Photo by Dave Warner – A sunset over the Nellis Family Farm, one of the host family locations where Mohawk Valley Diamond Dawg players can stay during the summer PGCBL season.
by Deborah A. Kaufman
A documentary film, created by David E. Warner called ‘Dawgs on a Farm’ has been released to the public after a private screening held at Rock City Centre for players, coaches, host families, and the team owner.
Warner has had the idea for a documentary about the team in his head for almost two years. However, when he heard the story about a little boy whose brother had played for the Dawgs, recounting that he would come back one day and not only play for the team but stay at the Nellis Family Farm, he had to make the film.
“They have this program where the players are allowed to stay at different host families’ houses or farms. I think it was last year where I really got interested in the concept of doing something about that,” stated Warner.
“I wanted to take a documentary approach to it, which is a little bit more organic, as opposed to something that is storyboarded. You can go with what people say during their interview, and then you shoot around who they are, what they said, and what they brought up during the interview,” he said.
Warner wanted it to have more weight to it, with the time that it ran and a cinematic approach to the filming of it.
He said that even though he had been on a farm before, he hadn’t ‘been on a farm.’ “Actually, having to pay attention to the details of what was going on was very different than just visiting a farm. Looking at the jobs that they do, or how hard the work is, was a real eye-opener for myself and the kids that stay there.”
Warner also said that he’d done a lot of studying to figure out what would make a successful film. The equipment, technique, and everything else involved.
“I had ideas in my head about how I wanted the film to flow and questions that I’d ask, but the interesting thing was during the interviews, they went where I wanted them to go without much prompting,” he stated.
“All three that were interviewed on camera, Chris Nellis, Chris Palmer, and Ethan Valdez, all had incredible moments where they said something that was just dramatic and impactful. Watching the reaction to the film when we had the private screening at Rock City Centre was powerful,” stated Warner.
He continued, “The emotions ranged from laughter to tears. There were some things that they said that touched people in the room in ways I hadn’t expected. It was interesting to see that response.”
Warner said that the process of making the film accomplished something for himself as well. “This is something that I’ve wanted to do for many, many years since I started interacting with and interviewing filmmakers for a podcast I did twelve years ago. It was the kind of project that I have wanted to take on.”
When it comes to the finished product, Warner said that he really wanted people to see what the program was but also to get a sense of how important it was to the kids who have stayed there over the years and what a difference it has made in their lives.
“One of the interesting things that happened was that we had players who had stayed there in years past videotape messages to the Nellis family and to Travis Heiser, owner of the team, about what that experience had been like for them. That added an extra layer to the film that I had not anticipated.”
Warner said that one of the most amazing things that happened had to deal with the sunset scene.
“I had used a stock sunset, and it worked fine. However, after we had shown the film to the family, we were invited up to the Nellis farm for a picnic the day after the Dawgs season had ended. The most incredible sunset occurred, and of course, I had the drone with me and ran out of the room to film it. This footage replaced my stock for the final cut,” he said.
Warner said that he wants to do more documentaries and that he has two ideas in the works, one that he’s already started shooting. “Both of these projects are outlined in my head, but only one is underway. I’m shooting the things I know that I need to have before I get to the interview process.”
“I know what I want to end up showing the audience, and I know what I want them to take away. Now I’ve got to kind of back up and figure out all the steps to get them to where I want them at the end,” he said.
Warner stated, “For me, the documentary process is so much more of an emotional experience, and it’s something I really love. As many times as I’ve thought about doing this film, I’m really glad that the end product turned out the way it did.”
When asked if there was a moment that impacted him, Warner said, “I think it was when Chris Palmer said, ‘From where I’m from, everything is flat, and it’s kinda hard to see the world when you can’t see it.’ That brought tears to my eyes.”
Find some popcorn and a quiet spot to listen and watch the story. The film is 24 minutes in length, but like the Marvel movies, you’ll find more after the credits. If you’re on a mobile device, just hit the play button below.