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NBA and Steadicam


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#1 Steve Fracol SOC

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Posted 05 February 2007 - 11:54 AM

NBA and Steadicam?

I know this is a long post but I wanted to go into detail about it. If you do live event work you need to read this.

I was recently contacted to do a gig for the NBA. They decided to use the NBA ?D? League (NBA Development/Minor league) to do some testing on how to photograph basketball in new ways for the TV broadcast. They added a Steadicam and 2 jibs to try and enhance the viewing for the home audience. I am writing this on the forum to let you know how things went and what you should expect if your called upon to work a broadcast game.

I normally do not do live TV events other than the occasional concert multi cam gig but when I got the call to do this I saw it as an opportunity to do something special. The job was actually referred to me from Mike Mastre. Normally I live in the feature and commercial world. They said they wanted to test out the Steadicam as a way to enhance the viewing experience for the TV audience. Of course my first thoughts were of the XFL football coverage and that really scared me a bit. Personally I was not a huge fan of operators on the field. However?I know some of you might be. Sorry if I offended anyone. Anyway, what I wanted to do was show the director and producers and the rest of the suits back in NJ just how classy the Steadicam can be when used properly on such an event.

I was lucky enough to work with legendary director Sue Stratton out of LA. She and I had a talk up front and we came up with a good plan. She was most definitely a seasoned vet and held true to her word and never?not once screamed at me or any of the operators on the show. She is a class act. I also got plenty of rest when I needed it. I wish I could work with her on every live gig I do. She was definitely one cool cat behind the wheel.

I was also lucky to have the awesome 3G Wireless guys (Adam Nepp-and gang) from Baltimore to allow me to have a solid wireless HD signal back to the truck. Yes?I said wireless HD. Their system is really tops as they have the gear available to also do wireless telemetry. That means they can have the Video person in the truck control exposure, paint, blacks and all the stuff they can normally control with a hard-wired camera. I have used their system a few times and it always rocks. Check them out at www.3gwireless.tv. I highly recommend them. One thing you need to make sure when using 3G is that your camera must have an HDSDI signal. You might not think it is your place to ask on a multi camera gig but you need to ask lots of questions. You will need an HDSDI feed to them and most operators still use an NTSC feed. So you will either need the camera to give you a down-converted feed or you will need to get an AJA down-converter or another. Also think about how to power that converter.

I placed apple boxes in strategic locations around the court to land and rest every 10 minutes or so. I put a box on each corner of the camera side of the court and one at mid court. I also had a utility person with me at all times. I left my docking stand/C-stand just back stage from the talent stage near the battery chargers as that was a place to go for halftime and between games. We did a 3 day scrimmage tournament and that gave us plenty of opportunities to figure this out.

Some of the shots that worked well:
At the beginning of the game I was used for the tip off. I held a med shot wide enough to hold most of the group at mid court and I just trucked one way or the other along the side line (NOT ON THE COURT). If the ball came toward my camera I went with it and it made for a rather dramatic angle that most people have not seen in basketball. Although that shot was cool (when they were on my side) to me it sort of wore on me like a cheap suit. I learned to not offer it up that much as it became a novelty shot rather than something they should use every other turnover. I ended up offering it up at the beginning of the game and the start of half time. I also offered it up when the game got close to help add to the drama. One real problem that I explained to the producers and the director was that when your having a Steadicam Operator move up and down the side line like this, people like Jack Nicholson have paid to be in those seats right on the court?they are not going to be wanting to look at the ass of a Steadicam Operator. You get my point. Not the best place to be when people pay REAL money for those seats. SO?a novelty shot that should not be over used. Just my opinion.

I was used on nearly every time out / commercial break as I was allowed to follow the team across the court to the huddle. It was also pretty cool to come out of the commercial break with the lens stuck inside a huddle between players or over the shoulder of the coach then follow the HERO of the moment as low as I could go to make him look very powerful and then move right across the court for the ?ball in?. It was a pretty cool shot.

One of the most stunning shots that we did that I personally loved the most was the first shot of a 2 shot free throw. They allowed me to go onto the court and move in over the shoulder of the player shooting, I basically stopped at the top of the key. It was a very cool shot (not distracting to the players as I was out of the sight line). I was not able to see how Sue covered it but if they were able to shoot around me the audience would never know how we got those shots and to me that made for a very interesting use of the Steadicam.

One thing we tried that although it worked it was decided that we might have become a distraction to both players and Refs. On the first shot of a 2 shot free-throw I came from under the basket as the players were just beginning to line up and the Ref still held the ball. As I came around the player that was on the line the Ref tossed him the ball and I came to a lock and held for the first shot over the players shoulder near the top of the key. Then I arched around the players (on the camera side) lining up as the Ref tossed him the ball for the 2nd toss and by then I was about under the basket well off the court and held a lock for the 2nd toss. It was a very dynamic shot but distracting. Sue usually stayed with me if the basket was made and I carried the ball as the other team headed down the court for the other side then she cut to the game camera. If the shot was missed she usually cut off me right away and went to the game camera.

SUMMARY:
By the end of the tournament we pretty much decided that the very best use of the Steadicam was to do some mid court ?side line? work but limited. Shooting from mid court and walking toward the free-throw line on shot 1 of a 2 shot free throw. Time outs / commercial breaks were stunning. Also of course the fans, cheerleaders and an occasional wide shot from up in the stands while moving is pretty cool. Also, as half time came around and it was time to roll to the half time show, we were able to follow the team into the locker room (and the 3G system held up). Pretty cool stuff.

