Nick Finney staff profile: Fake Downing video and #AVFCLIVE
Have you ever wondered who produced the now-famous video of Stewart Downing nudging four balls into four dustbins?
If so, step forward Nick Finney, the club's multimedia operations manager.
Finney - along with former designer Mark Clayton - were charged back in 2009 with creating imaginative content for our upcoming season ticket campaign.
After several meetings with marketing chiefs, the concept of players doing extraordinary things on camera was born.
They would take the form of short teasers, uploaded on YouTube and professing to be archive clips mysteriously 'leaked' from the club.
First up was Carlos Cuellar dismantling a lawnmower with a single boot of the ball because its whirring noises were putting him off in an interview.
John Carew then hammered a shot into the large Villa Park crest sign to stop it flickering. James Milner managed to chip four balls into four dustbins - off the crossbar, no less! - while Ashley Young donned a blindfold before prodding four balls against the crossbar.
If you genuinely thought this was claret and blue magic, I'm afraid it wasn't!
Finney spent many, many hours up at Bodymoor Heath alongside marketing executives, co-ordinating, managing and shooting the players from several angles.
Then came the arduous task of using the latest digital technology to enhance the shots to make our star names look superhuman!
"That was great fun to work on," said Finney. "When the idea was agreed upon, we all knew it would be a fantastic project.
"Players doing anything on video is always popular with fans so to make them look like magicians was always going to be lapped up.
"There were a lot of people who thought it was real.
"That was the trick, making them look amazing doing incredible things but not going ridiculously overboard. I think we pulled it off.
"I know everyone who worked on that project, people like Russell Jones and Dan Meredith, were very proud afterwards and rightly so. It showed that when it comes to marketing ideas and following them through via video content, we're up there with the best in the Premier League."
Finney was already well-respected at the club when that assignment was first mooted.
The 33-year-old joined Villa the previous year after a long and exciting journey into the claret and blue ether.
Starting out at the University at Derby on a multimedia technology and music production degree in 2000, it didn't take him long to cut his teeth in the real world.
By his second year he was already working in the industry as a freelance sound assistant at Liverpool, West Ham, West Brom, Wolves and Everton.
While others were attending lectures and downing pints in the student union, Finney was already progressing his career.
He was soon booked to help shoot the DVD of the Gorillaz UK Tour over five nights in Manchester.
His initial role was as a camera assistant but the show's director - Grant G, who won a Grammy Award for his work with Radiohead - was so impressed with his output that he was soon promoted to senior cameraman.
His work was varied, training his camera on different locations over the week-long filming stint.
He partied with Gorillaz guest artists Shaun Ryder and Neneh Cherry after each gig but it didn't stop the final product being absolutely sparkling.
Other interesting work followed including being associate producer at the LG Action Sports Championships at the MEN Arena, which involved skilful skateboard aces.
The event was a real challenge, going out to eighteen countries worldwide. But again, it was no problem!
Finally, when Villa installed I15s - the large screens that revolve around the ground - Finney was called in to train claret and blue staff in the uploading of content and the management of the system.
He impressed so much that then head of media Steve Tudgay offered him a full-time job at Villa Park, a position he was quick to accept due to the club's superb standing in the game.
His role initially was that of media assistant, looking after the I15s, editing the block television programme, which went out to 77 countries worldwide and AVTV, the club's in-house online television channel.
However, over the past few years, his role has progressed and changed markedly from content through the week to operations on a matchday.
In fact his latest brainchild has had a dramatic effect on matchday production.
Originally, Villa's matchday television content - across all platforms - came from a mish-mash of locations and was sent out via archaic equipment.
Finney came up with an ingenious plan to bring the content-creation and content-output in-house, with state-of-the-art kit, housed in a specific area of the ground.
The plan was given the go-ahead much to Finney's delight and will drastically save the club money in the long-run.
"It's a great system. We can now bring in all the live content into the one place - live feeds from around the ground, pitchside videos, commentary from the gantry. Before content was flying off to about four different locations, now it's centralised in the one place.
"We can control how that content is used. We bring it in and then send it back out to concourses, big screens, hospitality boxes, you name it.
"The tools we have now - things like switching equipment and vision mixers - it enables us to provide more for the fans enjoyment too - live scores, stats, timings and even Twitter feeds using the #AVFCLIVE hashtag. That's been received fantastically well - there's nothing better than having your name light-up in your favourite football stadium!
"It's superb that we can now have a proper live experience at a home match.
"I am proud of how it's evolved. I just feel overall the product is slicker for supporters to enjoy - and most importantly the fan feedback has been good."
Ensuring the matchday experience is glittering involves ten staff, with early-morning briefings and checks before content is sent out live an hour before kick-off.
This involves pre-prepared material, ironically created by wife - and video production manager Lucy - such as exclusive video interviews with players, highlights, sponsor messages, goals compilations, safety information and ticket updates on upcoming games.
Finney co-ordinates all this content as well as acting as a floor manager, liaising with the referee to find out intricate details pre-match to help the content flow properly in the run-up to kick-off, half-time and full-time.
If you think the matchday experience is much better now, there are still plenty of ideas in the pipeline. But that's for another day...
Make sure you're here to back the boys against Norwich City.
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