Sports: Directing and Assigning Cameras

BasketBallLayoutDepending on how many individual camera units you are blessed with for a particular production, each can be generally designated in one of these types.

Our concern here is with assignments, not numbers.

Each camera will have a general responsibility:
(1) action/game, (2) hero/shag, or (3) iso/special assignment.

Action/Game, Camera

The action, or game, camera (or cameras if you have that luxury) is responsible for"It is not the number of cameras that determines the quality of the picture, it is the quality of the perspective. We can learn a great deal from the old masters such as da Vinci, Michelangelo, Goya, Rubens or Rembrandt. Their pictures had a 'strength of the middle'. They have a center of concentration, which catches the eye involuntarily. This strength of the middle is also possible in the moving picture, where the eye is guided to the focus point and can rest quietly. Unfortunately, it is missing in many cases." covering the general action of the sport. This does not mean the director may not use
other cameras for this purpose, but the action camera has that specific assignment. If for example, a football team moves the ball to the one yard line, you may want to increase warmth by using a utility camera behind the goal post to get a different view of the impending battle at the line. But for general assignment, the action camera has that specific responsibility.

Hero/Shag Camera

The hero, or shag, camera takes close-ups following a particularly outstanding athletic effort, thus the "hero" designation. This camera can also be used to follow the action to highlight important points in the context hence the "shag" designation. (The term comes from the concept of shagging fly balls in the outfield during baseball practice). This camera is chasing down various shots like an outfielder shags fly balls.) The camera operator must be able to sense the drama and emotion of the contest and give the director shots that show that drama. For example, even though the basketball game continues following a driving layup by a guard on the team, the hero-camera operator will give the director a shot of the guard. If the shot the guard attempts is blocked by the big center, the hero camera will focus on the center. The person who makes the play gets the camera shot.

On the other hand, if a football linebacker makes a particularly bruising tackle and injures the runner, the hero camera will focus on the injured player (as long as the injury is not terribly serious), while another camera takes shots of the linebacker. Similarly, the hero camera (with instruction from the director) may concentrate on the tennis player who seems to be losing the momentum in the match. If the player who seemed to have control of the match is beginning to slip, the hero camera will concentrate there. That is where the story is. If, on the other hand, the opponent is making a great comeback and is playing better tennis, that may be the story. The hero/shag camera also covers referees during penalty situations. That's part of the shag responsibility. It is the job of the hero or shag camera(s) to fill in the emotions of the game and to give the director shots that help the production do that.

ISO Cameras Special-Assignment Cameras
 
ISO cameras cover specific (isolated) anticipated action points that can be tape recorded for later playback. The ISO camera operator's responsibility is to understand the sport well enough to determine when specific actions in the game can be expected. For example, third and long yardage situations in football generally mean the team will throw a pass. In addition, the ISO camera operator should know (from pre-production meetings) what style of game a particular team (or individual) normally plays. This information will give the ISO camera operator a chance to feed the tape assistant director or operator a shot that may be usable when play slows or stops.

The director may have time to cue the iso cam­ eras regarding particular anticipated actions, but then the iso cameras are on their own to provide the shots. The director will not have time to talk them through such coverage.

Special-assignment cameras are designated for specific coverage during the game. Sideline cameras in football or basketball may have the assignment of providing coverage of the bench or the coach. They may shoot sideline talent for special reports. Other such cameras may cover talent in the booth or provide shots of a clock. Most coverage situations in smaller markets and non-network feeds don't have the luxury of many such units, and iso cameras can fill both responsibilities.

Camera Initiative

In pre-production meetings the specific assignments for each camera are reviewed. The camera operators must know what part of the coverage is their responsibility. Specific game situations should be reviewed- "what if" situations. "What do we do if the War Chiefs get inside the 1 a-yard line?" "Who gets shots of Coach Johnson?"

Before game time, the camera operators experiment with their cameras to see what kinds of shots they can get within their specific assignment, then they may experiment to see what other shots they can get to add to the repertoire of shots from which the director can select.

During the game, all camera operators should provide the director with a broadcast table shot almost all the time, and they should tell the director (via intercom) when they think they've got a shot the director can use for some effect­ in a way they try to sell the director on their shot or potential shot.

Sometimes the camera operator may take the initiative to begin to get a particular shot and the director accidentally cuts to that camera in the middle of the move to get to the shot. As a director works with a crew on coverage, however, each will get to know how the other works, so such glitches will occur rarely. The director should be able to watch the monitors of all cameras. Such a cut is the director's mistake, not the camera operator's (unless the director has called for a specific shot on that camera and the operator is out freelancing on his or her own).

When the action of the contest is taking place, the director may be locked to an action camera. The other camera operators, however, must have their heads into the game and should be looking for shots so that when the action stops or slows they can help tell the story and support the style, mood, pace, and rate of the project.

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