Covering live events is not for the faint hearted, much can go wrong and often does so careful planning is key. Here, five exponents of the art explain how it’s done
Europe: The Final Referendum Debate
Production manager John Keyes on Channel 4’s Europe: The Final Debate with Jeremy Paxman produced by ITN Productions
We explored venues across the country and not just TV studios but random locations. In the end it was set in the Troxy in east London, a former cinema. A TV studio is easier, it has inbuilt technical capabilities but whenever you’re looking at locations you choose something that offers you the most flexibility for filming. The programme had a live audience of 150, a large set with a large video wall and signposted graphics as well. We found a space that could fit all that in. Some TV studios are compromised by size or shape or availability. You can use the London Studios or Elstree or Pinewood but then sometimes you’re fitting 150 into a space that could take a 1000 so you get lost in the wilderness. The Troxy fitted our production well and was available and architecturally an interesting space to shoot in.
If not filming in a studio you have to install full technical facilities.We partnered with Cloudbass. The immediate concerns are parking. You’ve got to have the OB trucks very close to the venue so access is important. There are 150 people coming in so you need to get them in and out safely in an emergency. You need production space, dressing rooms, space for camera jibs, Steadicams. There’s no point trying to shoehorn that into a smaller, prettier venue which lacks any kind of facilities.
It’s about the flexibility of the venue too. Some historic buildings are limited in what you can and can’t do with them. Also, what are the power capabilities? Does it have internet built in, phone lines? For redundancy you’re required to have solid BT phone lines rather than relying on mobile communication in the OB truck. We installed that in advance.
We knew the nature of the programme was to be reactive and cover a topical story so you have to ensure you’ve got cameras and sound to cover every eventuality. We ended up with eight cameras. As well as five ped cameras we had a large jib at the rear. We used a Steadicam as Paxman’s main camera so we could always move with the debate. We built in sound platforms for boom operators to work from to ensure we could cover every part of the audience. We had four operators working across the studio plus key panellists miked up. The key thing is redundancy. You have to ensure you’ve got back up for power, lighting, cameras in place and main and back up satellite lines in place as well.
The Isle of Man TT
Unit Manager Mark Bunkle and Head of Production Robert Gough on North One’s coverage of the the Isle of Man TT for ITV4
The planning for the next one starts as soon as the last one has finished. The race has become so popular you need to book the freight, the flights, the accommodation straight away. It’s an island in the middle of the Irish Sea so it’s not so easy. Everything has to be booked on to ferry boats which are often booked years in advance particularly during the TT week. Early planning is key.
It’s also about reserving the key people and getting them signed up. We’re lucky in that pretty much since we’ve started we’ve retained the same camera crew throughout. You got to have that experience in terms of health and safety know how.
We have 100 plus camera positions. The production staff is about 85 people altogether. We have 20 cars, satellite uplink, Hi-motion van, a VT truck, three 15-metre double expanding trucks for our office space. We have the heli-telly, Polecam, other fixed cameras. We’ve got the Steadicam rig at the start/finish. We use the NAC Hi-motion super slow motion camera – that gives us a special form of analysis with a high frame rate. The on-board cameras are built to our specifications now. It’s so complicated putting them on to the bikes with very limited space so they come in an articulated form. The various component parts of the cameras are stripped across the bike where space allows it. They’re very unique. It’s the same with some of the effects cameras. With the kerb cameras we use it’s logistically challenging. We can’t get to them so we use mobile phone technology to control those cameras. We can switch them on and off. The cameras then send us a reverse message to tell us what status they’re in so we should be able to know what media we’ll get back. The story of the race, apart from listening to the radio commentary, is coming to us in terms of data. The editorial team start constructing the programme based on data. If we know if there’s been an incident at a certain location at a certain time we can work backwards and see what pictures we’ll get that will support that.
Ingest wise on a big race we might be taking on 40 to 50 hours of material. We’ve got to ingest and work through that to make the material for that night. It’s harder than any of the live sport OBs we’ve done. The degree of difficulty on this is off the scale. The giant jigsaw puzzle is 37.5 miles of track and getting all the material back, the sheer scale of that material and then disseminating that into a creative editorial programme that tells the story of the day with the right pictures in the right places. It sounds easy if you say it quickly. And it’s a close road situation so that adds to the difficulty of how we can get that stuff back from areas that are quite hard to access.
