The Inside Story of KCRA Going Inside The Downtown Arena
A News Day-In-The-Life:
When I come into work in the mornings I almost never know what I’m going to be doing or where I’m going to be going that day. And I like that. I like showing up and the day becomes and improv, like Jazz, that you just go with, and respond to.
I’m normally off on Mondays. My regular gig is Tuesday-thru-Saturday. But with December and all the vacations, etc., I worked through the weekend and my end of the week, my “Friday”, was Monday.
I came in at 9:30 and was immediately sent out to shoot exterior footage of a mobile home that had burned overnight, due to a space heater incident, where someone had unfortunately passed away. I was also told to be back by 11:30 because I would be doing a special two-camera interview.
I returned to the station and was then teamed up with fellow KCRA news photographer Marcelino Navarro and KCRA anchor Kellie DeMarco to go over to the Sacramento Kings offices to shoot and exclusive interview with Kings Basketball President Chris Granger.
They have a beautiful and very modern suite of offices in a building with windows that look out on the Downtown Arena currently under construction, scheduled to be completed and open next fall in time for the start of the 2016 NBA season.
Two-camera shoots are not common in local TV news and are only done on special occasions. The lighting in the offices was nice and even so Marcelino and I simply used the existing light, white-balancing at 3800K, so that our shots would match, then he framed up on Kellie and I framed up on Chris.
They were both mic’d into my camera. When we were ready, Marcelino and I both started our cameras rolling, I went in between Kellie and Chris, snapped my fingers three times, to later synch the footage on the timeline, and let the cameras roll on her ten-minute interview.
Afterwards, we were given yellow safety vests, hard hats and safety glasses, and led to the arena, for an exclusive all-access tour inside. This was the first time that cameras were being allowed to see and photograph the inside of the arena.
THE DOWNTOWN ARENA BACKSTORY:
For those of you who reading this who are not in Sacramento and not familiar with the years of drama behind the construction of this new facility, the building of the new Downtown Arena has been a more than ten-year struggle. Controversial. Contentious. Battled. In the courts. That has demanded that a downtown shopping plaza be purchase and then a large portion of it be demolished. Brought on the change of ownership of the Kings. Has been championed by more than one Sacramento mayor. And is seen as the cornerstone in the revitalization of downtown Sacramento—which it has needed a facelift since I first moved here in 1989.
THE EXCLUSIVE ALL-ACCESS TOUR—INSIDE THE DOWNTOWN ARENA:
Marcelino and I continued our two-camera shoot through the tour. We only had a limited period of time of between 45-minutes and an hour inside the arena. By necessity, this was going to have to be all-handheld and moving much of the time.
I still had my wireless microphone on Kings President Chris Granger, so whenever I heard Kellie throwing a question at him, I would swing my camera around and move up to the two of them, keeping Kellie in the frame to show the interaction between them.
Chris then had to leave for another appointment and we were given a brisk tour of the building, which was massive and impressive.
From the outside, the Arena has not seemed not that big to me. I’ll drive by it, going down J Street, and think to myself: “All the controversy that has surrounded this building.—And this is it?”
But once inside, I don’t know how, but it seems three times bigger inside. It’s enormous and astounding! It’s like being inside The Coliseum in Gladiator.
By 1:30, we were finished with the tour and back at our news cars, packing up our gear to head directly back to the station and upload our footage for Kellie to start to review.
Later, back at the station, while I was loading up my footage, Marcelino came to me and said, “Do you want to edit and I’ll run the live shot?”
“Sure,” I said, with a nonchalant shrug.
Then Marcelino turned to go to lunch. Only after he was gone did it occur to me: “What did he just say?”
Up to that moment I had no idea that this was running today. I know—I admit it—I’m slow sometimes. (People who know me and are reading this are probably thinking, “Only sometimes?”) I thought this was for a special piece that would be running in another day or so.
I went back to my edit bay and synchronized the interview shots with Chris Granger and Kellie DeMarco together, which was effortless, then started reviewing footage to see what we had.
PUTTING TOGETHER A SAME-DAY NEWS SPECIAL:
At 4 o’clock Kellie brought me a four-page script, utilizing large chucks of the back-and-forth interview, as well as newly-written and recorded audio track, then she had to take off to be live in front of the arena at 5 o’clock.
“What?” I said, my heart starting to race. “This isn’t for five, is it?”
“No, no, no, no.” Kellie assured me. “The other editors are cutting a short V.O. [30-seconds or so of video for her to read over live] for me to tease this story at six. And the producers want you to keep it to five-minutes, so any longer than that and just start tightening up the bites. So you should have plenty of time.”
Then Kellie went scrambling off to get ready for her on-location live shot in less than an hour.
I looked at the script and immediately tore into cutting the A-Roll—editing all of the audio and on-camera interview footage—in order to get a TRT—Total Running Time—of how long this piece was.
I knew I was already slamming, fresh out of the gate, and I’d hardly even started!
