Reflections: Creating a documentary on my grandfather as a young Nashville Filmmaker


The Big Time documentary chronicles the life of late Civil Rights Movement activist, TSSAA Hall of Fame Basketball Coach, teacher, father, and friend to many, Coach Sylvester Ford Sr., who was known to numerous people as “Big Time” and to me as grandad.

Since I’m a writer, in 2021 my grandad asked me to write a book about his life. Because of my growing interest in filmmaking, I suggested a documentary. He was still alive and many of the players he impacted were too. I figured it’d be great to capture his legacy through film while trying something I was interested in.

The nickname “Big Time” was given to him as a kid for his height, but he showed time and time again why his nickname was about way more than his looks– it’s also because he showed up big for his community in Memphis. 

The 90-minute documentary–which ended up being an 18-month project I completed outside my full-time job–was a labor of love for my grandad. In many ways, it was also a gift to myself: a reminder of the life I can, “should,” and want to live.

Coach Ford (far left) with one of his Fairley Bulldog teams.

The Life I Can Live

I’ve always been a storyteller: I can remember writing for fun as early as 2nd grade. As a first time director, this project, however, was by far the most ambitious. 

When I was preparing to film in February 2022, I spent a lot of time researching, talking to peers, and enrolling in “YouTube University” to learn more about everything from lighting, to sound, to mood. I talked to potential interviewees, pre-interviewing them to understand where their voice fit within the storyline I planned. I was simultaneously producer, director, writer, cinematographer, sound, and lighting for this project – and my cousin was my Production Assistant on locations. 

The early stages were marked by a can-do/just do it, spirit and vigor.  I was excited about the story and its impact. I filmed everything in the span of two weekends in February and March.

The Life I “Should” Live

When production wrapped in March 2022, however, the magnitude hit me. I conducted 11 interviews, all of them averaging ~20-25 minutes, with my grandparents’ interviews being nearly an hour or longer. Plus, I had lots of background (“b-roll”) footage. I was suddenly overwhelmed by the sheer amount of work. I’d never dealt with a project this size. 

I started with organizing the interviews and B-roll in my editing software. But in the subsequent months, I often felt stuck because I wasn’t ready to transcribe hours of footage and didn’t feel confident in my ability to edit a project this size with efficiency. 

My “can-do” spirit was replaced by a guilt-ridden “should” for much of May-July 2022. I should work on this project. I should hurry up. I should be transcribing. 

A standing ovation from a private, family and friends screening of Big Time on October 14, 2023.

The Life I Want to Live

One night in August 2022, my roommate and I were praying about next steps for me, and the next day a friend told me about a Film Academy through Nashville’s Women in Film and TV (WIFT) chapter. I immediately registered for this 3-month Academy that included industry lessons and experience on a short-film. Learning from industry professionals about legal best-practices and funding helped me regain momentum. I moved from a guilty “should” to want. I identified my wants: an editor, composer, animator, legal/LLC assistance, transcription tools, and more, and in October 2022, I launched a successful $7K crowdfund. 

I hired an editor, composer, and animator, purchased the transcription tools I needed to work on a script, and in June of 2023, we finished the film.

When the guilty “should” was replaced by “want,” I changed. As He had during the early stages, God aligned things right on time and gave me everything I needed for every step of the way. 

Living Big Time

All of this reminds me of something my grandad used to tell his students: “you can be anything you want to be. It’s up to you. You have the ability, you have the desire and you want it. That’s the main thing.” In a profound way, the completion of this project has shown me the tried and trueness of the wisdom, faith, and love my grandad practiced and preached through his own life. 

Living “Big Time” for my grandad–and now for me–is about living beyond ourselves: dreaming beyond ourselves, serving beyond ourselves, and following through. It doesn’t happen without a support system, preparation, and diligence – and when it does happen, it is miraculous and Big Time.

Coach Ford passed on August 7, 2023. He saw the documentary several times before then and he loved it. He also learned about his induction into the Memphis Sports Hall of Fame a few weeks before he passed. The Big Time documentary is not publicly available at this time due to festival submissions. You can learn more about the film on RL Blue Media’s website.


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