At The Game: The Horse Trailer

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Some of the behind-the-scenes stuff I’ve gotten to see this season has been more impressive than I expected. The Monday Night Football production trucks from a couple weeks back, for example, were remarkable in their size and scope. On one level, they looked just like the production truck Comcast uses to produce the Redskins preseason games — just scaled out to something like seven times larger. And there’s three of them.

Other things, though, are a little less remarkable than I would’ve thought. The Sunday Night Football Horse Trailer falls pretty solidly into that latter category, at least on the interior: it’s a trailer. The front is set up as an office for their online updates; the back is a small bank of computers that handles the on-screen virtual scoreboard stuff during the broadcast. The trailer is used to transport material from one site to the next, traveling around the clock behind a motorcoach with three drivers — one more than Madden’s cruiser uses.

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Redskins @ Panthers – First Quarter Technical Difficulty Thoughts

Here’s what’s interesting about the technical difficulties from this end: at the start, everything looked fine. The taped open ran as scheduled, the throw back to live coverage worked perfectly, and the game kicked off.

Just before kickoff, the production room got word through the phone AD that they had lost the HD signal at Comcast SportsNet in Bethesda. At that point, everyone went into action, isolating the problem as being with fiber optic line somewhere between Charlotte and Bethesda. Once this was clear, engineers purchased time on a satellite and ran lines to it to get the feed back up on air.

As you may have noticed if you’ve got HD, it’s a standard definition picture. This is because HD over satellite requires different equipment than HD over fiber. The engineers are on the phone with the fiber optic company pushing them to solve the break and restore the HD feed.

Engineer in Charge Ed Kizer is sitting near to where I am right now, and has offered to answer any questions anyone has about the problems. Just post them in the comments or feel free to email me.

He cannot, however, explain the performance of the team on the field.

Redskins @ Panthers – Meeting With The Booth

At this point, most everyone knows their marching orders. Everyone’s up to speed on the problems with the timing of the anthem and the resulting taped open. This is just the final review, the last time to get Joe Theismann, Mike Patrick, producer Brad Baker, Comcast SportsNet producer Rich Wolff, director Ernie Baur, and reporters Kelli Johnson and Brett Haber in one room together.

The meeting doesn’t end so much as devolve into Theismann and Patrick debating the future of the NFL preseason, and yet again I find myself impressed by how much these guys know. In some ways, this is just another barstool argument, the same kind of discussion I might have with my friends, but it’s on a completely different level. One thing I can definitely say about these two, they’re both extremely well-informed and extremely enthusiastic about the NFL, off-air as well as on-.

Joe Theismann and his board for the game.

Joe Theismann and his board for the game.

Mike Patrick, overlooking his board and the field.

Mike Patrick, overlooking his board and the field.

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Redskins @ Panthers – Production Room

Here’s the Production Room.

This is where the massive amounts of information coming into the rest of the truck gets turned, hopefully, into a watchable TV presentation. The director and producer are the two people who essentially quarterback the show. Also working here are

  • the technical director, who has to actually execute the instructions of the producer and director
  • the graphics coordinator, who is responsible, as you might figure, for the onscreen graphics
  • the scoring bug coordinator, who manages the score bar on the top of the screen
  • the phone assistant director, who is on a headset with Comcast SportsNet master control as well as any other companies on the Redskins Broadcast Network, acting as a communications hub.

The director this evening is Ernie Baur.

He watches the monitors, communicates with the cameramen, and essentially decides which camera to put on air. This is just a portion of what he’ll be focusing on.

Earlier, he met with the cameramen and talked them through their rough assignments. Each camera has a specific responsibility — high and low cameras in both endzones, one handheld on each sideline, the cart camera on the sideline, and a camera in the booth. The cameramen are are all local to Carolina, so they had to be brought up to speed on potential storylines for the game and told what Baur expects from them.

After the jump, just because I thought it was neat, is the onscreen interface for controlling the Scoring Bug.

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Redskins @ Panthers – The Production Truck

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the production truck, to be honest. I’ve seen the brief interior shots before — one or two toward the end of a Monday Night Football broadcast, maybe, or one on a Thanksgiving or Christmas game — and I’ve seen the trucks outside FedExField, but never really paid much attention to either.

The truck is, predictably, large. This particular truck is the Comcast SportsNet HD production truck, which is a bit of a coup — most regional networks don’t own one of these, and have to rent it out. If you’re watching a Caps home game, a Wizards home game, soccer … any home contests in HD on CSN are coming from this truck. Occasionally, if it’s available, it’s rented to broadcast in Philly or some other nearby market.

Truck, vanishing into the dimness of the garage.

Truck, vanishing into the dimness of the garage.

The inside is divided into four sections — from front to back, Video, Tape, Production, and Sound. To the completely uninitiated, each one looks roughly as complicated as the average airplane cockpit.

Video, as you might expect, handles anything to do with video as it comes into or goes out of the truck. Their primary in-game responsibility is, apparently, “shading” the cameras — making continual adjustments as the camera moves from lighter areas to darker areas to ensure that the burgundy remain the same from shot to shot. (Other colors, too, obviously. Burgundy is just an example.)

I couldn’t get a picture of the video area, though, because the NFL replay booth gets an HD feed from one of the trucks, and for this game the CSN truck got the nod. What this appeared to mean in practice is that the folks who man the video section had to start climbing under decks and plugging and unplugging wires and generally being way too busy for me to interrupt.

This is Tape.

Each of the eight cameras on the field feeds into a tape deck. The people in this section of the truck monitor those feeds, ready to rewind for replay if the producer calls for it. Three of the cameras are run through a machine called an EVS, or Elvis, which works more or less like a DVR; the others are on tape. If the camera guys are looking at what they’re supposed to be, and the guys in the Tape Room are doing what they’re supposed to do, every play should be accessible at any time from multiple angles.

