things. We knew that media members receive different things from different universities saying look at our guy. So, we decided we would make something that was somewhat comical, which is a little different than Jarvis' personality and something that would be somewhat to the point.

"We wanted it to go no more than 2 to 2,5 minutes long. We didn't want it to go very long because you usually look at a video and if it's longer than that you stop watching it. We, basically, wanted it to be something that would drive home the point to a media member that he is somebody you should look at."

What did the making of the video involve from your standpoint?
Bennie Ashford - "We shot it with two cameras, so we had two camera operators. I was one of them and Ben Bailey, one of our students, was the other one. He was also the editor of the project. We also had a couple of student assistants - Jonathan Parrish, Alex Byars - and Lewis Halbert, a fulltime staff member."

When was the video made?
Gregg Ellis - "We did it on June 15th. It took most of the day and it was the hottest day up to that point of the summer. We went all over campus shooting it.

"The funny thing about it was the reaction of people as they drove by. They would wonder what is this guy doing out here in his uniform, then they would see that it is Jarvis.

"We also had to recruit actors and actresses on the spot. And not one person turned us down. All the people we used were students except for a couple of production people that we had to use. I was a little nervous about approaching the first person. A girl was sitting down near where we were. I went to her and told her that we doing a promotional campaign and then asked her if she would like to be in the video. She asked who it was. As soon as I said Jarvis she immediately said she would do it."

Bennie Ashford - "We had a unique time standpoint surrounding this project because it, basically, started around the end of May (with our meetings). Gregg had a narrow window to work with because Jarvis was getting ready to go on the road and play in the World Games. We didn't know how long he would be there and we didn't know what his status would be after he got back from the World Games.

"So, we, basically, from a production standpoint, had to shoot it in about two to three weeks. We came up with a couple of times that we could shoot it. I think weather was a factor one day. But we then got all of the segments taped in one day. As far as the editing was concerned, we started that process somewhere around the middle of July. It went through a number of revisions because you have to have the right music, the right cuts, the right graphics, things like that."

It's only about 2 to 2.5 minutes but it sounds like it took quite a bit of time to make. Did you keep a record of the manhours that it took to make the video?
Bennie Ashford - "It's really hard to say. It probably took 3, 4, maybe 5 meetings that, possibly, took about an hour each. Then, you go out and shoot it and that took about a day because you had to prepare and get out on site and get the footage shot.

"But the editing process takes the longest time because you are going through a number or revisions. Over a span of two months 35 to 40 hours was spent editing. We had a couple of guys who were involved in the editing process but Ben Bailey was the main guy. And, of course, I would sit in with him. Ben is a student at Mississippi State. I picked Ben to get involved in this process because of his knowledge of editing and because of his age. I felt it would be neat if someone that was younger got involved in it because they knew not only how to edit but I felt they would know what would be humorous and comical."

You said earlier that Jarvis is naturally shy. What were his thoughts about the video when you first told him about it?
Gregg Ellis - "He was willing to do it, although leading up to it he wasn't overly excited about it. Jarvis is not about Jarvis. You've interviewed him a 1,000 times so you know that. But he was so cooperative and he had the best time doing the video. He might say that he didn't enjoy it but he was laughing and having a good time."

Gregg said even Jarvis laughed when he watched the video?
Bennie Ashford - "There were some things that we put in the video that I thought might play up the humor side. There was a little twinkle (in Jarvis' eye) in it that was put in to cap it off."

It really has a very nice cover. How did the cover design come about?
Bennie Ashford - "Aside from the production of the video, the way you present it is very critical because the first impression of it is the cover or the packaging in this case. The cover design was done by John Schauffhauser of Schauffhause Design in Canton, Mississippi. He is pretty much the athletic department's guy for media covers. He sent the cover to us and we printed it and sent it to Gregg. Gregg and his people package it and send it out."

Who will receive the video?
Gregg Ellis - "I'm sending this to a national list of over 250 media members. I'm sending it to members of the sportswriters association and national basketball writers. I'm also sending it to ESPN and CBS. I'm making sure it's sent to the writers who vote for awards."

I'm sure there will be MSU fans who will want to purchase the video. Can the athletic department sell them?
Gregg Ellis - "No, we can't sell them due to NCAA rules. That's why we are going to put it on our website until he graduates."

This is the first promotion that you have done. Are there other possibilities down the road?
Gregg Ellis - "Yes, because it is pretty special to have an NCAA record. That's something that I don't think we have in any sports. And Jarvis is, hopefully, going to have an NCAA record. So, I'm kind of doing this in a three-part series. We are going to do another promotion later on. We won't just promote Jarvis but we will tie it into things about the university.

"(As an example) what else is Mississippi State known for? A block of cheese. How about that. A block of cheese and a guy who blocks shots. So, we are going to do something with that. Scott Stricklin helped me with that one because he put that (idea) in my ear.

"We are also going to hand out fly swats (at a game). Mike (Nemeth) and I were talking about that and he really liked it. It was actually more of Mike's idea than mine. If it happens at home, we will hand them out to the fans when they first come in. We will also recognize Jarvis. If it happens on the road, we'll hand them out his first game back at the Hump. For our fans, I hope it happens at home. That would be really cool."


Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the website, the source for Mississippi State sports on sports network. You can contact him by emailing

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