We make use of the course cars and bikes and the travelling marshals. They can go around quite fast at the end just before the roads reopen to collect all that media for us.
The show goes out at 9pm that night. We do two shows, one for ITV which is English speaking with talent. That also goes to America and Australia among others. Then we do an international show without the talent which goes with a guide script. From May 30 through to 12 June we put out 15 ITV programmes and from the 2nd to 12th we made 12 international programmes as well.
Premier League Productions
Nick Moody, Head of Premier League Productions
PLP is the best kept secret in British broadcasting. We are not host broadcasters. Sky, BT and the BBC are covering the 380 matches for the Premier League. Our job is to pick up the match coverage and distribute it to 190 odd territories around the world. We bring everything back to IMG Studios at Stockley Park and everything then has graphics and the PLP look and feel added. We make a world feed around every single one of the matches with a ten minute build up and half time coverage and five minutes post match. For smaller broadcasters, we provide an English speaking channel with a very high end studio production with a lot of the talent you see in British broadcasting.
For every match we put in additional cameras. We put in a tactical camera every match. We put in a wide angle for broadcasters who might wish to populate thier own studios with the wide on the video wall to put their graphics over. We also send out an Iso angle that follows players during the game and that doubles up as an interview line for broadcasters that wish to go on site for unilateral hits pre and post match.
We have a new deal for this term with Telegenic for OB facilities. We’re having purpose built trucks that will be on site at 190 to 200 matches. Where we have high demand from overseas broadcasters who want to be on site for those games we put extra facilities in to take the burden off host broadcasters. We put a technical producer on site at every game to look after all those additional feeds and also four purpose built trucks that will look after the filming of the unilaterals so Sky, BT and the BBC don’t have to worry about it..We also look after the commentary positions. On big matches we can have six or seven commentary teams from around the world that wish to be on site. We also have commentary cameras that we put on.
We have deals with all the satellite providers in every market if one satellite goes down we have another we can turn to. We also have a fibre network at every Premier League ground. There are 16 lines out of each ground to get all the facilities back to Stockley Park.
We’ll be bringing back the 18 Yard and the High Behind now too. We are connected to the Hawkeye truck on site and we use them to hook into the host broadcaster so we can bring out up to ten angles via the Hawkeye. We play that down our fibre lines and make a clips channel. If Rooney scores an overhead goal we can access all the angles that the BBC or Sky or BT have for their replay. We can access all those angles directly even if they’ve not been used as replays and play them out around the world. Remote production is growing and we will be doing more but we’re not looking at a scenario where licensees around the world will cut their own games but we are looking at providing them with extra angles and cameras.
Apart from the core world feed we also make a magazine programme for every day of the week using all the content we’re bringing back and shooting ourselves as well. We’re also now expanding into short form content to allow broadcasters to get clips out to their digital areas.
ICC World Twenty20 Cricket 2016 – India
David Tippett, Sunset + Vine’s Executive Producer on the recent ICC T20 World Cup
The 2016 T20 World Cup in India was not the normal run of the mill event. We only won the contract just before Christmas and the T20 started in March so we didn’t have as much prep time as you would like. For a big event like that you would start crewing it and planning it up to a year ahead but we didn’t have that option. It was a competitive tender so a lot of the planning took place in the tendering.All the televised venues regularly host major international cricket so the camera positions and the way the game is covered is pretty much set to a certain degree, you’re not starting from scratch. We knew we had people on the team that knew the venues and what was required in terms of cameras and equipment and numbers of crew etc.
For the T20 it was primarily a local crew. They cover cricket all the time there and the quality of the camera operators and EVS is very high. But because it was an international event we wanted to bring in a decent level of international expertise to ensure you’re bringing the best of broadcasting from around the world or at least the territories that are big in that sport. You need that core sporting expertise, the coverage has to be credible but this is a world event so you have to be mindful of a broader audience. You need that sense of scale and occasion to the coverage.
