Unique camera angles can bring viewers into a broadcast and provide a method for them to experience the event in a way they could not if they were there in person.
A great example of this is the Skycam used in professional sports on a regular basis. Now all high schools would love a Skycam, but unless the local school district has a million bucks laying around, it’s probably out of reach for most. That’s where jibs and cranes enter the scene.
A camera jib or crane can create some of the most magical and memorable shots during a live production and add a look of professionalism to any broadcast. A few years ago, we purchased a 12’ crane with very limited features. We later added a pan/tilt head and you would have thought we were ESPN. More people made comments about our new equipment addition than anything we had done up to that time. We used the crane for our daily news show and hauled it around for football, basketball, wrestling, and various assemblies. It functioned well, but we wanted to provide our students with a more professional piece of equipment that would better translate to post-secondary education and beyond.
A few months ago, we purchased the EZ Crane from EZ FX in Ocoee, Florida. This is a 24 foot crane that can support a camera of up to 25 pounds. Along with the Crane, we ordered the EZ Head which provides super smooth pan and tilt remote operation. One of best features of the crane is that it can break down into 5 different lengths. This means it can be as small as 8 feet for use in a small studio or all the way to 24 feet in a gym or outdoors.
Upon receipt of the crane, we realized this was a truly professional grade piece of equipment. Everything was packed neatly and organized. The first crane assembly took around an hour as we had to figure out how the pieces fit together. In comparison, today we can completely break down and rebuild the crane in less than 30 minutes. We took the crane out to the football field for a game the same day it arrived. At 24 feet, this thing is impressive, even across the field. I assigned a student to learn and within a few minutes, he could make some basic moves on his own. Personally, I’ve operated a crane/jib for a few years, so I tried to give him some pointers, but he quickly moved on and began to experiment with innovative motions.
One thing we did not count on, was the amount of counter weight needed to balance out the crane and camera when it’s fully extended. However, one of the benefits of a high school, is that there are many old weights laying around, and we quickly found a few that no one used. For zoom and focus control, we used a controller by Varizoom, that we already had on hand. This controller uses 1/8” plugs for LANC control, so with a simple extender to reach the camera, we were in business. Here is a demonstration video of the crane in action at that game.
The crane is designed to be disassembled for transportation. Since it comes on a super heavy duty dolly, we are able to leave it somewhat put together, and move it from our field back into the school building or around campus. For the daily news show, we break it down to 12 feet which allows it to move freely throughout the studio. Granted, it’s a pretty tight space with the other cameras and equipment, but the shots are worth it.
We use the crane every day and at almost every athletic event. It provides our viewers with a unique shot, especially for high school productions. A local television station (NBC Affiliate) visited recently, and was so impressed, they went back to their manager and put in a request for a similar crane in their studio. Our broadcasting students rotate jobs every two weeks, so we are constantly training new crane/jib operators for college and the industry. Not only does this prepare students for their future, it adds a level of professionalism to our broadcasts that cannot be obtained from traditional camera support. The EZ Crane was one of our best investments yet, and we are excited to see how our students use it next!
Jon Souders is the Director of Digital Media Production at Cleveland High School in Tennessee. During his ten years at CHS, Souders has developed the program from small beginnings to an award-winning production with more than 250 students involved each year. The program has received “Best Overall School Broadcast Program” from the NFHS Network and most recently, “Best Daily Live Newscast” from the Student Television Network. He has worked in live production for over 20 years.