By Nina Shu
Rather than showing up in kneepads and an athletic uniform, Elwin van Alst comes to the volleyball court with camera equipment, microphones and an artistic vision.
As the producer, sound designer and videographer behind the documentary series “Ryerson Women’s Volleyball 24/7” (WVB 24/7), van Alst committed his final year of film studies at Ryerson to following and filming the women’s volleyball team on their journey to the 2017 U Sports national championship, a tournament Ryerson hosted in March.
Producing a documentary series consists of hundreds of hours of shooting, editing and sound production, tasks often split among several crew members; van Alst was WVB 24/7’s only crew member, and now he’s been nominated for a College Sports Media Award (CSMA) for outstanding program series for his efforts.
“I didn’t do the series to win awards,” van Alst admits. “But it’s definitely great to get some recognition for all the hard work that we put into the series. To see that recognized on such a scale is amazing.”
Every year, the Sports Media Awards recognize outstanding video production work done by college students across Canada and the U.S. The content selected ranges from live-game production to marketing campaigns, and the awards can act as a solid springboard for any student interested in working in sport media. The awards are a joint effort between the Sports Video Group and the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics.
Van Alst isn’t the first Ryerson student nominated for a CSMA—in 2015, a broadcast of Ryerson’s men’s hockey team scored a nomination— but when the winners are announced on June 1 in Atlanta, he could be the first Ryerson student to take home an award.
WVB 24/7 Episode 1:
Since high school, van Alst has known that he wanted to produce videos. On top of the film courses he took, along with other side projects, he worked on broadcasts and short feature videos for the Kingston Frontenacs.
Though the Frontenacs glided on the ice, van Alst’s journey to Ryerson’s film studies program wasn’t nearly as smooth. Despite his experience, van Alst was rejected by both the film studies and media production programs. He spent his first year enrolled in performance production instead.
Nonetheless, van Alst approached the athletics department to get some work doing what he loved.
“I contacted them and said ‘Hey, this is what I’ve done in the past and this is what I’d like to keep on doing and I think it might be a really good fit for both of us,’” van Alst said.
He was right about compatibility. Since then, van Alst has shot footage for men’s hockey coaches to pore over, put together broadcasts and webcasts, and produced short videos for various Ryerson teams.
“He’s very talented,” said Jim McLarty, the communications and new media coordinator for Ryerson Athletics. For four years, McLarty supervised the content van Alst produced for the sports information department.
“As a film student, he has more of a cinematic [eye] for storytelling as opposed to someone in sport media,” McLarty continued.
When the idea for a season-long documentary series was suggested, choosing van Alst to produce it “was a no-brainer.”
“I knew he could pull off almost anything we asked him to,” McLarty added.
With Ryerson hosting the national championships, McLarty felt it an ideal opportunity to focus on women’s volleyball and female athletes at Ryerson. He had a plan in mind and the perfect student to execute it, so McLarty reached out to Dustin Reid, the head coach of the women’s volleyball team.
“When I first met Elwin, it was clear he had a vision for what he wanted to articulate through the project and I was excited about being a part of it,” Reid said. “It’s amazing, the ability of a filmmaker like him.”
A veteran of nearly 20 seasons of high-level volleyball, Reid has only two photos to show from his entire playing career, so it was obvious to him how important van Alst’s project would be to his players as their careers, professional or collegiate, drew to a close.
“It’s a gift that’ll last forever for all the players on our team.”
Before meeting with the team, van Alst was already familiar with the players from his time working in the sports information department. There was only one problem: none of them knew who he was.
Initially, the players had to get used to his presence. Soon, however, they noticed when van Alst wasn’t around.
“If I went a week without seeing them, they’d be like, ‘Where’ve you been? It’s been forever,” he laughed.
Jena Bonello, a middle blocker for the Rams, considered van Alst a close friend by the time the season ended.
“As a team, we were able to act 100 per cent authentic because we trusted Elwin,” Bonello said. “If we were upset or if we were playing badly, he felt it too.”
This was especially true at the national championships when the last-seeded Rams were pitted against the University of Alberta Pandas, the top-ranked team in the tournament.
Van Alst took the players aside 10 minutes before the players took their positions.
“I have something to show you,” he said.
Van Alst showed a super-cut of all of the bloopers the Rams made during his season of documentation. Amid the tension in the Ryerson huddle, smiles and laughs began to emerge.
“He kept all those moments,” Bonello said. “He really lightens the mood in a lot of situations, and that’s just one time that I can think of off the top of my head.”
As thankful as Bonello is for van Alst’s work, he’s even more grateful for the chance to capture the Rams’ season from behind the lens.
“This was the first opportunity I had to really sink in and be welcomed into a team and feel part of a team myself,” he said.
On June 1, van Alst won the award for outstanding program series by a collegiate student, making Ryerson the first school outside of the US to win at the CSMAs