Work Experience 23: Live Broadcaster

I started playing basketball at the age of 10 and continued to play all through high school and into uni. I loved the fast pace of the game and spending hours every week with my team mates. What a great sport! You can imagine my excitement then, when I was invited to do work experience with the Broadcast Crew at the Brisbane Bullets Vs Adelaide 36’s game in Brisbane. The Broadcast Crew are responsible for filming the game and getting it live to air with instant replays, commentary, and graphics.

I’ve known Sheree for a few years, but realised I didn’t have a clue what she did for work as an EVS Operator. I knew she went to sporting events and worked with technical equipment in a truck, but that’s about it. With no pre-existing ideas about the job, I was really looking forward to watching a live NBL basketball game, seeing Sheree and her colleagues in action behind the scenes and learning something completely new. Perfect!

 

What did I do?

My shift with Sheree started at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre at 11.30am on a Saturday and wrapped up after the game at around 7.30pm. I of course had to have a photo with a cardboard cutout of one of the players standing guard outside the stadium as I arrived.

 

The court in the centre of the empty stadium seemed small with no one on it, and Sheree gave me a nudge to go and shoot a few hoops. My first shot was an air ball (it was my first time on a basketball court since the 90’s!) and I hoped that no one was looking. I did a few lay-ups and shots from the free-throw line before getting a bit embarrassed about the noise I was making and the fact that I was obviously far from a pro basketball player. But I had my moment on the Brisbane Bullets court and I’ll never forget that.

 

Next it was time to check out the OB (Outside Broadcast) truck, which was in position just behind the stadium walls. I was introduced to the crew, who were very busy setting up all manner of cables and equipment. The truck had previously been in Cairns for another sporting event, and was driven to Brisbane overnight. It’s a long work shift for some of these guys, who were there well before us to get the set-up underway. On the day I was there one of the smaller OB trucks in the fleet was on-site. It fit 10 people and all of their broadcast equipment. The largest, newest, and by all accounts fanciest truck fits around 30, and is kitted out with the latest high-tech equipment. I’d love to have a peek inside that truck if I get the chance one day.

 

I’ve never seen anything like the inside of the OB truck. It was full of lit-up screens, machines, buttons and dials. It was like being at a disco, except for the lack of music and the fact there was no room to swing a cat let alone bust a few moves.

I had the opportunity to watch the camera and sound crew set up their equipment inside the stadium. There were two cameras positioned at the mid-court line, high in the stand, which were used to capture full-court and close-up images, small cameras positioned on the top of each backboard, a camera close to the court to capture the commentary crew between quarters, and hand-held cameras at each end of the court to show another angle. I was allowed to handle a couple of the cameras and play with the zoom before game time.

 

Early in the afternoon, a team meeting was held with all of the broadcast crew, which was an opportunity for the director and producer to talk through the game schedule and to answer any crew questions. There were a lot of technical preparations required by Sheree and the broadcast team before tip-off. They needed to ingest all of the inserts that had been pre-produced from an edit suite for the game, such as opening titles and other game highlights. They checked that they had the correct cameras and audio routed to the machines, and checked the comms (communications) panel to make sure that each person could be heard by the director, producer and director’s assistant.

While all of this was going on in the van, I was able to watch the cheerleaders warm up for their routines, and see the Bullets and 36ers go through a number of drills and warm-ups.

 

Music began playing throughout the stadium and spectators started filing in. That was my cue to head to the OB truck to watch the pre-show package (a story on Australian basketball legend Andrew Gaze) and live crosses to the commentary team. Sheree said this part of the program can often be more nerve racking than the game itself, as timing is critical and sometimes interviews can go longer than scheduled.

Finally, it was time to see the game unfold from a completely different perspective to what spectators or home viewers would experience. In the van the director, producer, assistant director and graphics operator sat in the front facing a wall of screens, the sound engineer had a separate workspace (and a lot of equipment) in the middle, and Sheree, her supervisor, and two CCU operators sat shoulder to shoulder across the back. It was a very tight fit! There were even a couple of staff who had set up to work on tables outside the truck. I wasn’t able to fit close enough to Sheree to see her every move, but stood on the side which actually gave me a good vantage point to quietly look over everyone’s shoulders and see what each of them were doing.

 

Sheree’s job as EVS Operator was to keep a close eye on the game. Any time the whistle was blown it was her job to very quickly rewind the footage, make a clip of whatever just happened (for example a goal or foul), save the clip and record its location, and have it ready to replay when the director asked for it. She had a piece of paper next to her machine where she recorded the names of each player, how many goals they’d made, and a number showing where the replays of each of their goals could be found and placed into a highlight package if needed. It was such a busy job! And not one where mistakes can be made. Everything is instant, and if the director asked for a particular replay to be ready Sheree had to quickly provide it before the game moved on.

 

It was so amazing to see the team at work in the OB truck. The director did the most talking, calling out which camera footage he wanted to be shown at any particular time, and coordinating everyone else to provide what was needed for the broadcast, including replays from Sheree. He was looking at screens with each of the different camera perspectives, as well as seeing what was being shown live. There’s no room for error in live broadcasting as mistakes will go to air, so it can be an exciting and stressful job during game time. All of the crew seemed to thrive under pressure, I guess because they know their jobs like the back of their hands.

I snuck out of the truck and into the stadium for the third quarter of the game to see some of the action on court, before heading back to the truck for the final quarter.

 

I really liked that some of the crew were excited (like I was) about the game and were willing the Bullets to hold onto their lead after snatching it from the 36ers. It was a close finish! The Bullets had won. While the game was over, the job of the crew wasn’t. Sheree had to provide a package of replays from some of the best goals of the match, live interviews with some of the players and coaches aired, and graphics with game statistics needed to be shown. It blew me away just how full-on this job is! I could almost hear a collective exhale of the crew when the live broadcast was over. They’d done it!

Although it was time for Sheree and I to go home after an 8 hour shift, the jobs of some crew members continued. All of the cables and equipment needed to be packed into the truck before it drove to Cairns for an event the following day, while some staff were preparing for an early morning flight to Sydney to do it all again at another sporting event on the Sunday. What a busy life for the crew that work full-time, flying (or driving) around the country from event to event.

 

What did I learn?

It was so interesting to be a fly-on-the-wall in the Broadcast truck, and at the basketball event in general. Seeing the huge amount of set-up involved, talking to different crew members about their specific roles, and seeing them all in action from the moment the live broadcast started pre-game to the time it ended afterwards was amazing. It’s important that the crew communicate well with each other, are able to think and react quickly under pressure (especially if things go wrong), and work together as a tight team.

 

To gain some further insight into Sheree’s role as an EVS Operator, and learn about the path she took to become one, click here to read my interview with her.

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