ESPN Draws Up Special Production Plans for High School Football Broadcast From California School for the Deaf
ESPN producer Chris Damiani has worked his fair share of bucket-list–worthy sports events: Super Bowls, College Football Championships, French Opens. Yet tonight’s broadcast in the 2016 GEICO ESPN High School Football Showcase ranks among the best experiences of his career.
Tonight, ESPN will present a high school football matchup between Woodland Christian and the California School for the Deaf (8 p.m. ET, ESPN2), a team close to the hearts of the ESPN family since an E:60 feature the network put together last year on the team’s run to the playoffs.
“Being around this team,” says Damiani, “you get absorbed with them, and you instantly like them. They are a close family. And that’s one of the things I really want us to get across when we do this game. Being around that made me so excited when I saw this game on the schedule. It’s unique, it’s different, and it’s something you don’t get to do every day.”
ESPN is adjusting and adding to its typical camera complement for high school football, with the goal of telling a deeper story of how the California School for the Deaf’s players and coaches communicate with each other on and off the field.
The team’s bench is located on the press-box side of the field, and the camera 1 will stay there to shoot the in-game action. However, other tools typically found on the press-box side have been shifted to the reverse side of the field to get better shots of the California School for the Deaf’s coaches and players. The cart camera will be on the reverse side, along with three additional hard cameras typically found on the press-box sideline.
The production also features three handheld cameras and a wireless RF camera that will help ESPN take advantage of the access that the California School for the Deaf has granted the network. Dan Hawkins, a former coach and a member of the on-air team, will be roaming the field and will have access to inside the coach’s box on the California School for the Deaf’s sideline. From there, he can offer an embedded perspective on what he is seeing, what is different from a typical high school sideline, what is the same, and what impresses him about the team.
ESPN also has a translator on the production team to accompany Hawkins on the sidelines and to join a sideline reporter in the stands to interview parents who have had multiple students come through the California School for the Deaf’s program.
As with every football game that ESPN produces as a part of its high school package, prepping the venue for television can be a significant undertaking. The field at California School of the Deaf is a modest size, and, as is the norm on many of these types of productions, ESPN needs to bring in scissor lifts to help elevate manned cameras. The lighting for this particular field is not suited for TV, so ESPN is bringing in extra lighting from Musco Lighting.
Such challenges are common in producing a unique broadcast. “This is still a high school football game,” notes Damiani. “Once the ball is kicked off, you have to treat it like a football game.”
It may be just another game on a California high school’s football schedule, but Damiani knows in his heart that the broadcast is about a lot more: “Honestly, it puts more pressure on me. I have to do this right. I have to do this team justice. I’m getting butterflies even as we’re talking about this. I have to knock this one out of the park. They deserve it, and I want to show the country what this team is all about.”