BOULDER — Van Wells will soon have his own IMDb page, which kind of blows his mind into a million little pieces. But not nearly as many pieces as it does for his pals back in Houston.
“Yeah, I’ve got some homeboys who are always sending me stuff (where) I don’t even know that’s out there,” the CU Buffs’ sophomore center said of his newfound Internet video fame. “They’ll send me a different video (and say), ‘Look at you, look at you.’ I’m like, ‘(Darn), I didn’t even know that was out.’”
Wells, a chiseled, 290-pound blocker and one of only a handful of 2022 CU starters still with the football program, knows his close-up is coming — whether he likes it or not.
Regardless of how many games they actually win, this fall will feature the most-filmed, most-documented, most-exposed, and maybe the most talked-about — at least, nationally — football team in Buffs history.
Last December, CU football became “The Deion Sanders Show.” And that show means the cameras almost never stop rolling.
From Day 1 of his tenure in Boulder, Coach Prime’s had at least three dedicated YouTube channels cranking out daily content on the Buffs, most notably via the Well Off Media feed run by Deion Sanders Jr., the coach’s son.
But the largest cameras following the Buffs around over the last eight-and-a-half months have belonged to the crew that’s shooting Season 4 of “Coach Prime,” a documentary series that’s followed Deion Sanders’ journey from his highly successful tenure at Jackson State to his first Power 5 opportunity at CU.
The first two seasons of the show aired via Barstool Sports’ YouTube account, while Season 3, which focused on Coach Prime’s last with the Tigers, was made available for streaming via Amazon’s Prime Video service.
Prime Video is also contracted to air Season 4. The show is expected to debut before the end of the year, although officials at SMAC, the entertainment company that produces the show and manages Coach Prime’s business affairs, declined to speculate on Amazon’s specific timetable. (The first episode of Season 3 dropped last Dec. 29.)
“I’ve been doing this for 20 years, and over the last six or seven months, I’ve had people I’ve known for years (reveal to) me that they’re CU alums,” FredAnthony Smith, head of unscripted development at SMAC and one of the show’s co-producers, told The Post.
“I’m like, ‘Wait a minute. You went to CU?’ These are people I’ve worked with for the past 15-20 years and they’re so excited about (Sanders) and I didn’t even know they’d gone to (CU before).”
“It’s not right or wrong”
College football programs traditionally use self-produced video content as a shield, carefully controlled and curated in order to promote and protect the brand or ideals espoused by the head coach.
Sanders and SMAC use the cameras more like a sword, flooding the internet with content designed for their target audience — namely, the 16-to-24-year-old crowd — and that targeted audience’s preferred screen of choice: their cell phones.
“I want the (players) to get the exposure that they want to receive and which ultimately helps them (in) getting to the next level and reaching their goals and ambitions,” Sanders explained. “So I’m all for it. That’s what these kids do, man.
“I don’t know if you have kids, but you can’t get the cellphone out of their hands. That’s really what it is. So I want to accompany that dream by helping the kids reach their goals. So I’m all for it.
“But there (are) a lot of things you don’t see that we don’t want you to see.”
The Post earlier this month obtained a copy of the contract between the university and SMAC regarding the production of the “Coach Prime” documentary series. Buffs athletic administrators, including athletic director Rick George, are allowed editorial input in weekly production meetings, yet the school does not have the say on the so-called “final cut.”
And the show’s producers have legal permission to take dramatic license as to what’s eventually shown on-screen.
“The parties acknowledge and agree that it is (the producers’) intention to portray CU’s Property, CU Features, marks, and CU Individuals as accurately as possible in the historical context of the Series,” the contract states, “with the understanding that (the producers have) the right to deviate from the historical facts that took place in order to enhance the dramatic value of the Series, provided that in no event shall Producer defame CU’s Property, CU Features, marks, or CU Individuals or portray the same in a grossly misrepresentative manner in or in connection with the Series.”
SMAC co-founder and CEO Constance Schwartz-Morini told The Post that the Amazon series will be a collaborative effort between her production team and the athletic department and laughed off the suggestion of any tail-wags-the-dog scenarios.
“Oh my goodness, that’s the furthest thing from the truth,” Schwartz-Morini said. “It feels like we work for Rick (George) as well, to be completely honest with you.
“We are just here to support and guide as to where they want to lean on us — other than that, this is their show. And we’re definitely just here for support … (George) is very aware of every single move we make.”
The show must seek permission from the provost to film any academic event or inside a residence hall. CU also cannot make participation in the series mandatory for any student-athlete or staffer.
Under terms of the agreement, approval for future seasons of the documentary is at the behest of CU chancellor Phil DiStefano. The latter has the power to decline “for good cause, including, without limitation, if the burden to campus operations outweighs the benefit of continuation of the Series.”
Wells said he recalled players signing paperwork for the show in groups earlier this year.
“It’s not right or wrong,” Sanders said of the increased camera presence around the program. “It depends on the personality of the coach. I think Jimmy Johnson probably would welcome it, and Bill Belichick probably wouldn’t. So it’s not right or wrong. It goes with the personality.”
“Cameras are everywhere”
Wells has gotten more comfortable with the showbiz side of the Coach Prime life. And more comfortable with the occasional intrusions that come along with it.
“When (Sanders) first got here and (brought) all the cameras, I wasn’t used to it, I was just like, ‘Dang, cameras are everywhere,’” he recalled.
“You’ve got to be locked in because there are cameras everywhere recording. But I’ve become used to it. I just do what I do on a day-to-day basis. And it just is what it is — the cameras are there, (and) we try not to focus on them too much.”
That said, Wells figures he’ll hear from his buddies again about the next viral Buffs video. And he’ll probably get even more guff once Season 4 of “Coach Prime” debuts.
“I mean, it’s cool,” the Buffs lineman laughed. “People can see me on TV. I still try to focus on it. But if I’m on (the screen), I’m like, ‘Oh, that was me.’”
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by PostX News and is published from a syndicated feed.)