Sports: Planning the Production

TennisLayoutWhile the production process is the most glamourous part of the business, the planning phase is where the majority of the decisions are made.

The purpose of the planning process is to review the various available options and prepare a plan that will provide the best television coverage of the event. The plan has to include the technical and production components. Planning for a small local event may take only a few days, whereas planning for the coverage of a major event may take four or five months.

Creating goals for the production is an important step in the planning process. Once goals are determined, they provide a benchmark that can be used to measure the success of your television program. Television network ESPN created the following series of television sports coverage goals that are exemplary.

* Accuracy. Be informative while never compromising accuracy.

* Fairness. Be fair in the coverage. Get both sides of the issues. Be objective. {sidebar id=2}

* Analysis. Tell why and how things happened. Lend perspective to the events as they unfold.

* Documentation. Capture the event, including the color, pageantry, and excitement. Help the viewer experience the event. Innovate in audio and video to show events from a new perspective.

* Creativity. Develop story lines. Take the viewer beyond the obvious. Entertain and inform using a variety of methods (graphics, etc.).

* Consistency. Maintain your level of ambition throughout the season. Do not become complacent. Don't fall victim to patterns that may diminish creativity.

* Flexibility. Follow established formats, but treat every game as a new event.
 
Coordination Meetings
 
A coordination session well in advance of the event is absolutely imperative. All parties that may take an active role in the meeting should be present: television with all departments involved, organizers, timing, computers, telecommunications. All demands and wishes should be voiced, discussed, and resolved at this early stage. A long report of the planning session keeps all the involved parties informed of decisions. However, even the most careful preparation of the coverage of a one-day event is no insurance for a trouble-free show.  It is necessary to be ready to act or react if cameras fail, if the computer breaks down, because the show must go on.

Remote Survey
 
The production team generally has a good idea of how the event will be covered. However, until the venue is visited by the survey team, final decisions cannot be made.

The survey team is there to assess the venue and determine how, where, how many, who, what, and how much. The answers to these questions will provide the foundation for the production's planning.

A remote survey, or venue survey, is generally completed far in advance of the event especially for large-scale competitions. A small, local event survey may occur as little as a week in advance. However, unless crew members are fully familiar with the facility, it is essential to complete a detailed survey. Click here for Remote Survey Form

Horror stories abound about people who did not check the power supply or look at a venue at the correct time of day.

The purpose of the remote survey is:

To determine the location for the production.
To determine where all production equipment and personnel will be positioned.
To determine whether all the production's needs and requirements can be handled at the remote site.

It is important to visit the venue at the same time of day that the event will take place. This allows personnel to assess the lighting, hear the sounds at that time of day and identify other possible distractions.

Venue Access

Without the correct access to the facility the production can come to a grinding halt. The crew needs access to the venue so they can do their work before, during, and after the event.

During the planning phase, the following access issues need to be addressed:

When does the crew need access? Can they get in very early and stay very late? Is there any procedure-for example, a special pass-that must be completed in order to move them in or out at odd hours? Do they have access to adequate parking? Can they easily get to their positions during the event? Can camera crews move in and out of locations during the actual production of the event?

Does crew have access to cable runs?

Other Areas for Survey Consideration

Food/catering. Who is supplying the food, how many meals are required, and where are they going to set up the meals?

Security. Can equipment be safely stored?

Program transmission. Who will provide transmission services and where will their equipment be located at the venue? Do they have any special needs?
 
Video and audio feeds. Who needs video and audio feeds outside the control room? Are additional cables needed to meet the requirements?

Telephones and Internet Access. How many lines are required? Where should the lines be installed?  Are any dedicated lines required?

Areas that Significantly Impact the Survey
 
There are a number of areas that need to be considered for both the remote survey and planning the production. The rest of this article will include areas that significantly impact the survey-camera,lighting, audio, electrical power, program transmission, and backup plans. All of these need to be thought through before completing a location sketch.

Cameras
Camera Positions

A major function of the remote survey is to determine where cameras are going to be placed at the venue. Camera placement needs to be determined early since many other decisions are based on it, such as where the cabling will be run or if the venue is already cabled, the number of days it will take to set up, the coverage plan, and any additional facilities that will be needed.

Here are some of the questions that need to be addressed about cameras and their associated equipment.

If a dolly is needed for a mobile camera, what kind is required? What is the ground/floor like where the dolly will be located? Is the ground/floor level?

How many cameras are required to give adequate coverage of the event?
 
Where can camera cables be run? Will cables be protected from people, cars, weather etc.?

What kind of camera mounting devices, platforms or scaffolding are needed? How is access to the Press Box?

Are any special lenses required?

If cranes or jibs are needed, where can they be placed with maximum action radius?

Camera Placement

Sports Action

Sports productions are a bit unique, because the participants can be going all over the venue. Some venues are large (a car racetrack or golf); other venues are very small (a wrestling match). Events here are categorized by different types of action: horizontal, vertical, and round.

HORIZONTAL ACTIONBasketBallLayout

Horizontal sports include basketball, soccer, American football, among others. The cameras are placed on a long side of the venue, panning right to left to capture the athletes' action.

VERTICAL ACTION

TennisLayoutOne vertical sport is tennis. Although it is a sport that takes place on a rectangular venue, like basketball and soccer, the action is difficult to follow by the audience with two players hitting a small ball back and forth. Instead, the cameras are placed behind one of the athletes, looking over his or her shoulder at the other athlete. So the axis of action is located at the net.

