Editor’s Note: Because of rights restrictions, the “Going Home” video was unpublished.
When Chris Bloxom was asked to produce ESPN’s Fourth of July holiday tribute piece featuring soldiers returning home to sports venues to surprise their families, he avoided the urge to add fireworks to an already emotional topic.
“I’d seen the reunions so often, my first thought was a music video — just add music to the clips,” Bloxom said. “But it didn’t seem like something I wanted to do. I wanted to add intrigue to the piece, not just string together five minutes of YouTube clips.”
The feature has been widely praised since its Sunday debut (including several athlete tweets) and can be seen through the July 4th holiday in regular SportsCenter rotation.
— Shane Victorino (@ShaneVictorino) July 1, 2013
— Mike Trout (@Trouty20) July 1, 2013
While the piece included two songs (All I Want by Kodaline, Home by Daughtry) and 50 reunion clips, the “intrigue” became Staff Sergeant David Martinez from Peoria, Ariz. Bloxom and the ESPN production crew met Martinez last month in Fort Bragg, N.C., home of the U.S. Army Airborne and Special Operations Forces. Martinez is the thread who ties the piece together. Scenes of his detailed — albeit Bloxom-produced — “journey home” from overseas are spliced among those of actual emotional reunions.
“We needed a real soldier, so they [the Army] put out the request for us, and apparently got a lot of replies,” Bloxom said. “He had three tours in Afghanistan, so he really qualified. And I didn’t want to approach it like a normal feature where we would find some good reunions and go do interviews to see how they felt — there was no interview answer that would rival the actual clips of the real emotion — so I did the feature completely trackless [without voiceover] to try and maintain that raw emotion and not break the viewer out of the moments.”
“I heard through our Brigade Public Affairs Officer that ESPN was requesting someone who was Airborne/Ranger and Jumpmaster qualified, with children and I kind of won,” said Martinez, who is a sports fan, admitting to watching everything but basketball and golf. “The shooting went very well — I have never done anything of that nature, so it was an awesome learning experience and Chris and his crew were great to work with. It was pretty awesome.”
Features producer Bloxom, a Houston, Texas native who joined ESPN after graduating from Baylor in 2002, filmed Martinez’ packing-for-home scene at Fort Bragg’s tent city, constructed for training purposes. He captured the family “Skyping” in a nearby model home. Bloxom managed to get the plane footage during the regularly scheduled practice paratrooper drop, even though a four-minute window narrowed to 17 seconds.
“He couldn’t hear me because of the propeller noise, but I yelled to our cameraman, ‘This is our one take,’ when I saw 50 troopers lined up ready to charge onto the back of the plane,” Bloxom said.
Martinez’ simulated journey from Afghanistan to North Carolina elicited positive reaction from literally all corners of the globe.
An Okinawa, Japan-based sportswriter for Stars & Stripes emailed ESPN, saying: “This made me cry a river. Thanks to whomever put this together. What a tribute.”