Lawrence Phillips had the potential to be one of football’s greatest players. The running back led his team at the University of Nebraska to two championships, was a front-runner for the Heisman trophy and played in the NFL for several years. But instead of a thriving career, Phillips’ continual violent assaults on women landed him in prison, where he was found dead in his cell in January 2016. In the new Showtime documentary, “Running For His Life: The Lawrence Phillips Story,” producer and former president of HBO Sports Ross Greenburg set out to examine the life of the troubled football player and explore why these instances of domestic violence are all too common among professional athletes.
“I thought it was important to do this documentary to show that these are not just headlines and to better understand why these incidents happen where professional athletes throw their lives away. They’re not just a haphazard incident,” Greenburg said. “We were just looking for some answers and when you do that, you look for the imagery that’s going to help you best tell your story.”
Greenburg partnered with Getty Images to find the right images to complement the video footage of the documentary.
“We start out the process by shooting original film of all the relevant places we reference throughout the documentary, like his high school, his foster homes, and the institution where he ended up, but photography becomes an essential factor when you have a historic story you’re trying to tell,” he said. “You have to mine through the hundreds of pictures to find the photographs that will add a little texture to the story. In the right setting with the right music and the right narration these images become very powerful moments in the documentary. The most important thing when looking for imagery is to work with the deepest archive, with the biggest selection of the best photos and Getty’s done a great job of that.”
Through imagery, Greenburg and his team were able to add depth to the film and further enhance the story they were trying to tell.
“This Lawrence Philips film is a dark, eerie story; it’s very powerful and it stirs up a lot of emotion because there’s a deep sadness to it. You look for the photos and imagery that will best represent and communicate that to the audience,” Greenburg said. “Powerful photos have the ability to button up a documentary and help fill in the loose ends. They can really punctuate certain moments and emphasize your story.”
While video is the predominant medium used for documentaries, still images provide a creative liberty to tell a story in a way that video simply can’t.
“There are those magic photographs that give you more of a sense of drama. When you inch in and zoom in on the person’s face and play off the music, it can be very powerful,” he said. “Lots of documentarians always think of video first but if it’s the right image and you can do those little pushes, it can really feel like something special.
They say, a picture’s worth a thousand words, but a picture’s also worth a thousand pieces of video.”“Running For His Life: The Lawrence Phillips Story” premieres on December 16th at 9PM/ET on Showtime. Discover more images of Lawrence Phillips at Getty Images.