Up to this point, my television experience has been at a very small station in the middle of Missouri (KOMU-TV 8, look it up).
So, when I landed this internship at ESPN, the first thing that I wanted to know is how does a network this LARGE put out a HUGE amount of content with the ATTENTION TO DETAIL of a spinal surgeon?
The truth is…the answer to that question is quite simple. Strength in numbers.
As a television station evolves and grows, the station should shift a huge amount of resources and focus on its employee structure. By that I mean, to run ESPN, you better have a plan of who answers to whom, what each person should do and what extra positions should be created to make it all mold together.
But most importantly, I believe the greatest task is keeping the integrity of a piece of work when it passes through the hands of so many people.
Let me give you an example so you don’t have to try and sort through that poorly explained piece of mumbo jumbo.
Let’s examine the journey of a single highlight from the start of the game to the airing on Sportscenter…or Baseball Tonight…or NASCAR Now…or NFL Live…you get the picture.
Long before the first pitch is thrown, or the ball is hiked, there is a television crew on scene. Duh.
This crew has some sort of director switching between shots and telling people what to do. Some people work a camera. Others make sure cables are where they need to be. Others monitor electricity and all of the equipment. It’s pretty complex stuff on the scene of a sporting event going live (we call them remotes in the biz….like I’m part of the “biz.” YEAH RIGHT, GET REAL.)
Anyways, these people on site are responsible for every shot that ends up in a highlight. They are also responsible for all of the replays. Many times the announcers hint at some information that becomes the storyline in the highlight. The dudes and dudettes cutting the highlights back at ESPN, like me, absolutely DEPEND on these people.
The person cutting the highlight has no communication with the remote crew and is stuck with what shots/replays/slow-mo’s/sound that the remote crew gives them. Almost every time, the person cutting the highlight and the remote crew don’t even work for the same company.
Back at headquarters…that’s where I come in.
A PA (Production Assistant) is ultimately the person in charge of what goes into a highlight and what story is told. Here’s how my typical day goes…
I show up an hour and a half before the game and start with research. I research any possible storylines going on in the game through resources like Facebook and Twitter. I check out the local newspapers of the two teams. I check out the ESPN preview and try to find a NEW story.
I’m convinced that the old storylines of “So-and-so had a good game, hit a homerun, threw a touchdown, ran a fast time” are old and tired. There is always so much more to every game.
Check out the fan in the stands who has cancer and his last wish is to be in that seat watching his favorite team. Check out the dude there with his wife and a baby in one hand…and he happens to catch a foul ball with the other hand WHILE HOLDING HIS CHILD (This happened. Priorities? Baseball or child? C’mon man…)
That’s what I have learned since I’ve been at ESPN. The go-to storylines, story-of-the-game storylines, have all been done before. But if you look hard enough, and don’t force the creativity, then you are bound to find something new and fresh in each game.
So now that I’m off that tangent, back to business.
After research, I turn on the game and check out the pregame coverage. Then when the game starts, I log the game. Logging is basically writing down every shot, every play, every possible thing that can make it into your highlight (or not) that happens in a game. A close-up of a pitcher, a slow replay of a diving catch, or Mark Sanchez eating a hot dog on the sidelines are all things in a broadcast that would be logged.
As I am logging the game, I am constantly trying to figure out the storyline I would like to take. I am keeping a cheat sheet of what plays/shots I would use in chronological order. I am also writing a shot sheet.
A shot sheet is what the anchor is reading when the highlight is playing on air. So, consequently, I mess that up and the anchor looks bad. We don’t want that.
When the game ends, or it is time to put the highlight on air. I talked to my boss-of-the-day or Highlight Producer. I run my plan by them and they tell me what to change, give approval and throw me into an edit room where I frantically try to explain my ideas to the editor, who actually throws the video together.
Once the editor throws it all together, the piece looks nice, makes sense and is ready to go, I call up my Highlight Producer and have he/she check out the video and shot sheet.
Once I am approved, I have to run the shot sheet (again, frantically to make deadline) into the studio while dodging cameras ninja-style so I don’t end up on TV unnecessarily.
By that time, the work is out of my hands and into the very capable hands of the best directors, producers and anchors in the country. In the control room, you have about 10-15 people running different jobs and utilizing over 140 monitors in a room to run a single show of Sportscenter. Check it out:
To recap: my highlight started in the hands of the remote crew on scene at the game. Then I watched it, logged it and planned it. My highlight producer approved it. My editor pieced it together. The producer planned the show and gave me restrictions for my highlight (how long it will be and what time it hits air). The different levels of directors are punching the buttons and commanding the troops on the set. And finally, the quirky anchor read my shot sheet while the highlight played adding bits and pieces of personality for everyone at home across the entire world to enjoy.
All of that for under two minutes of television.
Back to my point of this post. ESPN has so many people and so many levels of power, that organization is key. If I mess up, I let a lot of people down working with me to accomplish the same goal: deliver the best in sports television. Every person is a piece of the ESPN machine. And every piece must be well oiled to make sure the machine works.
I’m just one piece.
No pressure right?