Chris Cardoza Hangs with J.J. Watt for Reebok

Feb 1, 2019
Photographer Spotlight

Boston-based photographer Chris Cardoza is no stranger to photography for a cause: last April he photographed and filmed the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace in Rwanda. So he was an obvious choice to shoot the campaign for Reebok's new sneaker, the JJ II Valor Edition. It's the latest in a series of training shoes designed by Houston Texan defensive end J.J. Watt, but what distinguishes the Valor Edition from past models is that Watt co-designed the Valor with a Navy SEAL. Watt will donate all personal profits from the shoe to the Navy SEAL Danny Dietz Foundation, and for every pair of Valor Edition sold Reebok will donate a pair of JJ II training shoes to the Navy SEAL foundation.

Chris visited Watt's home in Houston to capture candid video and stills of Watt's consultation with Reebok designers and an (anonymous) retired Navy SEAL. Check out the end product, along with Chris's commentary, below.

How did you become involved with this project?

Reebok has been a client of mine for over 5 years. They actually helped me start my career right after college when I was given an in-house video production temp contract with them. After a year there, I went on my own and immediately started taking on projects with a variety of groups within their company. Since then, I have shot a lot of their athletes and celebrity assets, including Victoria Beckham, Nina Dobrev and Aly Raisman. I photographed and filmed J.J. [Watt] on two separate occasions before this project, which is why Reebok invited me down to Houston, given the intimacy of the shoot. Photographing and filming simultaneously in a documentary setting has kind of become my specialty, and they needed someone whom both Reebok and J.J. trusted. 

JJ Watt, Navy SEAL, and Reebok designers photographed by Chris Cardoza

You mentioned that you weren't allowed to bring any assistants or crew out of respect for the retired Navy SEAL.

The greatest challenge with capturing this meeting was respecting the SEAL’s anonymity. The Navy SEAL community is famous for being “silent heroes,” and I was under strict guidelines to not show his face or any special markings. Thankfully, his hands and voice were acceptable. Before the meeting began I strategically placed J.J. and the Reebok designers directly across from each other so that I could shoot over the SEAL’s shoulders and hands while focusing on J.J. On top of the shot boundaries, I was the only crew member allowed to join - which meant I was running sound, filming, and photographing. This can be challenging, but in my experience keeping everything super simple is the only way to execute a shoot successfully. I had a lot of experience working with J.J., who was extremely helpful and open to documenting this, and had interacted with Navy SEALs for previous projects, so everything went smoothly.

JJ Watt, Navy SEAL, and Reebok designers photographed by Chris Cardoza

How much time did you have to create all this content, and how do you handle switching between motion and still images when you have to capture both??

We were at J.J.'s home for about three hours. For about two-and-a-half hours I shot their meetings, and during breaks I was able to shoot a quick interview, B-roll, and additional stills. Since I was also the editor on the project, I helped craft some of the interview questions to fit the storyline. This helped immensely in post-production and sped up the edit. Capturing stills, motion, and sound - simultaneously and without assistance - is definitely tricky, ​but I have a ton of experience in high-pressure situations doing this. For those interested in the technical approach, I mic’d up each of the four subjects as soon as we arrived and spent about five minutes just monitoring their sound levels before the meeting. Then, I set the recorder and recorded for about three hours without any cuts. I had one static camera always on, on a tripod with a wide enough shot to show everyone. I held my second camera on a shoulder rig. This second camera was a Canon 1Dx Mark II, since I needed high-quality footage and great stills . . . I would just feel out the moments to decide when I could switch to stills.

JJ Watt photographed by Chris Cardoza

What has the reaction to the video and images been so far?

The reaction has been great! J.J. and Reebok love the video and have used it to promote the launch of the shoe. Reebok’s goal has always been to show how hands on and authentic J.J. is in terms of shoe development and they feel this work nailed that. The video now lives on the J.J. Watt Reebok home page

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