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Inside the Production Truck of Gonzaga Basketball

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As I like to call it: Organized Chaos

Quick background: If you don’t follow me or twitter, you may not know that one of the things I do to make money is work in production trucks. I spend the fall months directing Big Sky football games and spend my winters coaching high school ball and doing replay and camera work for Gonzaga games, amongst others. A wonderful mentor named Tom has directed almost every single KHQ/ROOT Sports Gonzaga game for the last 20 seasons. He’s been alongside our producer Chauncey for the last 17 of those. They are a well-oiled machine and a pleasure to work with.

Tom missed the December 30 broadcast against Detroit-Mercy and I was lucky enough to be called upon to fill the director’s chair. The following article is a breakdown of what happens in the TV truck for Gonzaga games for those who want a peak inside the curtain.

12 PM - Crew Arrives

For almost every college network broadcast, the production crew arrives at least six hours prior to tip off. For today’s game, we have a crew of 24 people plus two engineers. Over half of those arrive six hours early to help unload the truck and begin set-up on the court. Our two utilities are stringing out cables and setting up our announce booth monitors while the camera guys begin to set up their cameras. Our audio and video guys are making sure their equipment is plugged in correctly at the patch panel inside the arena and the panel at the truck. All of this happens while Gonzaga goes through their pre-game walkthroughs and scouting reports on the court.

What a camera looks like before it’s built

Inside the truck, our producer, director, graphics, and replay operators go over the plan for today’s game. This is the first show we’ve had since Gonzaga became number one this season, so we want to mention and show the AP Top 10 graphic at the start of the broadcast. The anchor of the team through all the injuries has been Filip Petrusev and he becomes the showcase player for the night. The last element of the open is Detroit Mercy’s Antoine Davis. Because the highlights we have for him aren’t very long, we decide we need to get a warm-up shot of him prior to the game before seeing his highlight reel.

Our lead replay operator Travis, one of the best replay operators on the entire west coast, has a hard drive with footage from almost every Gonzaga game this season to put together Petrusev’s highlight package we will run in the open. He also creates a rollout to send us to our first commercial. Our graphics duo spend two hours creating dozens upon dozens of graphics that are relevant for tonight’s game. A majority of them will never see the air, but it’s always good to have storylines and stats ready to go.

View from replay land

2:30 PM - Pre-Production

Once all cameras are built and plugged in, our technical director (the one punching the buttons to actually put things on TV) talks to each of them individually to make sure they have a tally light that represents when their camera is live and also have the ability to see what is currently in program with the click of a button. The video guy then makes sure each camera has matching colors. For pretty much every ROOT game, we have seven cameras - five operated cameras and two beauty cameras (one in the rafters, one slam cam).

The truck guys build all the elements we can for the open of the show. We put together music and graphics to go with the Petrusev and Davis packages and clip those off to use later. We also make sure all billboards are correct and have appropriate Spokane scenic shots under Greg Heister’s voice.

Before heading off to meal break, the director goes out and has a camera meeting with the five operators. I give each camera guy head shots for each team so they can easily identify players and coaches in warm-ups. We then discuss the plan for the first two segments of the show and I tell them I need a hero shot of Davis warming up along with a couple backgrounds for starting lineups and keys to the game. Finally, we go over assignments for the game itself. With this crew doing so many Gonzaga games, it’s second nature to them. But every director has different philosophies so you always have to listen to what they want. If there’s a great assist, I tell our handheld and slash camera operators to grab the hero who scored and our high-tight camera to grab the player who passed the ball so we can hopefully cut to both players.

3-4 pm: Meal Break

4-6 pm: Warm-ups and final prep

With the students out of school, it’s a lot harder to show excited fans off the top of the show. Instead, I decide I wanted a hero shot of Corey Kispert. One of our camera guys found Joel Ayayi interacting with a young fan so we added that shot to our introduction sequence before showing the AP Top 10 and heading on camera.

Heister, Dan Dickau, and Richard Fox show up about two hours prior to the game. Often times, they are at shootaround earlier in the day to pick the brains of coaches. An hour before the show, the talent gets together with our producer to go over the plan in the open and we show them all the video and graphical elements so they can talk to what they see. The producer and talent are in constant contact with each other throughout the show.

We record our open 30 minutes before the show. There are certain games, especially ESPN broadcasts, where the open is live for a variety of reasons. This is not one of those times. We hammer out our 2-minute, 30-second open that includes the AP Top 10, Petrusev and Davis highlights, and we tease lineups and tip-off.

A view of the front desk (me in the gray)

6 pm - Show Time

This feels like a good time to explain the gist of a broadcast. In short, the producer has stories he wants to get on air and the director is the one to show those stories in the best manner possible. For example, coming out of the under-8 media timeout, our producer wanted to do a bio on Detroit. It’s then the director’s job to show the appropriate shots given the story and graphics we have available (head coach, star player, etc).

Our producer has the feed of four replay machines in front of him. After every meaningful play, he decides which angle(s) we will show. The director has every camera shot in front of him. He decides what camera goes on TV and tells each camera operator what to shoot. Just before the under-16 timeout in the second half, Ryan Woolridge hit a floater high off the glass. Our producer decides we will use two angles of that basket as we head to break at the next dead ball. He tells me the names of the replay machines and I tell my camera 2 operator to grab me Woolridge as soon as the whistle blows. When the dead ball finally comes, I say something like this: “Ready 2, take 2. Ready red, effect to red, roll red. Ready silver, roll silver, dissolve silver. Fly your bug (score). Standby long cap. Cap it.” While that’s happening, our assistant director is on the phone with all networks carrying the game and counting them down into the break.

During the first half, Richard Fox communicates with the truck that it would be cool to see a package of how Gonzaga is defending Davis. We decide that will be our halftime story. In replay land, they put together a few clips of tightly contested shots so Fox and Dickau can discuss what the Zags are doing to fluster him.

Later in the show, Dickau mentions he broke his hand ice skating and gets teased by Heister and Fox. Dan mentions he has video of the incident. At the next commercial break, we ask Dan to e-mail our assistant director that video. As the show is going on, we are able to upload that file into the truck and put it on a replay machine. After the following break, we put the video on a loop and call it tonight’s sponsored Play of the Game. We show Dan at the desk with his cast, everyone gets a good laugh, and we finish off the broadcast.

Tearing down everything and putting it all back into the truck takes an hour or so and everyone is out of their by 9:30 pm. Live production is hard to explain to someone who has never experienced it. Obviously, not many people have the opportunity to sit in and listen/watch all the things that go on. But if you ever get that opportunity, take advantage of it. There aren’t many things more anxiety-inducing for outsiders than watching the organized chaos of live television. A college basketball broadcast with 25 crew members is peanuts compared to the big stuff. Here’s the final seconds of the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.