I’m going to skip the Production Room for now and go to the Sound room, which is in the very back of the truck.

Unlike the first three rooms, which are all connected and are only “rooms” in the most theoretical way, Sound is completely separate and soundproofed so that Caroline, the lead audio mixer, can have the sound as loud as she wants. The truck is capable of putting out full 5.1 sound, and the room is equipped appropriately to let Caroline hear it as clearly as possible. During the game, she’ll be getting audio from the booth, from the Production Room, from the cameramen, probably from other sources that I forgot to note. Her job is the same as for Video, only she’s responsible for all audio in and out. Frankly, it sounds like an ADD nightmare to me, but she seems completely at ease.

I’m going to highlight the Production Room in its own post, as that’s where I’ll be spending at least the first portion of the game.

Wednesday, August 20: Planning for Saturday’s Broadcast

(Because the Redskins produce the preseason games in-house, I thought this might offer a good opportunity to watch the entire production of a game, from the advance production work it all the way through to the actual broadcast. At Redskins Park, I’ve been meeting with producer Brad Baker.)

When I walk into the Redskins TV studio to meet up with Brad Baker, he’s talking like Mike Patrick into a microphone. Well, not LIKE Mike Patrick, exactly — it’s not an imitation by any stretch — but there’s something in his cadence and delivery that is Mike Patrick-esque. He finishes up and turns to me.

“Sorry, just recording a scratch track for this week.”

A what?

You’ve heard Mike Patrick do an introduction before the pregame “Tonight, the Redskins face off against whoever!” So I’ll know where to cut the video, I record a voiceover – a scratch track. That way, I can loosely cut it to how it’s going to look.

So you WERE deliberately matching Mike Patrick’s cadence?

Yeah, usually I’m a much faster reader. That’s something I learned the first game that I did, Mike was blazing to keep up with the speed I had recorded to. So the last two, I’ve purposely recorded much slower.

All right, so where do you stand at this point for Saturday’s game?

I’ve already got all the graphic ideas together for the broadcast. So any stats you’ll see are ready.

We’re going to do a thing in the news hit at 6:30 where the Comcast pregame show goes to Mike [Patrick] and Joe [Theismann] in the booth for a preview of the game. Joe wants to talk this week about the main points of the West Coast Offense, so I’ve got those points and Comcast producer Rich Wolff and I were just on the phone talking about ways to jazz that up visually.

What, like guys on a little tiny football field like on ESPN?

No, something more like … if one of the five points is YAC, I might show the pass from Colt Brennan to Jason Goode where he ran for the touchdown. Just so it’s not a board that you’re staring at.

So it’s not Joe Theismann and the world’s worst PowerPoint presentation.

Correct.

So, do you know that you want to talk about, say, Kareem Moore this week, and you’ve planned Kareem Moore graphics?

We do a feature called “Fight to 53” about guys who are on the bubble of making the team, and I already knew LAST week who I was going to do this week. I had to tell Marc [Dress], so he could shoot isos [isolated shots] of the player, and Comcast gave me footage as well. Do you know what a MELT is?

Nope.

It’s a tape you get after the game that’s got different plays on it. Not the entire game, but – it might have key plays in the game, or key players. You get them from four or five different angles, some in slow-mo, that kind of stuff. So I have to let the person who makes the MELT know, “Next week I’m going to do a Fight to 53 on this guy, any shots you’ve got of him, even if he doesn’t make a play, put them on that MELT.”

So it’s like a Cliffs Notes of the game.

Exactly. But we edit most things in the truck onsite. The only things I edit together in advance are the open tease and whatever the halftime piece is going to be. Later today I have to meet with Joe and finalize some things there, and then I fly out a day early to get things set up. You should come sit in on the meeting with Joe.

Sounds good.

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As always, I’m happy to bring any questions you have to the people involved. So if you have any questions for Brad, Mike Patrick, or Joe Theismann — please let me know, either via email or in the comments.

Putting the Redskins on TV: Meet Brad Baker

Because the Redskins produce the preseason games in-house, I thought this might offer a good opportunity to watch the entire production of a game, from the work done in the week running up to it all the way through to the actual broadcast itself. It’s the kind of thing I won’t necessarily be able to do in the regular season, as those games are produced by the network, and there’s no guarantee they’d be interested in having me follow along.

Brad Baker is the producer of the preseason games, and although I haven’t asked whether he’s fully INTERESTED in having me follow, he’s at least agreed to it.

Brad Baker, producer

Brad Baker, producer

Brad is a graduate of the North Carolina School of the Arts School of Filmmaking. He got his start as a development assistant in L.A. with the producer of the Rush Hour franchise, moved back to the actual video production side of things at Expert Insight, and began working with sports TV production at the NFL Network.

“I had wanted to get a full time job there, and they didn’t have anything. They asked if I wanted to produce some highlights, but I didn’t want to work on Sundays, because I didn’t want to not be able to be at home watching football. And they said, “Well, lucky you, because we’re doing this college football show,” so I was able to work there on Saturdays.”

Working at NFLN, he found that football and production was a perfect marriage for his skills, which brought him to the Redskins as a producer last year.

“I produced Redskins Late Night all last season,” he says, “and I won an Emmy for my work on the Sean Taylor memorial video ‘Remembering 21’.” This preseason’s Bills game marked his entry into the production of live broadcasts.

As usual in situations like this, I’m happy to bring any questions you have to the people involved. So if there’s anything you’re interested in knowing about broadcasting a live NFL game — if you have any questions for Brad, or Mike Patrick and Joe Theismann — please let me know, either via email or in the comments.