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Growing up in the Midwest, I was a unique combination of athlete and artist. 

I was tall, athletic and good at basketball. However, beyond this was an inquisitive mind that longed to be creative. This meant filming mock-Kanye West music videos with neighbourhood friends during the days and dunking on these same friends on a seven-foot rim as the sun set. 

Back then I thought my two interests were mutually exclusive, two separate passions. It wasn’t until after I played varsity basketball at Michigan State University, with a Final Four run my senior season, that I realised the film career that I had dreamed of, the career that was just beginning, could also incorporate my passion for sport. 

I’ve lived in this world, and have experienced how actions unfold in most sports, and it gives me empathy with the talent.

I started out simply asking my friends to be in my sport films. Gary Harris of the Denver Nuggets, was one of my first subjects. He was kind enough to let me do a mini-documentary about him titled Calm. This is how I built my reel and honed my directing craft that has eventually led me to directing sports-inspired commercials.

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Above: Wetzel's former career as a basketball player has aided his current directorial career.


I’ve lived in this world, and have experienced how actions unfold in most sports, and it gives me empathy with the talent.

The most important aspect in directing a sport commercial, or any work, really, is how you handle the talent. Everything else is secondary. If you can’t get the athlete to accept direction in a very short window of time, it won’t matter what great shots you have designed or the great lines the agency has written.

The key for a director is knowing how to draw on these experiences and win them over to get them onboard with you.

All athletes know how to be coached, they have spent a lifetime taking direction and not necessarily in commercials, but these athletes are on camera almost every day with their own social media accounts. They are used to being on camera with lights in their face, and your shoot may just be another day with a light in their face.

The key for a director is knowing how to draw on these experiences and win them over to get them onboard with you on this day. I’ve found the best way to do this is to form a personal relationship by finding common ground while involving them in the filmmaking process.  

Above: Wetzel's NFL draft spot , Take the Stage

I recently did a campaign for the NFL that featured four star athletes (Larry Fitzgerald, Deshaun Watson, Jarvis Landry, and Dak Prescott) giving advice to an incoming NFL draftee. While the premise was the same for each spot, they were each unique in their own way.

I think back to Paul Hunter’s Nike Freestyle commercial, and how that affected me as a kid; the rhythm, the performance, the style. 

On arriving to set the talent has to meet a lot of people and I always make sure my first meeting with them is casual, brief and direct, away from lots of others. I know only too well how hard it is to remember a lot of names. I always keep it super professional. I am doing my job, and my job and their goal for this shoot are the same thing - to make them look outstanding in the shortest possible time frame. 

I keep in mind that, above all, this person is an athlete.

This is where experience as an athlete often comes into play. I try to think about how I would like a director to support me if I was on the other side of the lens. Now, I was no college basketball star back in the day, but I still did my fair share of both on- and off-camera interviews. To this day, I remember some interactions being very pleasant and others being painfully awkward.

I keep in mind that, above all, this person is an athlete, and while each have varying levels of acting ability, I find line-reading is more helpful to getting a performance out of an athlete than trying to speak to them using acting terminology.

Nike – Nike: Freestyle

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Above: Nike Freestyle directed by Paul Hunter.


It’s a noble idea to give talent motivation and “as if…” scenarios to set a scene, but when working with non-actors, I’ve found these tactics might not translate well. Using line-reading, casual questions, and conversational breaks often makes the performance substantially better. I’m lucky in that I have a mutual interest and therefore instant connection with them, that I use to help them relax.  

I’ve learned that incorporating my own interests and experiences has made my work both better in quality and more enjoyable to create. I am getting the chance to merge two of my passions together and I feel very fortunate to be doing so.

As a Midwestern boy who had no connection to the filmmaking world other than a true love, being able to make films like these is something I will truly never take for granted.

I think back to Paul Hunter’s Nike Freestyle commercial, and how that affected me as a kid; the rhythm, the performance, the style. I needed to be like those guys on screen. Dress like they did, play like they did. But even more, I wanted to recreate the feeling of that commercial. I even tried to recreate the spot with friends around the neighbourhood, taking turns being Jason Williams or Darius Miles. 

As a Midwestern boy who had no connection to the filmmaking world other than a true love, being able to make films like these is something I will truly never take for granted. 

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