Junior film student Conner Firstman is the highlights videographer for Bobcat football and he works closely with the team to capture the most exciting shots each game — the epic catches, the thunderous tackles and the post-touchdown hugs. He is also fighting chondrosarcoma, a particularly rare and destructive form of cancer.
He approaches his work much in the same way he approaches life, striving to find the best angle in any given uncertain situation. “[I love] the thrill of the filmmaker, of having no control over the weather or whatever,” Firstman said, “I love that challenge. It’s on you to get the shot.” He has learned to predict the path of the ball and the progression of plays, and regularly has his camera in the right spot, at the right time, optimistic and ready to film the touchdown.
His future, too, is uncertain. “[When] you start thinking about the future…[cancer] does kinda haunt your dreams,” he said. “What is my future going to be like if [I am] continually sick?” Firstman works as videographer and attends school around his sick spells, surgeries and checkups like he films in a Bozeman snowstorm: willing to work around the difficulties to reach his goal. “You can’t just be thinking about the worst case scenarios,” Firstman said. “It’s not going to get you anywhere.”
He is optimistic about capturing his own metaphorical touchdown. “I am going to graduate from this school,” he said empathetically, “even if it takes me seven years.”
Firstman is drawn to the football player’s admirable athleticism. “Their athletic ability far surpasses anything I could ever dream of doing myself,” he said, “[I have] a fascination with seeing how far you can push the human body. Capturing that on film is really special.”
It is hard to tell if he realizes how he pushes the limits every day. He misses a few days of class every month for treatments in Washington, DC. When travelling with the team to away games, he often does not get home until dawn. This past weekend “it was a four-hour flight out of Texas, at midnight. We’re getting home at five [in the morning].”
He also films many home events for the “all the other sports” of MSU Athletics. “It’s kinda like three jobs going at once with football, athletics and school,” he said.
A high-school counselor told Firstman that in college, he should try to leave a mark. “I really took that to heart,” he said, “I never wanted to be the star in front of the camera. I always wanted to be behind the camera making our guys look like stars.”
He uses his end-of-season highlight reels to tell the stories of graduates through their triumphant athletics and road trip shenanigans. “[Senior year] is really the last time a lot of these guys will ever put on pads will, ever be with the team,” Firstman said, “The seniors appreciate it because those are memories they are never going to forget… [they have] something to treasure, on a DVD… so they have some way to look back on all the good times.” The shots he takes are used to inspire the football team and are preserved in their collective memories.
Firstman hasn’t made his mark entirely behind the camera, however. “I’m sure I’m not the only one on the MSU campus with cancer… I just want students to be aware. I try to make [cancer] not such a taboo thing.” That’s a mark that can last longer than footage of even the most dramatic touchdown.