At last month’s AFLPA MVP Awards, the documentary series ‘Sons of the West’ received the Grant Hattam Award, presented by M+K Lawyers, for journalism excellence. aflplayers.com.au caught up with Western Bulldogs skipper Bob Murphy and filmmaker Adrian Brown to find out why the series had struck a chord with players.
It took 15 phone-calls before Bob Murphy agreed to meet with Adrian Brown but after an hour-long chat over a coffee in Carlton, the Western Bulldogs skipper knew they’d meet again.
“It was a great first date,” Murphy told aflplayers.com.au.
The 33-year-old was reluctant to meet with Brown, who was hoping to convince Murphy to be the focus of a documentary series that would show the emotional highs and lows of footy in a different light.
“The idea was just to create something different, that was honest and authentic, and that I was proud of. I wasn’t aiming to get it on air or to have it seen by a certain number of people or to have it make money,” Brown told aflplayers.com.au.
“Eating McDonalds, depressed, after the Dogs get beaten… that’s reality TV” – Bob Murphy
The vision appealed to Murphy, who’d originally only planned to meet Brown so that he could “let him down gently – so that he’d stop calling.”
But after chatting for an hour and realising he and Brown saw “life and footy in the same way”, Murphy changed his perspective.
“I was starting to get a bit anxious, thinking ‘I have to agree to this’ because more than anything I’d made a new friend,” the 292-gamer said.
The duo started shooting ‘Sons of the West’ without a clear picture of how it would turn out – the fact Brown was unsure when he’d be able to film didn’t make it any easier to plan ahead.
“It was all done around other jobs, in my spare time,” Brown said.
“I couldn’t have afforded to do this if I didn’t do everything myself. It was all self-shot. I edited, produced, conducted all the interviews – whatever else there was.
“Every now and then, when there were key interviews, I had a cameraman, Paul Cananzi, shooting so that I could focus more on the interviews.”
But for the most part, Brown did it all himself. Though the workload was heavy, he recognises there was a benefit to having complete control of the project.
“The fact I could do all of that meant Bob felt comfortable opening up to me and me only, with no one else in the room… and no possibility of a snippet of dialogue being taken out of context and turned into a news story.”
It also meant that Murphy became used to having Brown around at times when most journalists don’t have access to players.
“The moments that are the most insightful are the ones nobody else is shooting,” Brown explained.
When Brown was unable to attend the Bulldogs’ stirring victory over Sydney at the SCG in Round 5, he felt he’d missed an opportunity.
But a week later, when he was filming Murphy and his daughter in their home after a loss to St Kilda, he knew he’d captured an equally emotional moment.
“YOU OFTEN HEAR THAT PLAYERS DON’T WATCH TOO MUCH FOOTY OUTSIDE of PLAYING THE GAME… IT WAS NICE TO KNOW THAT MAYBE IT HAD STRUCK A CHORD” – ADRIAN BROWN
“Eating McDonalds, depressed, after the Dogs get beaten… that’s reality TV,” Murphy reflected with a smile.
For every moment of triumph that plays out on the footy field on live TV, there are dozens of far less glamorous moments of reflection.
“I have an allergic reaction to the football cliché talk,” Murphy said.
“If there was something at the heart of the project, it was ‘let’s talk about it as we normally would and see where it takes us.’ The honesty of the conversations was at the heart of it.”
Brown enjoyed the opportunity to explore those conversations for as long as was necessary, without restrictions on running time – something he hopes becomes more prevalent in coming years.
“Having worked in footy media for a number of years, there’s some sort of defined limit that videos aren’t longer than four minutes,” Brown said.
“With this, I always thought ‘why can’t it be what it runs?’ Some of the strongest moments are when Bob isn’t saying anything. Silence can say a lot sometimes.”
While Brown certainly didn’t set out to create an award-winning series, he admits he was “honoured” to receive recognition from the AFL Players’ Board – the selection panel for the Grant Hattam Award.
“You often hear that players don’t watch too much footy outside of playing the game. So it was nice to know that maybe it had struck a chord with a few of them, and that maybe I’d got the tone right.”
Four instalments of Sons of the West have been released so far – the final video will be released on westernbulldogs.com.au in coming weeks.