It’s a fly pack based solution. We had seven televised venues so there were seven separate OB kits. Each venue had an OB kit installed for the duration. We had four separate production teams and crews. Each team had about 100 people from director, producer, exec producer, camera operators, VT, graphics. They then travelled around to operate one of the seven kits. It’s quite a complicated OB and production crew schedule which you apply on top of the match schedule. We did 48 games. Essentially what you’re doing is seeing what’s the smallest number of production crews you need to cover that number of games. We couldn’t do it with less than four. And then there’s a core team centrally managing the overall production. You need a uniform look and feel across the four crews. We don’t want a mish mash of different types of cricket coverage. It’s important for the ICC to have a uniform style. You’ve got four of everyone. You’re trying to allow them their own creativity. You’ve hired them because they’re the best in their field so they have their own thoughts and ideas but at the same time you’re trying to have this consistent output.
We were producing the world feed. Something new for ICC events was we were producing an entire programme rather than a raw world feed. We produced a programme with a half hour build up, mid innings shows and and then carried on with post match interviews. Cricket can do that as all the main rights holders are English speaking. And then some rights holders take all of that and others like Sky in the UK or Star in India would just do their own studio wrap and join the feed at predetermined points. Around that you’re also doing unilaterals for other rights holders. Another new thing was an additional content production operation. We had eight self sufficient ENG crews roving around India shooting press conferences, interviews and packaging those up. They were available on an ICC cloud based content distribution network for broadcasters to download.
Red Bull Culture Clash
Rob Lane, executive producer at Fastlane, on the Red Bull Culture Clash at the O2 which goes out on YouTube, Red Bull and is also simulcast on Radio 1 and 1Xtra
It’s our third year of doing the event. Each time we try to grow the event in terms of scale and ambition. We start by sitting down with Red Bull and looking at the previous year and how we can tighten it up and make it better. We work closely with the event production team to make sure it comes across as well on screen in terms of lighting and design. 1.23m tune in to the event. We bring in our own lighting designer, a multi-cam director and sometimes set directors so aesthetically it looks great on camera. We put together a bespoke team. We used the same director who did the show before, Liz Clare, who does the Brit Awards. We used the same lighting director too. There is a core group, they’re all live event TV experts.
It’s a competition format between four crews so it’s not a regular gig. The competition format is pretty set so there are rules and parameters that we stick to but what changes is the artists and presenters and the special guests. There are always surprises. There were a couple of venue changes this time so we had to re-spec the show twice. To begin with it was going to be at ExCel then the Olympic Stadium and finally the O2 was chosen. The O2 is a great venue to film in but, in previous years, each crew has had their own stage. The main difference this year was, due to the venue, we didn’t have four separate stages for the four separate crews. Our challenge was how do we get everyone to share a stage but have individual areas that feel like it belongs to them? We went through a lot with LEDs and our screen content to create a canvas, to pinpoint individual areas. It was about how we draw the audience attention to each part of the stage.
We look at the stage designs initially and then spec out a camera plan based on those designs and what we want to capture. We try to get in as many camera positions as possible without taking too much capacity from the event. We’re always mindful that they want to sell tickets but we usually get what we want. We had 15 cameras this year including the Technocrane and two cameras behind the scenes in the pres area for our wrap around show.
You have a little bit more flexibility doing a broadcast online. You can come off air and go on air when you decide but it all needs to be coordinated so the audience knows when to expect the broadcast. We time everything as you would a normal live broadcast show for TV but there’s a bit of flexibility if the winning act plays a few minutes longer for instance. But we’ve all got to be wary of the curfew at the venue. We do have hard deadlines to hit.
We have a streaming company we partner with. We go to the venue and test their lines and do a streaming test to YouTube. The streaming company have a set of encoders that they bring along and we make sure we have an uncontended internet line and a back up with the right bandwidth to cope with the amount of traffic we expect for a broadcast of this size. Also there are a lot of feeds. We’re feeding all the screens at the O2 as well as YouTube, Red Bull and Radio 1 is taking a feed as well. It’s a lot of planning and double and triple checking and a lot of talking about feeds and patching cables and cable runs and set up time.