The Season Begins
A Q + A with the creator of the Findlay Prep webumentary.
by Rodney David King / @mehkavelli
While most hardcore basketball fans stare nervously at the television waiting for the NBA season to begin, another Season is ready to go.
The brainchild of Donnie Seals, The Season is a web series that follows the Findlay Prep high school boys basketball team. Since he began filming, he’s had the pleasure of covering such up-and-coming talents as Cory Joseph, Tristan Thompson, Myck Kabango and more. The new season starts in January and picks up where the Findlay Prep left off last year with a loss in the Prep national championship.
SLAMonline spoke with Donnie about why he decided to start The Season, why he choose Findlay Prep, and what’s next for him.
SLAM: How do you begin on your path as a director?
Donnie Seals: I actually started as a still photographer. I attended Columbia College Chicago, a famed film school, and studied photojournalism. At the time that the newspaper industry started falling apart, I discovered video editing. Like, the timing of me learning how to edit came at the perfect time. I began doing small features of local hip-hop MCs in Chicago, music videos, live shows, etc.
SLAM: What’s the production like? How many camera men do you use when you shoot? How long does it take to finish a complete episode?
DS: I’m the production team. I’m on camera, the producer, the sound engineer, editor, grip, intern. You name it, I do it. Part of it is because I’m very particular about how things look and sound. But in reality, it’s because I can’t pay a crew to do what needs to be done. What some people don’t realize is that I produce The Season out of the love of storytelling and basketball. That’s what drives me to work on it so hard. So, there’s no real crew. Now, The Season would not be where it’s at without the help of some key people. I work at the local Fox news station here in Las Vegas, and my co-worker and friend Chris Jones helps me with the editing along with my brother Eric. Also my friend Tnel Moniq helps me shoot when she has time. Other than that, it’s all me.
SLAM: What made you choose Findlay Prep to cover versus more established programs like Oak Hill?
DS: I moved to Las Vegas to accept a job at a TV station shooting and editing online news stories in 2008 and my manager asked me if I wanted to do a long-term project of my choosing. I jumped at the opportunity. I knew I wanted to follow something revolving around basketball, but I didn’t know the local high school basketball scene. Most people don’t know this, but The Season was originally supposed to follow Las Vegas native Elijah Johnson who currently plays for Kansas. I remember calling his high school head coach every day for a week just to meet with me about doing an story on him, but he would never call me back. I told the PR person of the TV station about the trouble I was having and she said, “Have you thought about Findlay Prep?”
I didn’t know a thing about the program, but as she began telling me about how all the players lived in the same house and their rigorous traveling schedule, I was on board. I remember going to Henderson International with my manager to meet with Coach Peck and Coach Simon, and I don’t think either of them were to interested in having a camera pointed at their program. They didn’t say much. It wasn’t until after I showed them the first episode that they kinda had that “aha” moment. I’ve been an unofficial Pilot ever since then.
SLAM: What has been your impression of Findlay the program since you began taping?
DS: Two things. They’re preparing these guys for college. They want to win every game. Nothing more. I don’t think Findlay Prep is different than any other prep school in the country. People send their physically gifted kids to prep schools to give them an extra edge they wouldn’t get at home. I’ve never been around a college program before, but I imagine it is very similar to what they do at Findlay. It’s just basketball and school. The schedule these guys have, they really don’t have time for anything else.
SLAM: What player has impressed you the most since you began filming?
DS: Hands down Godwin Okonji from season 2. Godwin’s maturity almost made me forget that I was dealing with teenagers. I always enjoyed our interviews because he took his time in answering, and he was honest with me. And speaking of honest, 2012 forward Winston Shepard also goes on that list. This guy never holds back in our interviews, and it makes for great stories. I’ve come to understand that these guys have been in the spotlight for a while and have had to deal with the media in various ways. A lot of times that makes players sort of keep their true feelings close to their chest. Winston on the other hand gives it to you straight, and it’s refreshing. Through The Season, people have seen some of Winston’s faults, and I think people, more specifically basketball players, connect with him. I can’t wait for you guys to see Winston this year. He’s grown in to one of the true leaders of the Findlay team.
SLAM: How long will you continue to do the series? Are there plans of covering any other teams?
DS: I’m entering my fourth year with the Findlay Pilots, and I’m not really looking any further. I’m trying to finish the one I’m in. I was contacted by a few colleges to do a webseries on their teams, but the opportunities were never right. And sometimes I wonder if programs really know what it takes to have a lens pointed at everything you do. It’s not easy to be under the eye of the public. It’s not easy to have your words and actions posted on YouTube twice a month. I think coaches see The Season and like what the attention it could bring to their respective programs, but there’s a lot that goes in to it. A lot of trust and access.
SLAM: Can you think of one time when Coach Peck surprised you while filming?
DS: I’ve been able to build and develop with Coach Peck and his coaching staff these past four years. I knew I had Coach Peck’s trust fully one time after a game here in Las Vegas. Findlay had won the game but he called the team together afterwards to bring to their attention a problem he had with one particular player. A teacher had come to Coach Peck and said that one of the players hadn’t turned in an assignment and wasn’t participating in class. He called the player out in front of the entire team and explained how it wasn’t acceptable. All this happened while I was in the locker room while taping! Afterwards I fully expected him to take me aside and request that scene never get used, but he didn’t. He slapped me on the shoulder and said, “Thanks for coming” and walked off. I was floored.
SLAM: What’s next for Donnie Seals? Will you continue to cover basketball? Are you looking to moving into covering other topics?
DS: I love telling stories. Music, basketball, whatever.
SLAM: Where can people go to check out all the episodes of The Season, and when will the new season start?
DS: Season 4 of The Season will begin mid January of 2012. People can visit findlayseason.com to check out all the episodes.