If anyone has questions about any of this please don?t hesitate to contact me. I wanted to offer this info to all of you because I know this is going to happen (as they were very complimentary and seemed to LOVE it) and I want all of us (as Steadicam Operators) to be prepared as we get called to do an NBA gig. I did suggest having 2 operators (one on each side) but they said cost would not allow that to happen. I laughed.

I hope this info is found to be helpful as this moves forward and becomes a reality at a Pro NBA game. I was honored to be part of the beginning of it all. Eager to see new ideas that other operators come up with and take this to an even higher level.

Best,

Steve Fracol, SOC
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#2 Charles Papert

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Posted 05 February 2007 - 01:25 PM

Great post Steve. It will be interesting to see how this develops.
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#3 Lawrence Karman

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Posted 05 February 2007 - 10:36 PM

I second that. Really great post. Nice to hear details like that.
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#4 Dan Coplan

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Posted 05 February 2007 - 11:29 PM

Here's my solution to shooting basketball with a Steadicam...

Attached File  1133752835.jpg   66.61KB   334 downloads
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#5 Charles King

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Posted 06 February 2007 - 05:42 AM

Great post Steve. :) Dan, now that would be a simple solution.
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#6 MarkKaravite

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Posted 12 February 2007 - 04:28 PM

Dear Steve,

Funny you should mention the NBA. I was just reading an article on how Vince Pace (of Jim Cameron 3D fame) is supplying 5 3D rigs to shoot the NBA Allstar Game in Vegas coming up. They are feeding a private 3D screening at the Mandalay Bay for the game.

Anyway, the NBA is looking for ways to spice up their broadcasts, and why not Steadicam. I have done a few gigs for NBA Entertainment. Mainly, I have done pre game musical performances before the NBA Finals (Stevie Wonder, Carrie Underwood, etc...), then they hang onto me for the national anthem, and player introductions. After that, I handed the wireless camera off to a handheld operator, and went home. I thought that wasn't a great use of me, but not my call.

I did shoot some game footage during the playoffs one year, but not to the extent that you did. One angle that they really liked was tracking with the play from the aisle, instead of on the sidelines (with the problems you stated). I would track with the play with a slightly longer lens, keeping the people in the expensive seats in the foreground of the shot. This was a few years ago in 4x3, so it would work even better in 16x9. This, of course, would be dependent on an arena having an aisle in the right place.

I agree that the transition shots into and out of timeouts were very cool. I did have a coach yell at me because I was right in the huddle with the players, but I suppose that is something they could get used to. We also pulled a player from the tunnel, right out onto the floor for the pre game shoot around, and they loved that as well. I'm glad to hear you have taken this concept further, ala the success the NFL has had with sideline Steadicams.

If the NBA is in fact going to utilize Steadicams, I imagine it would be for marquee games, playoffs, etc..., not every game. This brings up some issues we all should consider before the calls start coming in. First of all, rates for sports are very low. When I did the NBA Finals, it wasn't a great rate, but I had the caveat that I was double dipping off another day job, and I literally was there for about 3 hours, with less than 30 minutes of actual operating. What you were describing was a lot of rig time, certainly more than a commercial job.

As operators, we should discuss what this kind of work is worth. The wear and tear on our bodies is worth a decent rate. Other issues like running rigs, focus pullers, union or non-union, wireless equipment (HD links & intercom), are easier to work out. If we can be on the same page for what Steadicam for the NBA requires, we all would benefit.

My $.02

Mark Karavite
A Camera / Steadicam Operator
mkaravite@comcast.net
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#7 Steve Fracol SOC

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Posted 13 February 2007 - 07:05 AM

Mark,

I could not agree with you more. Especially the rate thing. I fought for a few days to get the rate I wanted for that NBA gig because I knew it would be a beating. In the end it worked out OK.

I do not do the typical Live TV gig very often but I agree that it is up to us as Steadicam Operators to stand firm and not just give it away. There are so many of us now. Lets not let the rates fall down any lower than they are already. Everyone should stand firm.

Steve
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#8 TJ Williams

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Posted 19 February 2007 - 12:06 AM

Steven
Did they have a half time show? Did the Blazers half time a couple of years ago for some spots, That was a lotta fun with quite a bit more sitting down than you got!
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#9 MarkKaravite

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Posted 19 February 2007 - 11:45 AM

Hey Steve,

Was that you this weekend in Las Vegas for the NBA all star game? I saw an operator with an Ultimate, so I thought it might be you.

I saw a lot of Steadicam work on the celebrity game, with many of the shots you described earlier. I was hoping to see some Steadicam on the actual all star game, but I only saw it used for the halftime show. It was nice live work, but I guess the NBA is cautiously integrating Steadicam into the mix. I think it would have livened up the bumpers in and out of commercials quite a bit, the time lapse stuff of the Vagas strip got old.

Fill us in on what you know.

Mark Karavite
A Camera / Steadicam Operator
mkaravite@comcast.net
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#10 Anthony Violanto

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Posted 19 April 2007 - 02:03 AM

espn has been utilizing steadicam at basketball games for quite some time. Most shots are going or coming from break, and crowd shots. During the Womens Final Four, the steadicam op had an awesome shot walking down through the crowd don juan onto the court.
The Celebrity All Star game was shot by a staff steadicam operator out of Bristol CT.

Maybe I am just used to live TV, but all this talk about what shots to get I think is too much thinking. If you spend your time waiting for the shots you printed out and taped to the side of your camera, you're going to miss the soul of the event. Just react to what is going on - be the eyes for the director and the audience.

And if you decide to set up apple crates everywhere, beware of half empty cups of beer! :)

~Anthony
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