James Weiner can often be spotted along the sidelines of Haddonfield soccer and basketball games, both cheering on his kids and taking video footage of the action.
Weiner then goes home and emails 30-second clips of the highlights to all of the players’ parents—who likely don’t realize those videos come from a four-time Emmy-winning NFL Films senior producer. He may be a little less visible with the start of the NFL season scheduled for tonight. But don't count on it.
Around Haddonfield, Weiner is more recognized as a parent, husband and neighbor. And though Weiner doesn’t wear his job on his sleeve, his lifelong affinity for sports and eye for detail eventually expose him as a professional sports storyteller.
Until recently, that is.
Weiner’s new hobby, I Am South Jersey, is a compilation of 60-second spots featuring local business owners who tell their stories in 200 words or less, with the producer’s assistance. The videos may move a viewer to tears; it is difficult to watch any of the spots just once. Something about the minute you spend with each subject draws you back for another look.
“The spots are not advertisements or commercials,” Weiner says. “Spots on IamSouthJersey.com are stories, specifically video stories on the Internet. They are personal. They tell the tale of who that person is and why it is they do what they do ... and in turn, they act as advertisements for that person's vocation or small business.”
After interviewing Little Sport business owner Jen Baker Leonard this summer, Patch discovered the man behind her video on I Am South Jersey and decided to go in for a closer look.
Future Career Emerges in Childhood
Weiner appears laid back, thoughtful, friendly. He recalls writing full game commentaries of NFL games as a 6-year-old in his parents’ home in Port Washington, NY.
“Exit 36 on the Long Island Expressway,” he adds.
Weiner has the game scripts to prove he started writing about football at such a young age. The players he wrote about then match up to the players who were on the field, almost 40 years ago.
“Football was my first love. By third grade, I knew I wasn’t big enough or tough enough to play, so I created games using playroom floor tiles as 5-yard markers and doorways as goal posts,” Weiner said. “I announced the games.”
He also documented the commentary in scripts that his mother saved. The “game stories” as he refers to them, hang today in his office at NFL Films in Mt. Laurel. One game story involves NFL fullback, Robert Newhouse, placing the script accurately back in 1977, during Newhouse’s career with the Dallas Cowboys.
The 6-year-old back in Port Washington set himself on a sports journalism path. After graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, Weiner took television jobs, including an ESPN stint. He joined NFL Films in 2001, and has worked as a senior producer there for nearly a decade, earning four Emmy Awards for his work.
Athletics to Entrepreneurship
So why South Jersey small business stories? Why on the Internet? Why now?
“When the NFL lockout happened this past March, I decided I owed it to myself to try it,” Weiner explains. “It was something that I thought I could do myself. I wouldn’t need a lot of help.”
Work on the videos turned out to be “very gratifying and fairly easy for me to do,” Weiner adds.
For now, the spots on I Am South Jersey don’t cost anything. Weiner doesn’t consider them advertising spots, per se.
Jen Leonard of Little Sport and Scott Kegler of Wahoo Insurance Programs both share stories of their businesses on I Am South Jersey. “He’s one of my favorite people,” Kegler says of Weiner. Kegler left a career in insurance consulting to start his own business this past May.
“For me, I’m just getting started and here’s a guy who tells stories about professional athletes who can tell my story through a video that’s quick and harder to do in print,” Kegler says of his experience as a Weiner subject. “He said he needed a test case.”
Kegler turned out to be the first video.
When asked if his website considers South Jersey an underdog, Weiner replies, “All local businesses are underdogs,” and more acutely, “There is always a story of a struggle, about taking a chance and betting on yourself. It’s very compelling.”
He says his first priority is his work at NFL Films. He has been intrigued by the feedback I Am South Jersey has seen in its first month of existence. It says something to him about how business needs to personalize itself in today’s market.
“I think it has become important to differentiate yourself some, to break away from the clutter,” he explains. “Technology combined with the Internet makes everything more accessible and less expensive. … People who never thought they could afford to advertise can efficiently with video on the Internet.”
He left Patch with a quote from NFL Films’ “heart and soul,” Steve Sabol, who quotes his own father, Ed Sabol, in saying, “Tell me a fact and I’ll learn. Tell me a truth and I’ll believe. Tell me a story and it will live in my heart for forever.”