Interview with Shannon Stilson from United States

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Shannon Stilson

With almost two decades in sports business spanning professional golf and polo, Shannon Stilson has focused on activating global brands and raising awareness through major sporting events and syndicated television networks like CBS and ESPN.

Interview with the 2023 LIT Awards Winner - Shannon Stilson

1Please give us a brief bio of yourself and your background.

My name is Shannon Stilson and I have nearly two decades of sports business experience in both professional golf and professional polo. My core focus has been helping global brands to activate and bring awareness to their brand through activities at major sporting events and across syndicated television networks, like CBS and ESPN.

Over the past eight years at U.S. Polo Assn., I’ve helped build a professional sports marketing department, a production department, and a newly created made-for-television story-driven series called Breakaway that is a complement to our major polo tournaments that we televise on ESPN, beIN Sports and Times of India.

2What led you to become a videography professional?

When I was hired in 2015, U.S. Polo Assn. had been broadcasting one of the major polo tournaments, the U.S. Open Polo Championship®. My experience was driven by sports marketing and media so I naturally was a creative force in building shows that took the viewer inside the stories of the athletes and horses.

I’ve hired a team that takes the vision of the company, conducts the interviews, and then I direct and produce the content once captured. I give input on interview sets, frames, audio, questions, etc. to ensure the content is delivered in the manner we need to bring the story to life.

3What is your role in the agency, and what traits should a videography professional possess to be successful in their role?

A successful videographer should have the ability to understand the story that is being captured and the ability to make the athlete/subject feel comfortable and loosen up to get deeper behind the persona they have while competing.

In my role as an executive producer, I would lead by hiring the team, driving the vision for the stories, selecting the athletes we’ll interview, and building the story that weaves into our global mission of connecting U.S. Polo Assn. back to the sport of polo through our in-house production department, Global Polo Productions.

4Tell us more about your production/agency/company.

We launched Global Polo Productions in 2019 as we were launching a first-ever, over-the-top television network. We wanted one place for all polo content for both our polo audience and new non-polo fans. The decision to launch the production department was out of a necessity to tell our story the way we knew it should be told. We are not only a sport, and we are not only a lifestyle, so we seek to find a balance for the fans and the polo community.

Starting from scratch meant we had to purchase all the equipment, hire editors, videographers, on-air talent, and develop processes to accomplish our goals of building creative and interesting content that consumers would engage with over the course of time.

5What is your own definition of great videography?

I think a great videographer is someone who definitely understands the basics and can build upon it. Someone who understands lighting, audio, sound balancing, interview framing, set up, etc.

This person must be equipped with the basics so they can really enhance the story they are capturing to make it compelling for the audience.

6Describe your videography style/flair and its main characteristics.

We strive to remain as authentic as possible, so our style is to use the elements of polo that make it special. This includes the outdoor environment, polo horses, stables, athlete tours, and athletes riding when applicable to the story.

An outside videographer is a more challenging role because of those elements, so we battle that often given the noises of outside products, planes, trackers, people, etc.

7Tell us about your ideation process.

In 2022, I set up a weekly meeting with my Production Coordinator, Anna Doolittle, who is also our lead talent for our ESPN shows, to start building out each one of the four-show series that we’re planning to shoot. I leveraged industry shows to take inspiration from and enhance the story of polo.

One of the stories I found fascinating was on a legal show where the actor said, “Winning a court case happens before you even get to the courtroom. You have to be strategic with who you pick to be your jury, you have to know your audience, etc.” I took that theme and built it into our first Polo in Palm Beach series of Breakaway because polo is the same.

It starts way before you get to the field, sometimes years in advance. So, I work with the Production Coordinator to have themes we want to achieve and then look at the athletes who have something special to offer the audience, something they’ve overcome. Like the story of Hope Arellano, the Breakaway: Women In Polo show wasn’t going to be all about her, but after our amazing interview with Dawn Jones and Hope becoming a 10-Goal female handicap, I knew we had the story that was inspiring and glass shattering.

