Martin Khodabakhshian: Creativity, Storytelling and Relationships

Simple storytelling. Good characters. Very succinct.

IMG_4103Creativity. Relationships. Layered stories.

A week ago, Sports Link welcomed one of the most creative storytellers in the sports industry: Martin Khodabakhshian (Martin K), who serves as senior producer for ESPN’s E:60 in addition to producing stories for 30 for 30 and SportsCenter.

For all students who met Martin, I guarantee they left with new insight and a new look at storytelling.

One thing is for sure, I hope every student takes time to grow their creativity throughout every story.

How can you not be creative? There are levels to it. How can you emulate and take it to the next level? Everyone is creative. You just have to practice at it.

Sometimes you find inspiration in the least creative things.

Always think the opposite. Live in opposite world.


One class with students wasn’t nearly enough to impart the amount of wisdom bubbling out of Martin K. He met with students several times, across two days, between dinner meetings, lunch presentations and small group round tables.

Beyond creativity, Martin K. emphasized the importance of storytelling, through visuals, quality interviews, and innovative structure.

What story can I tell in 8 minutes? That’s the story I’m going to tell.

You don’t have to have a magical run or a championship game, but you have to build toward something.

Stories need to always tease you. Approach everything you do as a tease.

How do you make the viewer feel what the subject felt? Continually make the emotions go up and down.

IMG_4119His storytelling speaks for itself.

While at ESPN, Martin K. has garnered 10 National Sports Emmy Awards, two Edward R. Murrow Awards and numerous film festival and national awards.

To him though, the awards don’t matter. The relationships he builds with subjects and colleagues drive him.

It’s not about Emmys. I’m no one. I’m just a storyteller. It’s about getting the phone calls of thank you.

It’s something I didn’t expect going into this job, building relationships with these families. It only happens if you establish a relationship going into a project, throughout the project and after the project.

I’m here to build trust and a relationship. I think it’s the friendships that develop that are the most rewarding.

You guys are reporting. Just because you don’t destroy the relationships with your subjects doesn’t mean you aren’t reporting.

A coach trying to intimidate you isn’t as intimidating as sitting across from a mother who lost her kid. The more genuine you show it will take you a long way, showing you’re a human with them.

We preach it every day to SL students, but hearing it from professionals validates and refreshes us. Relationships matter.

Relationships with each other; with subjects; with professionals; with friends. Martin K. engrained this throughout his discussions.

Martin K. also emphasized the uniqueness of Sports Link. He witnessed the eagerness of students and the innovation of the curriculum.

I’m mind blown by what you’ve built here. You guys have some mind-blowing resources, technology and mindpower. Take advantage. Realize not just the resources but the experts around you.

All my awards mean nothing. Each of you have a great opportunity. If I had Sports Link when I was your age, I would have an Oscar by now.

I did not expect this level of progress from you guys. These are the questions we are having at ESPN in meetings.

I’m proud of you guys. It says a lot about the program to have you here. You get to do what you’re passionate about. Unbelievable.

Two days wasn’t nearly enough. Martin K was truly a master class for feature production. His in depth analysis of directing, editing, and interviewing inspired students to push their limits throughout the rest of this year and the future.

Author: Alex Kartman

I am the Director of Digital Sports Production and Ball State Sports Link. I produce, direct, and film sports ranging from feature stories to live broadcasts. I freelance as a technical director for the Indiana Pacers, ESPN, Fox Sports and other regional TV. I also love film and attempted to be a critic in a past life.

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