SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame football running back C.J. Prosise was trying to focus on a big game. And he had to deal with cameras and questions.
But no, this wasn’t his 198-yard, three-touchdown effort against Georgia Tech, or either of his multi-score outings against UMass, Navy or USC. This was serious.
With some downtime before Notre Dame’s Week 2 matchup against Virginia, Prosise and his roommate, Irish receiver Chris Brown, settled in for a showdown in FIFA on Xbox in their off-campus apartment. And as has been the case all season, the cameras and questions from Showtime’s A Season With Notre Dame Football, the season-long documentary series chronicling the Irish program, followed.
“What made me upset about that was that when we were playing, they were talking to me and asking me questions while I was playing,” Prosise said. “So of course while I’m answering questions, Chris scores.”
Brown, playing as the German side Borussia Dortmund, held on for the 1-0 win over Prosise, playing with Juventus of Serie A in Italy.
“Now Chris can talk all this trash saying that he’s beating me,” Prosise said with a laugh. “But, really, I was distracted the whole time.”
Outside of a crushing video game loss, the distractions have been kept to a minimum, according to those involved with the unique partnership between Notre Dame and Showtime, which is documenting the 2015 season with weekly episodes that began Sept. 8, three days after Notre Dame’s season-opening win over Texas.
“Our Showtime team is embedded with their team,” said Jason Sciavicco, the showrunner and one of the executive producers for the series. “We are almost one now. It’s more of a distraction when we’re not there at this point because they’re so used to us being there.”
“I’ve gotten used to it, them just being around,” Irish star wide receiver Will Fuller said. “It’s like they’re part of the team now.”
“It was a difficult transition early on,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said, adding that it’s now become a way of life for his team. “There’s just been really good dialogue and communication between the football staff and Showtime, and it’s making it work on a day-to-day basis.”
It’s that continuation in dialogue that has bred a smooth working relationship between the 100-plus-member football team and the Showtime staff, which regularly has between 30 and 35 people on the ground in South Bend.
The conversation began two years ago, when Scott Stone, one of the show’s other executive producers, approached Sciavicco with the idea for a show chronicling a major college football program.
“It’s actually never been done on any major level for the entire season,” Sciavicco points out, noting the short length of HBO’s Hard Knocks.
Sciavicco, who had produced other reality-type football shows such as Friday Night Tykes (Esquire), Two-A-Days (MTV) and Varsity Inc. (ESPN2), met with Stone, discussed their vision for the show and agreed to move forward.
The next two years, however, were spent locking up a football program to document. Sciavicco said they spoke with “several different schools” and were “down the road very far” with a few different programs. Meetings with various head coaches ran upwards of two hours.
“For a major university and a major college football program, opening up your doors 100 percent is not the easiest thing for them to commit to,” Sciavicco said. “But for us to feel like we could produce the kind of show that we’re producing, that’s what we needed. We needed access to position meetings, team meetings. We needed to be in the locker room—win or lose. We needed to be there for every team meeting and the ups and downs throughout a season.”
Sciavicco said both sides grew comfortable through several conversations and have now formed “a great partnership.” Kelly has enlisted three staff members—sports information director Michael Bertsch, special assistant Bob Elliott and director of football administration Beth Rex—to meet daily with Showtime in South Bend to discuss stories, scheduling and access. Sciavicco said he could not be happier with the access his group has received.
In addition to meetings with the Notre Dame side, Sciavicco has daily conference calls with other producers and associate producers about each episode’s content and the storylines.
“My philosophy is always what’s best is what’s real,” Sciavicco said. “And when you see real, raw emotions, you know it. You see it on the screen. You can feel it. … It’s just being in the right place at the right time, making sure that the players and the coaches are all comfortable with you.”
It helps to have the resources Showtime has allowed for the series. Between camera operators, audio technicians, producers, associate producers, production assistants and production managers, for example, there are 30-35 members of the Showtime staff working in South Bend, 95 percent of whom have been brought in from outside the Indiana area.
There are roughly another 35 people working on the show’s post-production in California, where all the editing occurs. Sciavicco’s staff in South Bend will send its high-resolution footage to California two to four times per day, allowing editors to work on material that was shot as recently as five hours ago on campus, for instance.
Stone oversees the post-production component along with Tom Cappello, among others. Sciavicco said they speak 15 times per day. On his last cell-phone bill, Sciavicco ran up 7,200 minutes.
“We did the sad calculation; and that’s being on the phone for five consecutive days in one month,” Sciavicco quipped.
Three to five camera crews—each working 12- to 18-hour days—capture roughly 180 hours of footage each week, which gets slashed into 30 minutes for each Tuesday night, when the episodes air at 10 p.m. ET. The crews have been around for everything from team meetings and practice to classes and meals, following players and coaches to apartments, houses and hotel rooms since fall camp began in August.
“[Kelly] just said the cameras are gonna be here, don’t look at them, just act the way you usually would act because they’re going to be here all year,” Prosise said.
“It’s definitely weird just knowing that everything you do and say is on camera,” senior defensive end Romeo Okwara added. “So you definitely have to watch what you say sometimes for sure. It’s just something you have to get used to.”
“I don’t make it bigger than what it is,” outgoing and confident senior cornerback KeiVarae Russell said. “If I’m eating and they’re watching me, I just eat. I just eat. I’m not trying to eat a certain way. I’m being me. I’m just gonna eat regular. I’m just gonna do what I would do if they weren’t there.”
Like many of the Irish players, Fuller has had cameras trail him in multiple classes, including those in small classroom settings.
“In the classroom it’s real weird because you’ve got the students and the cameras are all on you and you’re looking around and you don’t know what to do, paying attention to the teacher, students looking at you, it’s real awkward,” Fuller said.
The players, though, are provided with access to watch the episodes and certainly don’t mind the finished product.
“It’s pretty cool. They make us look real good,” Fuller said.
“At times it can be a little much and be a little bit of a hassle. But it’s kind of cool to say you’re on a TV show and part of a TV show,” Prosise added.
All that footage and all those camera crews pay off, though, for Showtime when in the right spot. Sciavicco highlighted a scene from the show’s third episode, when quarterback DeShone Kizer candidly reflected on his path to the starting quarterback job, including when he “hit rock bottom” going into the summer and asked himself if he was playing the right sport.
“It was as real as real gets,” Sciavicco said. “That’s a kid just opening up his heart and his feelings and just giving you his real feelings at that time. That was cool to capture. … He didn’t have to be open like that in front of us.”
Similarly, Sciavicco said Showtime has not been shut out from any of Notre Dame’s myriad injuries, which he called “delicate moments.” And when the Irish suffered a heartbreaking two-point loss to Clemson on the road, Showtime was still there in the locker room.
“We had to earn the trust from Coach Kelly and his staff,” Sciavicco said. “I think we’ve done a good job of that. And I think the relationship has shown that on the screen.”
All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Mike Monaco is the lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.