I then put it all into motion with my Coordinator and she works to write the scripts, write the interview questions, collaborates with the rest of the team to capture all the content, and then she takes the first pass at building the show, setting the pacing and setting the music.

8Congratulations! As the winner of the 2023 LIT Awards, what does it mean for you and your team to receive this distinction?

We are so proud and thankful for the 2023 LIT Awards for giving us the opportunity to submit our show Breakaway: Women In Polo!

This award is significant to us because we’ve just changed the process this year, so it shows the impact we are making in a short amount of time and gives us momentum for continuing to share the sport and the stories through a different lens.

9How has winning an international award help to promote your production and works?
Winning an international award helps validate us as storytellers and moviemakers. It supports the team’s growth in being creative and shows that when we plan and execute against the plan, we will all win.
10What are the challenges of your winning entry(s)?
I see no challenge. Challenges are good for us because it creates growth and innovation. This helps us to continue to strive for even better stories and better content.
11How has the country you are based in helped during your ideation process?
We are headquartered in the United States and the sport of polo has its top events here in the spring, so that has helped us quite a bit to leverage key moments with athletes and build upon the story that is here and remain authentic.
12What are the current trends in the videography industry that you are most excited about?
AI is driving interesting trends by building upon screen sets and making it easier to come up with ideas that might be interesting to new fans and content. The evolution of sports documentaries has also allowed our team to have an industry viewing experience for inspiration and trends. The current trends are to show the stories of athletes while competing at high levels and showing their struggles and triumphs.
13What are the top three (3) favorite things about the videography industry?

- Content is king, so the videography industry allows us to leverage the beauty of our sport and share it with millions of people.

- With the growth of technology and cell phones, videography has become supported by better, faster, and less expensive equipment.

- The ability to leverage a moment in time with a camera to capture someone’s story and to share that in a way that they may have not even thought of is such an amazing feeling.

14What resources would you recommend to someone who is searching to improve their videography ideas and skills?
I think it’s a good idea to leverage YouTube videos to expand upon your current skills. There is so much new great, free content on how to improve. My team actually has been doing this since many of them are very new to the production world.
15Where do you see the evolution of the videography in the next 5-10 years?
Content is moving so fast, and the videography/movie industry has to move fast with it. I think we will continue to see smaller and smaller cameras that offer more clear pictures and better audio. Our cell phones already can do a full interview, capture a sporting event, and make it more appealing to consumers than a full-stage production.
16Who has inspired you in your life, and why?
The last 8 years in polo have been a passion-filled journey of finding people in the sport that truly inspire me. The polo community is one that always has your back and always wants the best for people. I’m so inspired every day by the men and women who play the sport and share their stories with us. I literally cry when I rewatch what we created and that we were able to capture these moments with these otherwise really humble athletes.
17What is your key to success? Any parting words of wisdom?
This year has been fun but also challenging, no one on our team was a professional in filmmaking or television. I pride myself and our team on working really hard and staying the course to develop great content that we can share with millions of people. Nothing is easy, but if you are willing to work hard for it, it’s worth it!
18Do you have anything else you would like to add to the interview?
I’d like to thank the judges and the 2023 LIT Entertainment Awards organization on behalf of our organization, USPA Global and Global Polo Entertainment.

Winning Entry

Breakaway : Women in Polo | 2023

Breakaway: Women in Polo | U.S. Polo Assn.
The never-before-told, inspiring story of a female polo player who identifies the next up-and-coming star. The sport of polo, one of the oldest team sports, ...
(Read more at LIT Awards)

Shannon Stilson

U.S Polo Assn.

With almost two decades in sports business spanning professional golf and polo, Shannon Stilson has focused on activating global brands and raising awareness through major sporting events and syndicated television networks like CBS and ESPN.

Read more about this interview with Jean-Luc Slagle from the United States, the Platinum Winner of the 2022 LIT Awards.