Behind the Work in association withThe Immortal Awards

Behind the Work: Putting a Stick in the Ground for Women’s Hockey

London, UK
David Hicks and Darren Clarke, who together form Clarke+David, speak to Addison Capper about a duo of new films for the Professional Women's Hockey Players Association aiming to create a bright future for female hockey players
Like countless sports around the world, women's hockey is sadly lacking behind its male equivalent in funding, popularity and opportunity. A women's professional league exists - the NWHL - but a majority of the world's best female hockey players do not see it as a long-term solution and have resisted joining, instead forming the PWHPA (Professional Women's Hockey Players Association), a nonprofit 501 organisation dedicated to advocating for the promotion of professional women's ice hockey. Two new films aim to support and further the conversation. 

They were created by Clarke+David, a creative / directing / editing duo of David Hicks, a Canadian director repped by Feels Like Home and former editor and founder of School Editing, and Darren Clarke, a freelance creative director and former chief creative officer at McCann Canada and executive creative director at TAXI. Their vision for Clarke+David is to bring their expertise and experience to smaller clients that need direct work. In this instance they were inspired by the hockey team of Darren's daughter, of which he's been the coach for the past 10 years. The players would approach the rink with the same passion and work ethic as boys, but few would ever discuss the prospect of playing pro. 

"They listened deeply to understand the importance and delicacy of our messaging," said Jayna Hefford, the current chairperson of the PWHPA and former ice hockey player. "The final project was on point and verified to all that Clarke+David were the right team telling the story."

LBB's Addison Capper chatted with David and Darren to find out more.

LBB> How did this project come about? And why was it something that you both wanted to get involved in?

David> I reached out to Jayna to see if there was something we could do to help create some awareness for the women’s game. They were getting ready to start their Dream Gap series and wanted a video of the players expressing their desire to build a sustainable professional league. 

LBB> Going into the project, what did you know about women's hockey? And how did you familiarise yourself with the sport and its relevant issues for this project?

David> My partner, Darren Clarke, the ‘Clarke’ in Clarke+David, spent the last 10 years coaching his daughter’s competitive hockey team and said to me, “They come to the rink with the same passion and work ethic as boys. But unlike the boys, I never hear them talk of playing professional hockey”. We wanted this project to help change those expectations. 

LBB> What is Clarke+David? And what does it do?

David> Clarke+David redefines the traditional agency creative team by combining a creative director and commercial director/editor into one team. It allows both of us to work with the client from first inception of an idea all the way to a finished edit. We’re excited about this new creative team model being a positive solution for a lot of clients looking for video content that is quicker, cheaper and with our expertise, better. 

LBB> Can you tell us a bit about the issues surrounding women's hockey, and why this piece of work was needed in the first place.

David> There is a women’s professional league that exists, the NWHL (National Women’s Hockey League). But a majority of the world’s best players don’t see it as a long term solution. That’s why they’ve resisted joining and instead formed the PWHPA. 

We created these videos because they needed to inform people why they were standing together, lack of a sustainable league, and that it was time to do something about it.

The second video was a show of support for their stance.

LBB> You worked direct with the client - what was the creative process like? What was the brief from them? And how did you get to the final idea?

David> This was an ideal project for our company Clarke+David because our client was open to any ideas that would help promote the PWHPA and their stance. 

Strategically we felt they first needed to inform people why they were doing what they were doing… and then show everyone the amount of high profile support they were getting.

Creatively we wanted to strip everything away from the production and just let these professional athletes tell us their frustrations. What they described sounded very much like a typical men’s beer league. We thought this would open a lot of eyes to what their reality has been and why they’re speaking out. 

It also introduces the #stickintheground social component. Which is then amplified in the second video with the show of support from the professional sports world, politics, etc.

LBB> What inspired the stick in the ground idea? And why was it right for the project?

David> The #stickintheground call to action came from a PR firm that was working with the PWHPA. How to bring that to life in TV and video was our task.

LBB> Both films are really reliant on interviews - how did you work together (as director and editor) to ensure that you both had what you needed to make the best films possible?

David> After years of sitting in a dark edit room and watching hours of footage, I’ve become trained to watch my directing monitor with an editor’s eye. I’m constantly looking for pieces or audio bites while I shoot to best tell the story in the edit room. 

LBB> What kind of conversations did you have? And how did you coax out the stories you needed for the films?

David> These are non-actors and more specifically in this case, professional athletes. It wasn’t easy to get them to open up and express their stories without them sounding like they’re being interviewed between the first and second intermission. But, I found I did find some success when I had them talk about their childhood and family memories. And also, how being a girl in the hockey world made you feel. I was surprised at the large percentage of these professional women hockey players that had brothers that were a major influence on them growing up playing hockey. 

LBB> The edit on the longer film is very dynamic - how did you achieve this? Was it more about getting the interviewees to say the right things, or working with what you had to build that effect? Tell us about the process! 

David> The players and celebrities supplied their own videos, so I was at the mercy of their own selfie skills. The main challenges were: get as many people in as possible, to give it scale. Communicate the message of why they’re putting a stick in the ground. Make it watchable and entertaining. And, oh yeah, don’t make it look like every other support video that’s out there. I think the final product looked pretty good and hopefully the message was heard.

LBB> What were the trickiest components and how did you overcome them?

David> Again, was not having the control of the footage that I received for the support video. The solve: keep it short and in some cases embrace the honesty of self shot video.

LBB> Any parting thoughts?

David> We really enjoyed working with Jayna Hefford and the PWPHA on this project. We believe very strongly in their cause and our dream is that in the near future the NHL and the PWHPA will form a new ‘Original 6’ for Women’s Professional Hockey. Just imagine the Toronto Maple Leaf women’s team playing the New York Rangers women’s hockey team for the championship. We’d watch. 

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