ROUND ACTIONBaseballLayout

Round sports include auto racing and baseball. Because cameras are needed to cover the action the whole way around the circle or oval, an axis of action is not chosen. Instead, the director has to constantly re establish the scene in order to avoid confusing the viewers. This means that if a camera has a close-up shot of a car as it drives around the track, every once in while a long shot must be shown to establish the current location of the car and where it is in relation to the other cars.

A number of factors should be taken into consideration when placing cameras. For example,

Cameras cannot be placed on opposite sides of the field of play except for isolation (ISO) cameras.

Other questions that should be asked when determining camera placement include:

Where can cameras be placed that provide the best coverage for both action and isolation coverage? Make sure that you can provide the necessary wide shot of the event.

What locations provide the best lighting?

Where is the sun located at an outdoor event? The angle of the sun will be a factor when determining the angle from which to capture the event. Cameras should be positioned with the sun behind them.

Are there signs or billboards in the background of this shot that could be distracting? Will anything be changed on the day of the event that could become a distraction?

Will cameras block the spectators' view?

What locations are available that are not in view of the other cameras?

Does anything obscure the camera shot required by the director? If so, can anything be done about it?

Lighting
 
As mentioned earlier in the camera placement discussion, lighting is one of the primary considerations when determining camera placement. Cameras need a basic level of light to operate. In addition, the creative aspects of lighting can help set the mood of the production.

Below is a review of some of the lighting issues that need to be considered for indoor and outdoor venues.

Indoor Venue

Does the venue have adequate lighting or are additional lights required?

Will the heat generated by the lighting instruments be too much to handle for the air conditioning system in the venue?

Outdoor Venue

Will the event be shot during daylight or at night or during the trasition?

What kind of lighting is already available?

Where will the sun be located during the production?

Does lighting need to be added to illuminate dark shadows on the field of play? It is important to view the venue at the same time of day you will be shooting the event in order to correctly evaluate the lighting conditions.

Does stadium lighting come on during the event?

Audio
 
Audio is one of the least appreciated yet most important aspects of television. The audio can make or break a production. In order to be prepared to capture the highest quality audio, there are a number of questions that need to be asked:

What does the audience need to hear? In order for the audience to hear the necessary audio, who and what needs to have a microphone?

Can the microphones appear in the shot?

Must the TV audio be coordinated with the public address audio system being used at the event?

How many microphone cables are needed?

How long do they need to be?

Do you need wired or wireless microphones?

Is the natural sound a problem?

What are sources of probable audio interference? Recognize that they will vary widely with the time and day. Are there any problems with existing acoustics?

Windscreen

Windscreens protect The microphone sound-generating elements from the wind or air generated by the talent's mouth. When working outside, windscreens are essential for every type of microphone. While windscreens cannot protect the microphone from all wind noises, they can significantly reduce unwanted rumbling sounds. Windscreens take a variety of forms from foam rubber to the shaggy variety known as the windjammer.
 
Microphone Placement

The key to microphone placement is finding the location that will allow you to capture the specific audio you want. Considerations include analyzing the port from a sound perspective, the type of microphone, sound sources, whether the microphone can be seen by the camera, and whether sounds are present that you do not want to record.

When determining microphone placement, place the microphones as close as possible to the audio source to ensure the highest quality sound. The farther the distance between the microphone and the audio source, the poorer the sound quality, and the possibility of picking up unwanted sounds is increased.

Christopher Lyons, Senior Audio Engineer, Shure Audio, recommends that the lowest number of microphones possible be used. "People sometimes have a tendency to over-mike a shot, using three or four microphones when one or two would be sufficient. Excess mics mean more background noise pick-up, greater chance of feedback or tin-can sound, and more levels for the operator to keep track of. If additional mics don't make things sound better, then they will probably make things sound worse."

Camera Mounted Microphones.

Camera microphones, generally shotguns, are attached to the camera so that the viewer will hear exactly what they are seeing from that camera.
 
Talent Microphones. Talent, meaning anyone who appears on camera, uses specific microphones for different situations.

In a broadcast booth, commentators usually use headset microphones to keep their hands free for notes and to have the ability to keep the microphone at a consistent distance from their mouth.

Lavaliere microphones are generally used for interview situations or when the talent is on a set. The lavaliere's prime advantage is that it is small and unobtrusive. Due to the small size of a lavaliere microphone, it is sometimes used when the microphone needs to be hidden. For example, if youl wanted to catch the sound of hands on the rings during a gymnastics competition, the lavaliere could actually be mounted on the chain holding the rings.

Hand-held directional microphone is especially popular for interviewing on the field of play. The hand-held gives the interviewer the ability to control the interview by directing the microphone at the subject. Hand-helds are valuable because they can be placed very close to the mouth when there are loud background noises. They will help pick up what the commentator is saying and diminish background sound.

Communications (Intercom) Systems

While microphone signals flow to the Control Room for the on-air program, communication between producers, camera operators, and other crew members is accomplished through another set of wires that make up the intercom. 

To communicate from production and engineering to field operators, a headset and intercom box is plugged into a cable that runs to the Control Room. This cable is plugged into an intercom channel so that operators can talk to the director, technical director or each other.

Intercom systems may comprise many different types of intercoms and sub-systems. The three basic systems can be categorized as party-line, matrix and wireless systems, as well as any combination of the three types.
 



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