Live From the US Open: Filmwerks Expands Its Presence as Broadcasters Expand Theirs

A structure twice the size of last year’s, sets built around trees are just two of the challenges

The US Open wrapped up with a thrilling weekend of play, and now the team looks to get ready for next year’s event, which will see the opening of a permanent two-story broadcast building in the TV compound. But, this year, it was up to the team from Filmwerks to overcome the challenge of building a temporary two-story structure on the foundation for that permanent building, and it was a challenge the company met.

“We like to say, if you can think it, we can build it,” says David Fiorvanti, senior director, structures and scenic division, Filmwerks. “It was a big undertaking this year. Last year, it was 6,500 sq. ft. and, this year, a bit shy of 17,000 sq. ft. with two stories, about 50 offices, and measuring 168 ft. long and 48 ft. deep.”

Practice court sets constructed by Filmwerks provide a lively backdrop for broadcasters at the US Open.

The first level is steel; the second floor is aluminum, with trusses and pieces from ModTruss playing an important part. The challenge in building it was that, because the foundational slab for the permanent building was in place, the temporary beams and structural supports needed to be located in specific places.

“We couldn’t go wherever we wanted and had to design and build around it,” says Fiorvanti. “But the entire building was self-ballasted, rigid, and self-contained.”

ModTruss was also relied on for three sets on the practice courts for Wowow, ESPN, and Prime; three sets on the Plaza for ESPN, ESPN International, and Eurosport; and, near Courts 10 and 13, two camera towers, each of which was 16 x 20 ft. and had a roof and multiple levels.

The Filmwerks team is accustomed to building around things at the US Open. Light posts by the practice courts run through the roof of the studios. A tree trunk cuts through the ESPN Domestic and Eurosport sets. The new ESPN International set required what Fiorvanti calls a Frankenstein approach: the tree had five breakouts cutting through the roof.

“We had to cut the vinyl roof skin up and then sew it back together around the breakouts because we couldn’t design it ahead of time,” he says.

He notes that among the trends in set design are more requests for round sets. There is also increasing pressure to make the sets more attractive. The goal is to attract crowds and also have solid branding for fans at the event rather than just for viewers at home. There is also more demand to use the space beneath the set, and Fiorvanti says that universal walls allow heated and insulated green rooms and other facilities to be located below a set.

“Space is limited so we need to get creative,” he adds. “But we want to give the client whatever they want.”