Written by Brian Hoechstetter
The duties of a remote production Associate Director begin long before a live sports broadcast airs. Whether you’re assisting in the production of a college football game or figure skating at the Olympics, lots of work done by many individuals goes into it in the days, weeks and even months before the viewer at home sees a thing.
The main responsibility of an Associate Director is to be the liaison between many of these individuals. Sometimes it can seem a thankless job, but it’s a great place to be if you like to be 'in the thick of it all'. As one Coordinating Producer said to me recently, “the job of the Associate Director is to know all of the ’ins and outs’ of the show that you are assigned". What follows is a recap of how I spent my day as an Associate Director for SportSouth’s final broadcast of the Southern Conference College Football season.
Always nice to wake up in a strange hotel room at 7am on a Saturday morning. I drag myself out of bed, shave, shower, and put on some respectable clothes, but nothing too fancy. I’ll be working with others wearing jeans and sweatshirts, but as the liaison I’ll be meeting with various officials, and want to represent myself and the company in a good way.
I drag down to the car my personal luggage, a laptop bag of some sort, possibly an ENG camera and deck, and a good sized Pelican case (pictured, right) stuffed full of broadcast elements and backups. I’ll get into the contents of the Pelican case a little later. It’s a bit of a juggling routine, but the key thing to remember here is NEVER leave anything in your car overnight! You can imagine the explaining that you’d have to do when your supervisor finds out a $15,000 camera was stolen out of your car while in the hotel parking lot. Not a conversation that any of us would want to have.
Tip: Have a system for filing all of your receipts (Hotel Bills, Donuts for the crew etc.). You'll incur numerous expenses along the way, to ensure reimbursement keep copies of everything!
Donuts all-around! In celebration of our final show of the football season, our Producer, asked me to stop at Krispy Kreme to grab 3 dozen donuts and some coffee for the crew (see above tip). We set out the Donuts and exchange early morning grumpy greetings as we share horror stories of last night’s game we worked, or just general unhappiness about being up and working so early on a Saturday. Usually someone pokes fun at the early tailgaters who show up at the same time as us, at least we’re getting paid!
Once I notice the sugar and caffeine taking effect on the crew, it’s time to get to work. I crack open the Pelican Case and start to distribute:
Technology has made things a little bit easier as we now can carry video elements on a hard drive. We call it the X-File, and it is your tape room’s favorite piece of equipment. Via USB, we can connect the X-File drive to the EVS machine (lingo: Elvis) and load clips pretty much just like how you copy files from drive to drive on your PC at home. That saves us from having to find a tape, load it into a machine, route the machine into the EVS, cue up the video clip needed, and record it. Now it’s just point and click, drag and drop. Don’t think you’re off the hook, though. The Associate Director is expected to have tape backups of everything that is on the X-File. New technology is not 100% reliable, so the Associate Director has to be. No producer wants to hear that his sponsored halftime feature won’t make it into the show because nobody brought a backup.
Now that we’ve unloaded the case, I hang out with the guys in the tape room for a while. We load all of our necessary elements into Elvis and add team interstitials, flashback interstitials, and any other “front ends” that are called for. Each item gets assigned a number which will be used by the operator to 'call up' and cue it for air. I double check the numbers to avoid confusion and also check our sponsored billboards to make sure that we have all of the 'sold' elements covered. Billboards are 10-15 second clips that give our sponsors their deserved recognition. Usually they’ll air after a commercial break before the action starts. It’s very important that these are accurate. The folks in the sales office have promised their clients that these will air, and when the billboards aren’t seen, the money won’t be seen either.
After video, I move over to the audio crew. Usually I spend just a few minutes with the guys to go over the music that we prefer to use. It’s best to have a few approved tracks picked out ahead of time. That way you don’t have as many to weed through with the audio technician. These are music cuts that he’s going to play under voice-overs (lingo: VO's), bumpers, full screen graphics, and the like. Having a few cuts picked out also makes it easier down the line when music cue sheets are due as well. Cue sheets keep track of what music gets used during the broadcast in order to make sure we pay the musicians for it. Another very important process.
Once the tape room is ready for pre-production (lingo: pre-pro) I leave them alone for a little while as they get things organized and set up the way they like it for the show. These guys have to move very quickly once we get on air, clipping off highlights and building packages, etc. so it is important for them to have things where they want them long before kickoff.
