When Sam Baldwin was 12, he yearned to be on “Saturday Night Live.”
He fueled those dreams by filming comedy sketches with his friends.
Although Baldwin never made it to the famed Studio 8H where the late-night comedy sketch show airs in New York, he’s spent a lot of time around the cameras since then for a variety of reasons.
Over the past decade, Baldwin has worked on more than a thousand live sports broadcasts, either as a camera operator, audio mixer, or in other crew positions.
This freelance experience fits well with his work as a media designer at the Center for Academic Innovation as well as his lifelong passion for sports.
“I’ve played basketball, soccer, track running and ultimate Frisbee, so I have a history in sports and a history in video production,” he said.
Baldwin nurtured his interest in sports video production while pursuing a degree in visual communication technology at Bowling Green State University. He completed two internships with a local sports network in Toledo called Buckeye Cable Sports Network, and he set his sights on doing his third and final internship with ESPN.
“It was a long interview process (with ESPN) which was scary. I had never been through anything so rigorous,” he said. “I got it, which was crazy because they told me at the time that there were at least 90,000 applicants for the internship program. So they’re basically telling you that you’ve won the lottery.
While at ESPN, he used the camera for several of the station’s top programs, such as “Baseball Tonight” and “SportsCenter.”
After she graduates, the network offers her a job as a media librarian, which involves locating and delivering films to producers from a sprawling warehouse.
“This warehouse was gigantic. It was so big that we had to ride these gigantic tricycles because it took so long to get the media producers together who were asking for it,” he said.
He spent a year in this job before the lure of being behind the camera was too hard to ignore. He took a job at Ball State University producing games to air on ESPN3 after the network bought the rights to all Mid-American Conference sports programming.
Baldwin also began freelancing, working on camera for college football games at Butler, Purdue, Notre Dame, and Indiana universities.
After working at a nonprofit in Indianapolis and a marketing group in Toledo, he came to the Center for Academic Innovation 15 months ago. Its 10-person team creates media that accompanies college courses, whether it’s MOOCs, online degree programs, or courses on meaningful current topics.
He turned his experience producing sports videos into opportunities to film games for the Michigan Athletics, while pursuing an active freelance schedule.
Baldwin said the most important skill for capturing a live sporting event is anticipation.
“There are fine motor skills involved in using a camera – tilting, zooming, panning, focusing. You are operating multiple things at the same time. Anyone can learn that,” he said “The hardest part is knowing what’s going to happen next and being ready for it because if you don’t anticipate it, you’re going to miss it.”
He has filmed every sport imaginable, but says his favorite is basketball, which is also his favorite sport.
“You’re so close to the action, you feel like you’re part of the game,” he said. “Sometimes when you aim a camera under the basket, the ball hits you, the guys run into you. You are there, you are involved.
Being involved can also mean being injured, but although he was run over by basketball players during filming, he was not seriously injured.
The same cannot be said for shooting softball.
“I’ve been hit by softballs before,” he said. “Once I took one on the side of my face. I don’t even remember if it was my game, it could have come from a field next to us. Another time I took a bullet through the camera lens. It was crazy because I was tracking him so perfectly that he went straight into the lens.
Although he works primarily on college and semi-pro sports, he said he expects opportunities to arise to film professional sporting events in Detroit, especially on days when the Tigers, Pistons and the Red Wings are all in action. He said he expects this summer to be slow, but once fall and winter hit, it’s on.
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Baldwin said his ultimate goal is to compete in the Olympics.
“That would be great. I can’t think of a better one to do,” he said. “I don’t have high hopes for that, but you never know.”
In addition to his video production skills, Baldwin is also a certified drone operator and owns one that he flies recreationally. It has been certified since 2017 and renews the certification every two years.
Although flying a drone might seem similar to using a camera, except with a remote control, Baldwin said the two skills are unrelated.
“When you use a camera in sports, you physically move the camera,” he said. “With a drone, you use a remote control. If anything, my addiction to video games prepared me for drone piloting more than my sports broadcasting skills.