In Sports Television there are two distinct paths, work in studio and produce news style programming in a controlled environment or work in remote production and produce live events on site. Many people choose one or the other, some overlap and do both, but everyone has a preference.
For Glen Wilhelm, freelance Technical Director for live events like NFL Football and MLB Baseball the choice was simple, "I definitely prefer live events over studio, live events are exhilarating (stressful), and you could be a part of history by working a Superbowl, Game 7 of a World Series, or being part of the crew that was smart enough to keep their cameras rolling all night and capturing the collapse of the Metrodome."
During my senior year of High School I had an internship at KBSU radio, a NPR station at Boise State University. After graduating, I was offered a full-time position at the station and I enrolled in their communications dept. I really enjoyed radio, but wanted to experience other aspects of broadcasting, so I took an internship at KBCI TV. This lead to a full-time position as a studio camera operator. Television offered more opportunities than radio and a lot to learn, so I stuck with television.
Production Jobs held: Audio Engineer, Graphics Operator, Technical Director, Director,
Remote event experience: Director, Seattle Sounders, Technical Director Seattle Mariners, Technical Director NFL on Fox, Technical Director CBS & ESPN College Basketball, Technical Director Seattle Sonics
Qualities Glen looks for in a remote crew: Besides the obvious; hard worker, good listener, someone who follows instruction, conscientious, and smart, what I would really like to see is someone that can think for themselves. Someone that can be a step ahead and get the job done without constant supervision.
Best piece of advice: Start small. Yes it is really cool to be working live events or working in Los Angeles, but it is okay to start at a small TV station in the middle of nowhere. You will get good experience and earn some stripes, then you can look forward to bigger things.
I did attend BSU for one year in their communications department, but it was not really geared to Broadcasting. It did teach me a lot about audio and it did get me my job at KBCI, but once I went full-time I decided that I would learn more on the job than at school and left. I did pursue an opportunity to go to the University of Colorado's broadcast journalism school, but I would not be able to participate in the program until my junior year and since I was already learning on the job, I decided not to go.
The hours. In Boise, their were only night newscasts, so I worked every shift until 11pm. Then I took a job in Spokane, WA and they had a morning show. That meant getting up at 4am. Only one time in my 20+ years of broadcasting, did I ever have a 9-5 shift and that was while I worked for a 24 hour newschannel. I was the Senior Director, so most of my job was as a supervisor.
Now as a freelancer, the hours are all over the place. Day games, night games, all day events, and add in the travel, there is no consistency whatsoever. The only time I ever have a break is during baseball season. The Mariners will be in town for a 9-10 day stand, mostly night games, so I would go in to work each day at the same time and go home close to the same time, depending of course on the length of the game.
I definitely prefer live events over studio, but they both have their pros and cons. Working in a studio allows you to get experience in all levels of production. By working in a studio environment my first 10 years, I was able to learn to Technical Direct, Direct, operate graphics machines, mix audio, build studio sets, light studio sets and plan productions from the beginning stage. I then took this experience out to remote events.
In the remote event world, you are required to do the job you are hired for and not anything else. Getting experience in other areas is nearly impossible. They will not pay for you to train, you need to train yourself. But, once you have established yourself in the remote world, it can be very rewarding. Each production is for the moment. You build the show for that day, do the show, tear down and go home. Plus, you are dealing with live events, which is exhilarating (stressful), and you could be a part of history by working a Superbowl, game 7 of a World Series, or being part of the crew that was smart enough to keep their cameras rolling all night and capturing the collapse of the Metrodome.
Studio work, though just as rewarding, can be a little monotonous. News shows are the same day in and day out and the only thing that was much of a challenge was when we did special projects. I was fortunate enough to work at KING television in Seattle, where I did get to do shows like "Almost Live" (a local version of Saturday Night Live), Gimme the Mic (a local version of American Idol, which I happened to win an Emmy for), and other such projects. But, due to budget constraints, most of these shows were axed and by the time I decided to leave studio work for freelance, they were not doing much of anything but news anymore.
Every day would be a little different, but it would usually go something like this: Crew call would be 6-7 hours before the event starts. First thing we would do is unpack the production truck and settle in to our work areas. Camera guys would begin to build their cameras, Utilities would run cables to where they are needed, Audio would begin setting his audio board, and the Technical Director would begin building the show. Normally you would have about 3-4 hours to get all of this done and then the Producer and Director would want to make sure everything is working (which is called Fax) and do some pre-production. Then you would get a one hour lunch. After lunch would be rehearsals if needed and then the event would begin and you're live. After the event is over, everything that you set up has to be taken down and repacked on to the truck. Depending on how big the show was, this could take anywhere from 1 - 4 hours to do. Really, really big shows could take all night, with the crew leaving at sun up the next day.
I think that Technical Director will always be my favorite job. I do really enjoy Directing as well, but Technical Directing has challenges that no other position has and you are the Director's right hand. The Technical Director is the last stop before it hits air and that power is amazing.
Start small. Yes it is really cool to be working live events or working in Los Angeles, but these places only take really experienced production personnel. It is okay to start at a small TV station in the middle of nowhere. You will get good experience and earn some stripes, then you can look forward to bigger things. When I was working as a Camera Operator back in Boise, I would spend my lunch hours hanging out in the control room learning how the switcher works. By doing this, I was able to get the next Technical Director opening at the station within 2 years of being hired. That is something that is much harder to accomplish at a TV station in a large market.
Besides the obvious; hard worker, good listener, someone who follows instruction, conscientious, and smart, what I would really like to see is someone that can think for themselves. Someone that can be a step ahead and get the job done without constant supervision. In my job as a Technical Director, I don't always get the information that I need to build a show. So, instead of constantly asking questions or falling behind, I would have to figure a lot of it out myself.
Also, when dealing with technology, things don't always work the way they are supposed to. Being able to fix problems that don't require an engineer will save you lots of time and make you an engineer's best friend. There's nothing worse than calling for an engineer only to be told that a simple toggle switch is in the wrong position. During a show, I constantly think ahead and anticipate what a director might want next and this works at all levels, camera, tape and audio. A Cameraman who finds a player that the talent is referring to without the Director having to tell him to get it will get a lot more gigs from that Director. A Technical Director who sees that the next shot the Director has called for is not there and doesn't take the bad shot will always be remembered.
Becoming a freelancer earlier in my career is the one thing I would have done differently. It was a difficult decision to leave a stable studio job with benefits for an unstable, better paying, no benefits situation. I really had to wait and make sure I had the clients and the experience to get enough work to make a living. Though I have made great strides in the 5 years since I made the jump, I can't help but think that if I would have done it earlier, I could be Directing more now or Technical Directing some really big shows.