KCRA–Going All-Live & Handheld from AMGEN Pre-Show
The Amgen Tour of California begins today in Sacramento and KCRA-3 TV kicked it off with lengthy coverage of the morning preparations on KCRA Reports at 7 AM and 8AM, our daily two-hour news block. the morning coverage.
Sunday is normally my Saturday, since my weekly shift is Tuesday-Saturday, but I volunteered to be the extra roving live camera at the Amgen starting area with KCRA anchor Deirdre Fitzpatrick. Deirdre is a big bicycle enthusiast and is regularly sent by KCRA to cover the Olympics every two years.
Amgen takes over the street all around the California State Capitol, which makes providing a lot of live shots from different areas problematic due to cabling. Fortunately KCRA has several TVU backpack units. These are backpacks filled with connections to cell phone carriers that take in an HD television signal and send it out wirelessly back to the station. No live truck necessary. This technology is becoming more and more the norm for live TV news coverage and makes mobility so much more exciting.
This morning’s coverage consisted of a series of live shots from the Amgen starting line with no pre-recorded stories or interviews — everything was live. Some interviews had been pre-scheduled, but almost everything that we did was off-the-cuff, interview questions & conversation, camera location and movement, sometimes even talking to people live on the spur of the moment and then moving on down the street while we were still live.
Deirdre Fitzpatrick is perfect for this type of TV coverage because she is relaxed, telegenic, prepared and informed and comes across with an infectious interest for what she is covering that can’t help but draw the viewer in.
It was all fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants improvisational, which is exciting for me as well as for the viewer because none of us knows quite what is going to happen. And, quite amazingly, it almost always works out.
KCRA’s morning producer Naomi Lee, who started as a student intern at kcra, and is now one of our top flight producers, was terrific at rolling with whatever Deirdre wanted to do. At one point we went into a :30-second live hit to discuss the morning weather, then Deirdre discovered a clutch of spectators who were marking out their spots earlier, and then that they’ve been doing this for years and at other events around California. The half-minute weather hit became a 3-minute interview with Amgen fans. Other producers would start pulling their hair out. Naomi just said, “Great live hit. I’ll just drop a story or two. Do what you want and I’ll juggle it here.” It moments like this, with calm and confident pros who roll with what’s happening — which is what news is — unpredictable — that keep you on your toes and make this job and business fun.
The type of shooting where, as a cameramen, I had to keep my head looking around behind me all the time while I was shooting because so much of what I was doing was walking backwards in order to keep Deirdre walking forward and facing the camera.
I also enjoy this type of shooting because it demands an active and involved camera. A camera that is always moving and trying to keep the viewer’s eyes interested and stimulated. You don’t just start shooting someone who is being interviewed with a static shot. The camera has to be moving around, zooming, anything to keep the viewer interested. There’s a lot of activity around, so the camera has to be active as well. And only one camera, not cutting. I have to tell everything in a fluid camera.
In a way it is reminiscent of the camerawork of Birdman, the recent Oscar-winning film which plays as one continuous shot from fade in to fade out.
(WARNING: To sensitive viewers, some of the language in this sample scene clip from Birdman is R-Rated.)
The continuously moving camera and continuous single shot is also a favored method by Claude Lelouch (A Man And A Woman) , the French writer-producer-director-cameraman who has been a huge influence on my life and my work. I have posted this film of his, Men-Women-A User’s Manual (Hommes, femmes, mode d’emploi). It is in French with Hebrew subtitles, but just click on a few places and you will get a clear idea of his camera style.
I love this type of camerawork, so this shoot was a great opportunity to employ this style.
And going for two hours with a Sony HD XDCAM on my shoulder, a TVU backpack slung on my back, and another pack filled will extra batteries for everything — was terrific exercise.
Later in the day when I was putting together the compilation reel I was amazed to see that in the two-hours of KCRA-3’s morning news that aired between 7 AM and 9 AM, Deirdre and I filled 28-minutes of airtime. If you deduct the time devoted to commercials (and thank you for those because they pay our paychecks!) that would probably be 30%-35% of the entire newscast.
NBC owns the rights to broadcast the Amgen event. This is an NBC Sports camera. Notice the size of the camera and the size of the lens. It’s the lens that is crucial in covering a sports event like this, not the camera.
Not too bad for just a two-person crew out on our own, making it up as we went along — and having fun doing it, which we hope the viewers also enjoyed.