LTS 2011: Directors Talk Time Management, Score Bugs, 16:9

Directors took the stage at SVG’s sixth-annual League Technology Summit on Tuesday morning to discuss time-management issues, graphics and audio issues, and pet peeves in today’s truck environments. The conversation, moderated by HBO Sports Director Jason Cohen and MLB International VP/Executive Producer Russell Gabay, began with a look at the challenges of time management in today’s broadcast world.

CBS Sports Director Mark Grant

“You really have to budget your time,” said CBS Sports director Mark Grant. “At 11 a.m. on the dot, we have to do the fantasy report. Because of the time schedule that we are on, I really only have 30 minutes to tell the whole story of everything I know about these two football teams. Sometimes, I don’t feel like I tell the camera crew everything I need to tell them before the game.”

For regional networks like NESN and YES, one-on-one camera meetings are not always necessary at home, but they are crucial on the road. Regardless of location, such face-to-face meetings are consistently becoming harder to schedule.

“I don’t get to have the one-on-one camera meetings where I can actually see their faces very often,” said YES Network director John Moore. “Most of the camera meetings I have now are on headset, which takes away a little bit from it. I have a lot more piecemeal camera meetings now than I used to.”

CBS Sports Director Suzanne Smith

With an increasing number of deliverables that need to be fed into a broadcast, directors must become more organized and better able to divide the crew to meet every assignment.

“You don’t need all 10 cameras shooting the quarterback,” CBS Sports director Suzanne Smith pointed out. “If you have two graphics machines, assign them each different graphics and give them different things to do. Now, if you need to feed 20 things, you might have 15 different pieces of the puzzle already set. During the course of the day, you have less downtime, but, if you utilize your time, you can get everything done.”

In addition to providing each of those telecast pieces, integrating sales elements with storytelling has become a challenge for every network. NESN Senior Coordinating Director Mike Naracci noted such integration as his biggest challenge.

“Moments happen in a game, and you want to cover them with everything you have, but a producer is calling for a sales element that probably could wait,” he said. “That, for me, is the biggest challenge.”

Stuffing the Score Bug
The directors had differing viewpoints on the use of a score-bug graphic and what should be included in its content.

YES Network Director John Moore

“I used to fight the bug, and now I know, as a viewer, it is my friend,” Moore said. “I don’t like the bug being in just before the pitch, because it handicaps me as a director. It is fundamental information that should be there, but then we have to have the company logo, the occasional Applebee’s apple, and other sponsor elements. We clog up the screen with so many things that are not important, but some things that are vitally important we leave off.”

When it comes to football, Moore noted that one of his biggest frustrations is the disappearance of the play clock from the score bug.

“That play clock is important, sometimes more important than the game clock,” he said. “The second the ball is put in play, the play clock is counting down. Sometimes, it pops onto the screen with five seconds left, but we’re then leaving it up to producers and directors to say this is when you need to see it. If we know something they don’t know, we need to tell them.”

Grant added, “More important to me than the clock and score sometimes is the down and distance. I tell my graphics operator, as soon as you know the down and distance, update it. In the past, they’ve waited until we get our play-by-play cameras set, but now they update it right away. Yes, the score is important, but I think the down and distance is important as well.”

Production Pet Peeves
When it comes to what drives directors crazy in the truck environment, the panelists’ opinions ran the gamut, from heads to ears.

NESN Senior Coordinating Director Mike Narracci

“Is it possible to get wireless headsets?” Naracci asked. “Every time I turn my head, it gets ripped off.”

Said Grant, “In a truck, the producer has to scooch up so I can get by. In some of the trucks, there’s just not enough room between the second and first bench, and the producer doesn’t want to scooch.”

For Smith, communication is the most maddening element of the production environment.

“When I’m in a truck and we have these brilliant engineers, I say, ‘I know you guys are working on this. Just answer me,’” she said. “When the machine goes down, just tell me. I know people are always working hard to fix these problems, but sometimes there is a lack of communication.”

Audio has exploded during the past five years, but Moore said he is never sure whether what he’s hearing in the truck is what fans are hearing at home.

“Cable companies can’t handle certain audio, or somebody’s entertainment system at home is not set up right,” he said. “So, sitting in the truck, I have no faith that what I’m hearing is what’s going out or what somebody is hearing at home.”

Time To Accept 16:9
The directors also discussed the future of 16:9 versus 4:3 graphics, with Moore contending that, at this point, it’s time to act on the fact that we live in a 16:9 world.

“If you have a 4:3 set, we will help you through it, either with letterboxing or having announcers say, ‘For those of you with high definition, you can see this,’ which is a not-so-subtle hint for those of you who don’t to go get one,” he said. “Sometimes, you’ll see in a replay a third-base coach waving the runner as a camera guy is panning, but he might just be in the 16:9 part of the frame. In my opinion, we’re at the point where we should show that shot and explain what’s happening to those who can’t see it.”

Click here for SVG’s comprehensive coverage of the 2011 League Technology Summit!