In this article, we will look at how this process works, who works on the shows, and briefly discuss the different types of shows that are typically produced.
Throughout the rest of this textbook, we will go into more detail of each of these positions and productions.
It's the top of the hour. We fade from black to a wide shot of the field and we hear an announcer set up the game we are about to see. Often, the language is epic and dramatic and pits two teams or individuals against one another in a struggle to win the contest. Over the next few minutes, we learn about each team and probably highlight one or two points about each squad, how they are doing in the current season,. perhaps some things to pay particular attention to.
Then the game starts. The coverage is augmented by camera angles that show us how a certain play succeeded, hearing the roar of the crowd, the thud of a hit, a coach in the huddle talking about adjustments to be made, an announcer giving insight into the call on the field or what is happening next, and graphics that show the score, key stats, the up-to-the-minute playoff situation, and some replays and highlight packages that show the big moments in dramatic slow motion. At the end of the broadcast, all these elements work in concert to tell the story of the game, the team, the participants, and often the other players in and around the game.
That is what the viewer sees at home. Behind the scenes, many people are working very hard to bring all this to light. For most of this chapter, we are focusing on production of live, unscripted sporting events, although we will also briefly cover scripted shows as well.
The biggest challenge of covering any event is not knowing exactly what will happen. The results are not known beforehand, and some of the greatest moments in sports were born from events that no one predicted were going to be interesting. Even in a studio or scripted environment, some of the elements of production can be unpredictable, from electrical or equipment issues, to a myriad of things that can pop up and create situations that folks will have to deal with at a moment's notice.
With this in mind, the best piece of advice comes in two parts, planning and preparing. While these might seem like the same thing, they have some key differences. To highlight this difference, allow us to introduce a phrase:
Plan for what you can, prepare for what you can't!
A rundown is a simple plan of events for the talent and crew to know the order of elements for a segment of a show. This is a very simple version of a rundown. Many producers will develop their own version with more or less information. For this basic rundown, we include page number, slug, source, out cue (DC), total run time (TRT), and the segment and show time.
A page number is a simple identifier for each element of the show. A producer or director can use these to quickly note what element they want to see, rehearse, move or delete. In conjunction with the page number, a producer will include a slug or a short three or four word description of the element. Again, this allows for quickly identifying an element of the show. For example, they might say, "let's take a look at page 3, standings..." In this example, this would alert the talent, director, graphics, audio, and camera that we are going to see a full-page graphic.
The source is a quick notation for where this element is coming from. This could be a camera, a tape element, graphics machine, or some other source. Often, this is assigned by a director, and they will mark up their personal copy of a rundown with their own notations to keep track of each element's source.
The out-cue (OC) and total run-time (TRT) are used to let people know about when a particular element is finished. An outcue would be very useful at the end of a taped piece and is typically the last few words of a sentence or music sting. The show time of a show is simply a tally of the total time elapsed in a show. During live shows, whether scripted or a sporting event, the channel that is showing the event has a very specific time the show must start and end. The producer will be particularly interested in how the actual show matches up with the estimated show time. If the show is running long or short, then the producer will need to make adjustments to different elements of the show. How do they do this quickly? They are able to quickly adjust the flow of a rundown because of the built in ease of adjusting elements. For example, we are moving page 3 to the next segment and going to break right after page 2. In a few short words, everyone knows what is happening.
For some parts of your show, you will know exactly what is going to happen. These are the moments you develop a solid plan. If you have five minutes before the opening tip of your basketball game, then you can plan for every second of those five minutes. If you have a 30-minute studio show, you can plan for what is going to be seen the entire show without surprise. Planning means you spend time before the show writing it down and sharing the plan with everyone who needs to know so no one is surprised, and everyone can accomplish their task in concert with everyone else. The plan is the roadmap, the guide, the rundown of events.
A rundown lists the elements of the show. Each element will often have a number to distinguish that piece of the show from everything else. The slug will give a brief, three- or four-word at most description of that piece. Then the rundown will often include the source, length, and run-time of the piece. Depending on who you are and where you are working on the show, the rundown provides key pieces of information so that everyone can literally be on the same page at the same time. A director will need to know what element is coming next, an audio technician will need to know where the next source of audio is coming from, talent will need to know what they are voicing over or talking about next, the tape room would need to know what element to cue up and play next, camera operators will need to know what is their next shot, and graphics will use that information to let them know what graphic is next. This plan allows for predictability.
When you are dealing with a live sporting event, other than how many rounds, periods, or players on the field or court, or the general rules of play, you will not be able to reliably predict what is going to happen. You will need to diligently prepare for what you cannot definitively predict. This relates to everyone on the crew. Preparing means you try your best to think of likely scenarios and the possible courses of action. Let's look at a few examples to see what this might mean.
Let's say you are covering a football game. And let's assume that at some point, one of the teams will score a touchdown. How can we prepare for this situation from the different crew positions? If you are the announcer, you might have practiced a new way to announce a touchdown, including the name of the team, who scored, and what the current score is before the extra point. If you are the graphics coordinator and graphics operator, you might need to have shells built for whoever scored and give some key stats about the player's season. Perhaps there is a player who is approaching a record number of points scored and you will need to be ready to know the significance of the touchdown. If you are the director, you have set up your camera operators to get you various shots. You want to see a hero shot—in other words, a close-up image of the player who scored—on two of your cameras, another camera is responsible for getting the head coach, two other cameras are getting crowd shots, and the game camera is getting ready for the extra point. As a camera operator, you
need to harken back to the meeting you had with the director before the show started where she explained what was expected. In the tape room, the operators are looking for replays and getting ready to roll out to the commercial with good angles of the score and a player reaction. The audio booth is mixing in the crowd that is going nuts with the announcers' excited calls and remembering the cannon that is about to go off in the end zone. And, as we go to break, roll some music to button up the segment.
That is just one of numerous situations that everyone has to be ready to handle. And while we are suggesting to plan for all that you can and to prepare for as much as you can, you also need to steel yourself that this is essentially impossible! "What?" you ask, "I can't plan or prepare for everything?" Well, we don't mean to scare you, but no, you can't! Things happen that you can't even imagine: a tornado hits in the mountains, the star player suddenly retires five minutes before the game, a massive sit-in erupts at center court, who knows what it might be? No matter what position you are working, you will need to troubleshoot as best you can and make the best of whatever happens. In the end, you will have plenty of time after the show to reflect and add that crazy situation to your repertoire of circumstances you will be ready to handle!
Bringing any production to life requires a team of people who bring both creative and technical skills to the production. These people form a crew that in some cases has just met for the first time that morning, yet in a matter of hours must set-up and get ready to work as a well-oiled machine to collaborate and produce a sporting event. Throughout this book, we will go into great detail to discuss each of the crew member's roles in the production. As you consider your career choices, remember that while you might strongly identify with only one of these jobs, understanding how all these roles fit together in the big picture will provide you with a greater understanding of your role and ultimately help you succeed no matter which job you perform. In addition, you might go into your career thinking you want to head in one direction, but might end up in a totally different area. Part of your success will, of course, be your proficiency in performing your job function. However, understanding how you fit into the overall operation, which includes having some understanding of the big picture, will make you more effective in not only doing your job, but getting help from the numerous people you are working with on the crew. No production happens overall with just one person, but many productions, in the moment-to-moment progression of a sportscast, have been saved or ruined by individuals.