On May 10, 2019, Tom Frenette remembers his heart pounding as he walked backward with his camera locked on Steph Curry when the superstar left the court after the Warriors beat the Rockets in Game 6 to advance to the Western Conference Final.
Curry had a dislocated finger in his left hand. The Warriors were playing without Kevin Durant. And Curry went scoreless in the first half, before roaring back with 33 points in the second half.
Steph was yelling with happiness. Fans by the tunnel were clamoring to touch him. The celebration was boisterous and Frenette captured it.
“That was by far my proudest shot because the weight was lifted off his shoulders from the first half. I think that was the game where Chris Paul kicked him off the court pregame or whatever. But Steph was just in the moment, like all of his emotion pouring out,” Frenette said.
Frenette is the Warriors’ lead videographer, a position he’s held since 2018. Any piece of video supporting this nearly five-billion dollar franchise has his fingerprints on it.
Frenette and the Warriors Studio shoot games, interviews, promotional videos, marketing campaigns, social media stories, and more.
“It's such a whirlwind,” Frenette exclaimed. “When this position opened up I was like wow, this is documenting greatness. This is documenting sports history.”
The biggest, emotional moments funnel through Tom’s camera, a RED Gemini with a Fujinon 20-120mm lens.
“From a story-telling standpoint,” explained Karina Anglada, a senior video producer, “what sets Tom apart is that he thinks beyond ‘the shot.’ He puts himself in the shoes of his subjects and acts accordingly. He has a natural gift to capture the essence of our players, coaches, and staff.”
Frenette’s interest in videography began in Connecticut. He grew up about 20 minutes from ESPN’s campus in Bristol. He remembers driving by ESPN’s satellite farm.
The network’s golden years made an impression on him in high school.
“That was, in my opinion, the Mecca era of ESPN. Stuart Scott, all these guys, it was at its peak. So I was like man, it'd be so cool to work there, I'm a huge sports fan, that's what I love. And I kind of started to get a little more tech-savvy. I had a little creative side,” he said.
Frenette went to Southern Connecticut State University and got involved with the campus TV station right away. The station worked closely with the athletic department. Frenette starting shooting football and live-streaming games. His senior year, he edited a documentary about the basketball team playing a preseason game at UConn.
“It all kind of fell into place through that, to be honest with you, our Division II men's team going up to UConn to play a preseason game. It's meaningless to UConn other than, like, getting reps. But that was the coolest thing in the world to me at the time, you know? It's kind of funny, I still have the little [press pass] they gave me with UConn logo laminated,” he said.
Frenette got his first taste of being embedded with a team. He was in the huddles, in the locker room, and a witness to the private moments that make a team bond.
As he approached graduation, he applied for an internship with the Miami Dolphins. He got that fandom from his father and grew watching the Dolphins.
Frenette jokes the resume reel he sent for the internship was “absolute garbage” but the enthusiastic cover letter he sent about being a fan won the Dolphins over.
His bosses flew him to Miami, the first flight of his life. Then he joined his coworkers on a cheerleader calendar shoot in the Dominican Republic, his first time out of the country. He was about 21 years old.
Frenette interned for three months, sometimes working from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. When a shake-up in the Dolphins’ video department created a job opening, he earned a full-time role as a videographer and editor.
Shooting outside means constantly being aware of where the sun and shadows are. He had to contend with the weather. He remembers a playoff game in Pittsburgh that was minus-17 with the windchill.
“They had on the video board that it was the fifth coldest game in Steelers history. The ref’s whistle actually froze!” Frenette enjoyed his time with the Dolphins and what it meant to his family, like introducing his father to quarterback Dan Marino for a picture.
But his mind started to wander. A LinkedIn post from the Warriors Studio boss Paul Hawkins got Frenette’s attention.
“I think it was after they won the 2018 championship. Everyone in the studio crew was holding the trophy. I was like, oh man, this is perfect.”
One of his good friends working with the Dolphins, Zenab Keita, happened to make a move to Golden State shortly before him. Her support helped open the door.
“She went up to Paul, and she was only [at Golden State] for a few months, I don't think she knew Paul very well….and she's like, ‘Hey, I have the perfect person for you for this job.’ I owe her so much,” he said.
“I felt like I was ready to take that next step as a professional sports videographer, cinematographer, however you want to describe it. And there was something that I liked about the challenge of moving across the country again, “ he said.
Frenette stepped into the role of lead videographer at age 25.
The Warriors Studio has many branches. It’s a web of video, motion design, graphic design, and production assistance. Frenette believes it’s one of the largest departments in North American sports.
Day to day, he works with an award-winning team of about 20 people. But Covid-19 changed that work, forcing the studio crew to be leaner. On the road, Frenette and a social media coordinator are the only ones traveling. He handles a massive amount of work that doesn’t go unnoticed by his colleagues.
“Tom is Superman,” said Kassidy Iwashita, a coordinating producer. “The NBA season is no joke but he never complains about anything and the work he puts out is phenomenal.”
“There have been countless times where Tom gets back [from a road trip] at 3 a.m. and is in the office ready to work at 9 a.m. He might be exhausted but he doesn’t let you know,” she continued. “He just wants to make sure that the team succeeds and we put out the best content we can.”
Millions of people see Frenette’s work. He’s won ten Emmys. Yet he has a soft-spoken way of describing his work.
“Sometimes I don’t feel like I deserve any of this,” he said.
“Especially this year seeing Steph and what he's done, it's unreal. It's a grind but you have to check yourself every now and then go, you know, this is one of the coolest jobs in the world, hands down.”
If Curry doesn’t win the MVP award this season, the Warriors have a runner-up.
“I think I speak for everyone on our studio team when I say it’s Tom,” said Iwashita.