The art of the big tournament TV montage

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There was a B-side to Euro ’96.

While Three Lions backed England’s giddy run to the semi-finals, another song soundtracked the comedown.

It was picked by TV producers Craig South and Jonathan Sides.

Tasked with putting together a montage of England’s tournament, the pair chose Cast’s Walkaway, a Britpop lament for lost causes and bitter ends, for the closing music.

Their work doesn’t exist anywhere online.

But for a generation of England fans, that riff instantly brings to mind grey shirts on a dark night, trudging away from what might have been.

In 2018, some of those same images were put to a new song. For a new set of fans, to tell a new story.

Before England’s World Cup quarter-final against Sweden, Gary Lineker introduced a two-minute film.

Over the sweeping strings of The National’s ‘England’, it brought together the team’s miserable shootout history and their occasional moments of glory with their success over Colombia four days before.

It ended with the music fading out and Gareth Southgate, 1996’s fall guy, 2018’s head coach, bellowing into the stands with joy.

It struck a chord.

“Easily one of the best things I’ve ever seen. Goosebumps,” an England fan wrote as he posted the film online. external-link

And Twitter agreed. The video in that post has been viewed 2.3 million times and retweeted more than 22,000 times.

“Montages are massive for us,” said Mark Woodward, BBC Football’s creative lead.

“Without wishing to sound too pretentious, all TV is about creating something in the viewer.

“Montages are there to create emotion. They get that visceral anticipation going, but they also bring you back to the past, to where you were when these great moments happened, the places you were, the people you were with, how the country felt.”

Creating them used to be a simpler, if more stressful job.

Often up against deadlines, producers would physically cut tape together, their creativity limited by a handful of camera angles and whatever music library their employers had built up.

Now there are more than 40 cameras tracking the action at each Euro 2020 match, serving up footage in slow motion, super slow-motion and ultra slow-motion. A host of effects and filters can be added in the edit suite.

As the production values have risen, the concepts have become more ambitious.

Before Wales’ opening match against Switzerland on BBC One, goalkeeper and part-time artist Owain Fon Williams painted scenes of Euro 2016 that came to life.

Scotland’s arrival at a first international tournament in 23 years was greeted with a fly-through of the country and its football history, from the Glenfinnan viaduct to David Marshall’s shootout save.

But one thing is still more important than anything: the music.

“I don’t like to do the expected,” explained Woodward.

“The danger with montages is thinking one size fits all. You might have a new single, something by Cardi B say. It might be great, current and in the charts.

“But you really have to drill down into what you want to say and what you want the music to do.

“I have used classical music, Polish folk bands, Arabian Oud music before, the more eclectic you can be the better.

“You can get inspiration from anywhere, it might be a snippet of a track on a documentary, something in the background of a film, anywhere.”

Kevin Evans found it in John Lewis.

Evans, Woodward’s opposite number at BT Sport, was shopping one day when something caught his ear. He ran to the store’s speaker to Shazamexternal-link the intriguing track.

But, for a special occasion, both Evans and Woodward like to bring more than a recording to a montage.

Biffy Clyro reworked a track called This is the One for BBC’s Scotland campaign opener. And BT Sport marked the end of this Champions League with an epic four-minute film featuring indie pop band London Grammar.external-link

“The biggest thing for me is music, that is the biggest element, that is the hook, that is where you get the hairs on the back of the neck,” said Evans.

Chelsea fans London Grammar soundtracked BT Sport's closing Champions League montage
Chelsea fans London Grammar soundtracked BT Sport’s closing Champions League montage

“We went to London Grammar with our story board of the concept which involved bringing out the elements through the year, the snow, the heat, the rain.

“The song was Lose Your Head, which references a mirror in the first verse and we wanted to have that reflective element. We built a reflective stage, with reflective flooring and then with the effects were a lot of mirrored shots in transition between the match footage and the band’s performance.”

Planning for the montage started in January, with Evans and his team editing for 10 days to weave the band’s performance with action.

Woodward has a shorter timeframe. His team started planning the Euros’ closing montage in mid-June, after the first round of matches, before England’s run stretched to the final.

The aim is always the same. To bottle the lightning of the live moment. To capture the sensation of a summer. To move people.

“When the music, the concept, and the pictures all chime together perfectly, that’s when you hit the motherlode,” Woodward said.

After Sunday’s final, when the credits roll, when football has either come home or walked away once more, we’ll see if he succeeds.

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