During this time I like to check in with our graphics producer. On this show he works solo serving as font coordinator and operating the duet machine himself. Thankfully, we have one of the best. I check in with him to see if he needs anything from me and like most days this fall, he doesn’t. I make a copy of his graphics list, that way when the producer is calling for the QB comparison side-slab I can help out by calling out a number for him to punch into the duet. Teamwork is essential in Live Sports TV Production.
Pre-pro is the term used for adding fonts, music, and other various effects to the elements that will run in the show. Although as has been pointed out many times in the past, isn’t everything that we do before the show begins 'pre' production? Don’t think about that one too long. On this truck, our Director likes for me to handle pre-pro. I take a seat in his chair on the front bench, put on a headset, and get to work. I call up the video roll-ins by their assigned numbers and have them cued. I then call out the graphics numbers as well. Audio checks the levels of each VO before we roll them, and then we’re off. “Three, two, one… Roll Red, add music, add font 1, lose font 1, add font 2, lose font two, standby to fade your nats, and fade your nats…” That’s basically how it’s done. Rinse and repeat until all of the VO’s and SOT’s are complete and double check, and now it’s time for lunch!
MAKE SURE THE CREW GETS A FULL HOUR! A hungry crew isn’t a happy crew, and the company doesn’t want to pay meal penalties, either. There’s usually a quick production meeting during the lunch hour. Many producers like to use this time to sit down with the Play by Play announcer and color analyst to go over execution of the opening segment, video roll-ins and storylines that we plan on keeping an eye on throughout the game.
After everyone is settled back in from the meal break it’s time to finish up any pre-pro that didn’t get done before lunch, add any finishing touches to video or graphics and then show the announcers what has been prepared. They should want to see every roll-in and graphic in order to be able to work them into the show smoothly, and talk about each element as naturally as possible. We’ll also use this time to voice any elements that you want to have done ahead of time.
Transmission check, (lingo: fax) consists of going through the different areas of the truck (audio, video, graphics, TD elements, etc) to make sure that everything is in correct working order and meets the proper specifications. Basically every detail is covered, even down to the position and look of the on-screen scoreboard (lingo: Fox Box). Transmission check is usually scheduled an hour before a show hits air, starting it on time is vital because if there is anything wrong, we need to have time to troubleshoot and fix.
Tip: Transmission check takes place with Master Control. Master Control ensures your broadcast gets delivered to all of the necessary stations, making sure everything checks out could be considered the most important task of the day
Once fax is completed there's about 45 minutes until air. I double check with my Master Control Operator to make sure that we have the same plan for commercial break times and sponsored elements. Master Control is responsible for inserting commercials and promos into the broadcast and keeping track of “sold” elements. We double check each other to make sure sponsors get the love that they’ve paid for. Take this seriously - you can imagine how upset the folks at Sherwin Williams would be if we had a mix up and ran the “DuPont Starting Lineups” instead of the Sherwin Williams ones.
At this point, most producers want to tape the top of the show. It may take a few attempts, so we make sure that there is at least 20 minutes or so to get this done. It may be two or more segments that we’ll put to tape, so we avoid the National Anthem, or other pre-game ceremonies that may get in the way. I make sure to have a good accurate stop watch on everything taped, it's always important to know how long elements are. Once all of the segments have been taped, I make sure I know the source that it will play from. The director will need that information quickly so they know which source to call for in a moments notice. In a way, I’m the traffic cop – helping to make the “traffic” flow smoothly.
The game starts and, believe it or not, we’re in the home stretch. I still have many different responsibilities, but the game dictates the direction I go in.
When the clock hits :00, there isn’t too much more to handle. Everyone takes a brief moment to catch their breath. It’s a quick moment, though because any post-show responsibilities that need to be transmitted over satellite needs to happen pretty quickly. Satellite time costs the networks money, and even though windows get extended all of time it’s best if it can be avoided unless it’s completely necessary. Most shows need to be followed up with a 'web-hit'. These are short recaps from the Play-by-Play announcer and Color Analyst, supported with relevant video roll-ins and graphics. They’re usually about 2-3 minutes in length, and not too labor intensive. I call to make sure that the proper people are ready to record the segment, and check in with them when I’m done to make sure that they got it with no issues. Many game broadcasts then feed the game melt over the satellite as well. The tape room builds your melt, which is basically a collection of all of the video from the day that is worth saving. Those melts go onto a tape or two as well as onto an X-File portable hard drive for future use.
I collect all the tapes, drives, audio equipment, game notes and check my lists a few times to make sure I’m not leaving anything behind. 'See ya laters' are given, and I hit the road. I’ll be working with these guys again sometime down the road, but who knows when. I get a good night’s sleep and am ready for the next show.