In an era where social media becomes more and more intertwined with tennis, the actual happenings and scorelines have taken a back seat to viewers’ interpretations, blink-and-you’d-miss-it highlights expressed in the form of GIFs and Vines. These micro-media “amuse bouches” often take on lives of their own as they are quickly consumed, disseminated, and re-appropriated by the tennis community at large. While their presence can engender discussion, GIFs taken from match frontage achieved major attention when they were suddenly called into question this week; do these images infringe on a third party’s copyright?
At a time when such creations are arguably at their most ubiquitous, I wanted to sit down with Robyn Coupland and René Denfeld – two of the sport’s most prolific content creators – to gain a deeper insight into the act of “live GIFing,” micro-media’s place within the sport, and what it is about a tennis match – a sometimes six-hour endeavor – that lends itself to two-second animation.
David Kane: Hi guys, thank you for taking the time to speak with me; I know it’s been a hectic week but I’m happy to hear you’re both settled into SWAT-safe bunkers. All kidding aside, I wanted to start by getting a sense of what motivated you both into this more active variation of tennis viewing. Certainly, Twitter has allowed the tennis community to come together and collectively “ooh and ahh” at whatever might be happening on the court, but what inspired that first wade into the GIF pond? Had either of you engaged in meme culture before, and can you remember your first of the tennis genre?
René Denfeld: I’m quite the late-bloomer when it comes to GIFs and memes, and the first proper one I did was “The Servebot,” I believe. To me it’s just an entertaining way to take tennis, combine it with something relevant to the Zeitgeist and create something fun out of it.
And sometimes there are just great racquet smashes people need to see.
Robyn Coupland: I first started creating GIFs around four or five years ago – if you delve deep enough into the archives of TennisForum I’m sure you could find a few of them – but unfortunately I can’t remember my very first one. One of my earliest GIFs came from a warped idea relating to what we’ll call Laura Robson’s ‘slutgate’ The rest is history.
DK: Interesting that you should mention that one, since it’s put together with photos instead of video; when did you make the leap into “live-GIFing” a match, and is that process more difficult than where you started?
RC: I would say it’s only been during the past year or so that I’ve started making GIFs during live matches. I definitely use more sophisticated methods of creating them these days, and that started with having access to better software (Photoshop, screen recording software, etc.) and that generally results in much higher quality GIFs. Having a good stream is vital for live GIFing a match, which is what makes Eurosport Player and Tennis TV such good viewing platforms for me. Not only is it much easier to make GIFs this way, but with Vine and Twitter videos there are now so many more ways to share some of those ‘warped’ ideas I have. People can be so much more creative when it comes to making and sharing GIFs (and videos) these days.
DK: What kind of moments do you find the most GIF-able? Does audience involvement come into play, or are they purely products of your interaction with the match?
RD: Audience involvement and Twitter does come into play quite heavily, I’d say. But I think the most GIF-able and Vine-worthy moments are the “niche” moments that you know the Tours – for better or worse – won’t or can’t cover. Serena Williams encouraging Venus to challenge, Maria Sharapova raising the roof in Manila or Kim Sears’ reactions to the Australian Open 2015 semi-finals. What do you think Robyn?
RC: You’ll often see cries of “SOMEONE GIF THAT!” on Twitter, usually in regards to a player’s reaction to something, and people like René and I are more than happy to oblige. A lot of those moments happened at the Australian Open this year, and at least one of those moments happens in every Alizé Cornet match.
DK: It was only a matter of time before the spirit animal of tennis memedom got her due, and she introduces another important aspect to the discussion. Many of Cornet’s most memorable performances are found, not in GIFs, but Vine. How does one decide which medium better captures the moment, and do either of you have a preference?
RC: GIFs are almost always easier to make, especially when it is something like a player’s reaction. But sometimes you need the audio that goes along with it when it comes to, for example, Cornet’s outbursts or Sharapova’s remarkably awful challenges. And sometimes you’ll want to add your own audio for your own amusement if nothing else.
RD: I’ve tried Vines, but I’m definitely a GIF person and as Robyn said, they are definitely easier to make. In general I’m very much a “see it catch it” person and but I agree that several clips benefit massively from sound and text.
DK: Many of the moments you capture end up becoming part of the cannon of tennis fandom; how do you feel about your creations once you let them loose on the world: do you always consider them yours?
RD: Early on I raised an eyebrow when people used things without giving credit, but it really doesn’t phase me anymore. If I tweet a GIF and it makes the rounds, I’m amused when it comes up on my timeline again via a couple of detours. No need to block block block. When you upload something online, expect it to be used by everyone, and that is OK.
RC: I read something earlier today that said something along the lines of ‘once a GIF is shared on the Internet, it belongs to the Internet,’ which I have to agree with. As nice as it is to get credit for your work, it’s nicer to see it being shared across the fandom. You can always put a watermark on your GIFs but it’s generally not necessary. I’ve yet to see anyone in tennis try and take credit for someone else’s work. And, to be honest, some GIFs don’t require much creative input of your own anyway.
DK: Generally speaking, what is the fan reaction to your work? Do you get some who think a player is poorly represented, and do you take requests?
RC: Many GIFs I make are requests, so there’s usually at least one person who appreciates the work. Other GIFs I’ve made do poke fun at certain players or moments but there has never been any real backlash. Most tennis fans (on Twitter at least) know how to take a joke.
RD: It varies, but generally the reactions are quite good, interestingly enough particularly Monday and Tuesday. My approach to tennis is fairly light-hearted and fun, and I think many GIFs resemble that.
DK: Do you think that light-heartedness is a symptom of what tennis provides, or of meme culture in general? Is there something intrinsic to tennis that lends itself to these picbytes?
RD: To me, the main reason GIFs or Vines encapsulate tennis so well in many situations is due to the vast spectrum of human emotions and the on-court drama. The way you see players at their emotional highs and lows in one single match is what draws most fans into the game in the first place. And these picbytes are a way of isolating those moments for public consumption – as a result, players become something far more than just a flubbed volley or glorious forehand. They are little pictures in motion people can relate to.
RC: There are definitely some players who are more GIFable than others, and that’s down to there being such big personalities on both the ATP and WTA Tours. Even if GIFs and Vines didn’t exist, I feel drawn towards watching those players the most because of the extra entertainment value they bring. But thankfully we do have GIFs et al. to remember their most entertaining moments of all. And, following on from René’s point about them being relatable, some GIFs can be used beyond tennis and for everyday emotions.
DK: One last thing: during a match, what do you think the GIFs and Vines add to how the tennis community consumes and accesses the sport? What do you think the Twitterverse look like without such content?
RC: It’s so hard to imagine Twitter without them. In a way they can act as an almost-instantaneous highlight reels of a match and I think people appreciate how quickly they can re-live certain moments. At the same time those picbytes can become relevant to people in so many different situations days/weeks, even months afterwards. Sometimes it’s so much easier to express yourself using a GIF than it is through the constraints of 140 characters.
RD: Like this?
As recently as last summer, people still posted links to GIFs and vines and it didn’t really bother anyone at large. Ever since Twitter began embedding them into timelines, however, they’ve seen an even bigger surge in popularity. In many weeks of the calendar, there is a ton of overlapping matches and it’s just difficult to have your eyes everywhere at once. Having people tweet vines or GIFs highlighting memorable moments gives you the luxury of feeling like you are covering all bases, massively reducing the ever-prevalent fear of missing out. They are the most on-beat way of providing easily consumed, accessible highlights and furthers fan interaction and entertainment. Twitter would be a fairly dull place without them.