CSMA Master Class: Middle Tennessee State’s EMC Productions Treats Students Like Pros

The SVG/NACDA College Sports Media Awards celebrate the best in college sports-video production. As technology and techniques evolve, the ability to create high-quality video on any budget has proliferated CSMAPage-wufoosignificantly. At the SVG College Sports Summit in May, 16 productions from across the country were honored for their excellence and overall contribution to the industry. This summer, SVG is proud to offer an in-depth look at the personalities and programs that have raised the bar in college sports video.

Much like an athlete, an aspiring live video production pro needs one thing: reps.

WATCH: A segment of EMC Productions' CSMA-winning broadcast of MTSU men's basketball vs. East Carolina.

WATCH: A segment of EMC Productions’ CSMA-winning broadcast of MTSU men’s basketball vs. East Carolina.

At Middle Tennessee State University, the cream of the student crop at the College of Mass Communications gets its reps in a truly special way.

EMC Productions, a student-run production company made up annually of an all-star team of students from inside the school’s communications department, broadcasts loads of sporting events for the Blue Raiders athletics program, including football and basketball games for local television affiliates in the Nashville area and across the state. A student occupies every single position on the crew.

“We are providing them a professional environment, not a class environment,” says Dennis O’Neal, a professor at MTSU and the faculty advisor to EMC Productions. “It’s a different relationship and there’s a different kind of tension because the people working on EMC Productions want to be there. In class, sometimes the attitude is they have to be there. We select students with good attitudes, and we’ve had good results with that.”

That professional environment has more than shown itself in EMC Productions’ shows, including a broadcast of an MTSU men’s basketball game vs. East Carolina, that landed the moderately sized mid-major school in Murfreesboro, TN, the award for Outstanding Live Game and Event Production in the Collegiate Student division at the SVG/NACDA College Sports Media Awards.

The Varsity Team
MTSU’s College of Mass Communications has a strong history of providing students with training in media arts, including offering curricular studies in video production beginning back in 1991. It was only in 2011, however, that an extracurricular “club” was formed that would take the school’s commitment to live event production to the next level.

Students fill every position at EMC Productions, including producer, director, and technical director.

Students fill every position at EMC Productions, including producer, director, and technical director.

Three years ago, EMC Productions was founded with the idea of creating a professional production company within the College of Mass Communications using the best students that the department had to offer. The group would broadcast everything from sporting events to music shows and graduations. You name it.

O’Neal hires a management team of students that receive a financial stipend for their work. Those students hold the positions of producer, director, technical director, and production coordinator. From there, if a student wants to be on the crew, he or she must submit a resume to O’Neal and letters of reference if he doesn’t know them. From there, the student management team selects the rest of the team.

“I think it’s very valuable having to start at the bottom and work your way to the top,” says Josh Cragg, a native of Murfreesboro who is entering his junior year and will serve as producer in the upcoming academic year. “That gives you a better understanding of the whole production.”

While all of the students tend to have a role they fill, O’Neal says it’s important, even for his management team, that they get experience throughout the production.

“We specialize, but we like them to be versatile,” says O’Neal, who has taught at MTSU for more than 30 years. “I like to have people within the crew that I can flip around. Things happen. If they are all too specialized then we can’t do that.“

There are approximately 250 production students in the College of Mass Communications for EMC Productions to select from. On a typical basketball broadcast, the crew is 23 students strong, while 30 are on-site for football games.

Critical HD Upgrades
To produce all of these events, the group has at its disposal a full-size mobile production truck that the department had built back when the production program began in ’91. Unfortunately, the truck hadn’t received a technological upgrade in some time and was still living in the SD world as recently as three years ago.

In 2011, the College of Mass Communications invested nearly $2 million to upgrade their 20+-year-old truck to HD.

In 2011, the College of Mass Communications invested nearly $2 million to upgrade their 20+-year-old truck to HD.

“It was dying,” chuckles O’Neal. “ We were buying parts off of eBay.”

Just in time for the first year of EMC Productions, however, the department received a grant from the university to give the truck its much needed facelift. Nearly $2 million was invested into pushing the mobile facility to HD, and its students staff haven’t looked back since.

Today, the HD version of the truck is entering its fourth year and features a Sony MVS-8000G production switcher, a NewTek 3Play, a Compix graphics solution, and a Yamaha DM2000VCM audio console.

On basketball games, the crew will deploy six cameras throughout the Murphy Center. For football productions, the camera complement is boosted up to 10. Primarily, EMC Productions uses Sony HXC-100K cameras with a collection of Canon and Fujinon lenses.

The truck was redesigned in a way that it closely resembled the department’s production studio, so students only had to be taught once how to use a console or device.

Learning Experience
For students looking to cut their teeth in live video production, there are many schools that offer opportunities to broadcast live events. However, few offer the professional atmosphere of life in a mobile production truck.

MTSU students Chris Robertson, Justin Beasley, and Josh Cragg celebrated their CSMA win with the event's emcee, Rece Davis.

MTSU students Chris Robertson, Justin Beasley, and Josh Cragg celebrated their CSMA win with the event’s emcee, Rece Davis.

“If you want to get the opportunity to do the same work that ESPN and Fox are doing, come to MTSU,” says Cragg. “I’m going to be a producer in my junior year. Nowhere else are you going to get that kind of opportunity and it’s a game changer for when you graduate and go for a job. It separates you from every one else.”

Students involved in the program get to work on more than 20 events a year – if they commit themselves – and are entrusted to handle their positions without the help of any professor.

“I’m not going to do your job for you,” says O’Neal, who takes pride in his program’s sink-or-swim approach. “If you can’t do your job, I’ll find somebody who can. The students like that because I’m treating like professionals. I tell the students all the time ‘I’ll treat you like professionals until you prove me otherwise.’ They respond well to that.”

In the beginning, EMC Productions was creating live shows for ESPN3 through the Sun Belt Conference’s rights agreement with the network. When the athletic department realigned to join Conference USA, then ESPN left with it, the group now produces shows for local TV networks and C-USA Digital Network. That responsibility alone is enough the students to realize this isn’t just a classroom. It’s the real deal.

“What I really enjoy is sitting there in the middle of the game and the truck is just buzzing, but they’re all talking business,” says O’Neal. “They’re being professionals. That’s very fun to sit and watch.”

SAVE THE DATE: More than 500 attendees were on hand at this year’s SVG College Sports Summit. Don’t miss out on the top networking and idea-sharing content and technology event in the college industry. Join us at the Omni Hotel at CNN Center in Atlanta on May 27, 28, and 29, 2015, for the seventh-annual SVG College Sports Summit.

To read past CSMA Master Class profiles: Click Here

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