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The Making of Filmstudy

The Road to RSR The Making of Filmstudy

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RSR’s Answer to a Beautiful Mind

I grew up in Baltimore just over a mile from Memorial Stadium. With the success of the Colts and Orioles in the early-mid 1970s, most of the kids were sports junkies.

I started going to every Orioles game in 1979. When I was in the State that would continue until 2002.

During that time…

• The first Baseball Abstract was published nationally in 1982, bringing Sabermetrics to a much broader audience
• My friend Dave Hollander and I developed a database for the 1984-87 Orioles seasonsThe Making of Filmstudy
• That data was tagged in a number of ways that would allow us to slice and dice it in ways we take for granted today, like batter vs. pitcher stats, by inning, base/out situation, or score
• I did pitch-by-pitch scoring in the press box for Stats Inc during the 1990s

The beard…yeah…I don’t know what I was thinking.

With that as a backdrop, I went off to college looking to become a sportscaster. I got my degree in Broadcast Journalism from Syracuse in 1986. Syracuse has churned out a number of outstanding sportscasters, including my contemporaries Mike Tirico (ESPN/MNF) and Dan Hoard (voice of the Bengals). Unfortunately, that made it painfully obvious I wasn’t going to be good enough for a play-by-play job.

I knew then I didn’t want to be sports director for a country music station at age 50, so I went on for a math degree, which I completed 2 years later and became an actuary.

Being an actuary is a lot more fun than it sounds. You get to solve problems, the people you work with are smart, and as a pricing actuary, you have a role like a casino manager. One of the important things is to explain topics effectively, so I didn’t have to tell my parents they threw all that money away supporting my broadcasting dreams.

I spent 27 years as an actuary and the career was good to me, but I always wanted to get back to the fundamental sports modeling I’d been part of in the 1980s. There were just a couple of problems…the Orioles were in the midst of 14 straight losing seasons and the analysis of baseball had a throng of participants.

By contrast, in 2006 football analytics was still a green field. Information on the defense was difficult to come by, particularly any information on personnel changes, alignments, or the pass rush.

So I developed a participation-by-play system which tracks on-field personnel for every defensive snap and is still the basis of much of what I write for RSR (although I wasn’t there just yet). At first I posted data and observations on several local websites under the handle “Filmstudy”.

The next year, Tony Lombardi contacted me about writing an online column for which there were 3 key elements:

• It would be unpaid
• I would maintain publishing rights and have editorial control for my material
• It would be unpaid

We fast forward to 2015. I was about to enter my 10th season of this sort of analysis and decided the timing was finally right for me to do this full time. I quit my job at Transamerica in time to be a regular training camp attendee. In the off season I’ve been working backwards through old video to fill in the years for which I was missing data. I’ve now completed back to the beginning of 1999, the season where the Ravens finally turned the corner.

In addition to a piece each week on the defense, I created a system for grading offensive linemen each play. I publish those results weekly during the season, the archives of which are linked here.

One person who gets almost no recognition is my better half, Maureen. We’ve been together since 1996 and she’s unbelievably supportive of this effort. To give you an idea what this means for a typical 1:00 home game in bullet form:

• (12:00) We leave for the game
• (1:00) Maureen keeps an in-game scorecard of players in the secondary on every play, since that can be difficult to get from the broadcast video
• (4:00) We rush home afterwards and build the defensive scoresheetThe Making of Filmstudy
• (5:30) She cooks dinner and takes care of the dogs while I do the defensive scoring
• (7:00) We enter the defensive information in the database so I can use it for my article
• (7:30) She records defensive notes. That’s me giving some commentary on most plays that I use for the (Q, T) references in a typical article. Not only is it enormously more efficient to have her record these notes, but I can’t read my own handwriting, so it has much more value to me.
• (9:00) We’re done with notes and her 9-hour commitment to football is over for Sunday
• (9:00-2:00 AM) I write my piece and submit it for publication, usually early Monday morning.

Maureen and I typically do the offensive line scoring on Monday night, which is another 3-hour commitment on her part.

We enjoy traveling, much of which is for football (we’ve been to 36 NFL stadiums) including every Ravens playoff game. In addition, she’s comfortable with a house that’s pretty much built around watching sports. I think a few pictures (see below) can underscore this better.

If you’re interested in writing for RSR, I’d offer a few comments:

• Don’t do it for the money
• It’s a passionate group of fans who enjoy talking football
• The regular writers are asked for “knee-jerk reactions” to events as they occur and there are other opportunities for fun collaborative pieces
• Derek Arnold and Tyler Lombardi run the site on a day-to-day basis and provide useful advice for the social-media challenged
• They help make the pieces look nice with photos and graphs
• It’s a good place to develop writing samples for your first job

But most of all, it provides a space to record my own diary of football observations, experiences, and predictions in real time. If you value that, you’ll probably enjoy writing for RSR.

Thanks for reading.

The Making of Filmstudy The Making of Filmstudy

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Ken McKusick

About Ken McKusick

Known as “Filmstudy” from his handle on area message boards, Ken is a lifelong Baltimorean and rabid fan of Baltimore sports. He grew up within walking distance of Memorial Stadium and attended all but a handful of Orioles games from 1979 through 2001. He got his start in sports modeling with baseball in the mid 1980’s. He began writing about the Ravens in 2006 and maintains a library of video for every game the team has played. He’s a graduate of Syracuse with degrees in Broadcast Journalism and Math who recently retired from his actuarial career to pursue his passion as a football analyst full time. If you have math or modeling questions related to sports or gambling, Ken is always interested in hearing new problems or ideas. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or followed on Twitter @filmstudyravens. More from Ken McKusick


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