We typically take 45-minutes to an hour to edit a 1:45—one-minute and 45-seconds—news story. I now had one-hour and 45-minutes to edit a piece that was three times longer than that!!!!!
The saving grace was the two-camera interviews. I could eat up time and I could easily cut back-and-forth between Kellie and Chris. And since they are both compelling people to look at and listen to, as well as being nicely photographed, that was a saving grace.
EDITING TRICKS & SAVING GRACES:
When we were being trained in how to use Adobe Premiere, when we were making the transition from AVID, a former professional news editor advised: “Just throw everything onto the timeline, then fix it up later. Clean up your sound levels later. It’s faster and easier that way.”
I will state clearly and unapologetically here and now: I have never done that—And I never will.
Editing a mega-piece like this and thinking that you will have time later to review and tweak, in my estimation, will only set you up for failure. Having a flaw—or several flaws—slipping through and running on-air.
When I am laying down the A-Roll, I edit and adjust the audio as I go, making edits fast and clean. I will immediately review the edit to make sure it works, is clean and the audio levels match—not to loud and not too soft. Then I move on.
EDITING AT THE GALLOP!
By shortly after 5 o’clock I had all the A-Roll down. Now I had to start covering with the footage that Marcelino and I had shot from our brisk inside tour.
The saving grace here was that when I am shooting I roll my camera in long-running shots. Some guys still only run for 5- or 10-second shots. That leaves a lot of little shots to sift through when you’re on the run. That’s why I roll 15-, 20-, 30-second shots, with the camera always moving, walking, zooming, to keep the viewers’ eyes interested and stimulated.
Where there were places where I needed to fill 15 or 20-seconds, I’d drop in a slow panning shot or a walking shot of the inside. Editing on-the-run.
CLASSIC EDITING ANECDOTE:
One of my lifelong heroes is David Lean, director of Lawrence of Arabia, Dr. Zhivago, A Passage to India. Before he became a director he was Britain’s greatest film editor. He started out editing newsreels. David Lean, who even Stanley Kubrick regarded as the world’s greatest film director, started out editing news! (Interestingly, Stanley Kubrick started out as a news magazine photographer also.)
In the 1930s there was a royal wedding, which was thoroughly covered by newsreel cameras. It was David Lean’s job to take the footage the instant it came out of being developed and make instant decisions on editing—“No time to think, just cut!” He would say. This was crucial because he had literally only a few hours to edit all the footage into a one-hour special newsreel that ran the very next day in cinemas throughout the United Kingdom to sold-out theaters.
In editing something that is longer than normal and in very little time, you simply have to go by your gut. I’d already picked out a number of shots that were nice and long and would hold.
When the piece was cut together and the interviews and Kellie’s tracked portions were all covered, it was 5:35. This story would be leading at 6. I needed to start uploading it to the server no later than 5:45 in order to make sure that it got in and there were no hold-ups or glitches. That gave me 10-minutes. But it was still not done!
The interviews were long-holding talking head shots. This is a story about a first-look tour of the inside of the arena. I needed to show more of the arena over the interviews. This sounds easy, but at the same time I had to be very careful not to mess anything up at the last minute.
Executive Producer Aram Sarkissian, who set up this whole lead segment with the Kings, popped his head into my edit bay to ask how I was doing?
Frankly, I was worried.
Aram just told me to cover what I could of the long talking heads and it would look fine.
He was more confident than I was.
I did what I could and as fast as I could. Then it was 5:45—I had to start uploading the story!!!
I started the upload, but with tremendous anxiety:
YOU’RE THE ONLY ONE WHO SEES A NEWS STORY BEFORE IT AIRS
Folks watching the news at home just assume that there’s a whole tier of review of news stories before they’re broadcast. That managers will watch stories and approve or make suggestions and corrections, re-editing before a TV news story is broadcast.
That is true of investigative pieces. But the vast, vast, vast majority of all TV news stories that are broadcast, and this is true of all local TV stations across the U.S., the only two people who see the stories before they’re aired are the editor and the reporter. And, quite often, it is only the editor.
In this case, even I did not have the luxury of time to review the story before I started uploading it for broadcast!!!!
The story was 5-minutes long. I did not have the time.
This is why it is so crucial for me to have the technical aspects set and edited in place as I went along. As well as the subject matter. I always am looking at what I am editing—and making sure that the content of the sound bites of the interviews is understandable and clearly makes sense.
NOTE ON PROFESSIONALISM AND RESPONSIBILITY:
This is one big reason why it is not easy to get into the business of TV news—because the levels of responsibility for what you are putting on the air are on your shoulders.
We have to be at the top of our game all the time. Since we are broadcasting so much original content every day, hours and hours of original news programs, everyone—reporters, photographers, editors, producers, writers, etc.—have to be practicing responsible news judgment all the time. The buck stops with each and every one of us every day.
This goes with the job and this is a factor when you’re hired. You represent the organization you are working for. It’s not someone else’s responsibility.
The responsibility is yours.
In this case, my years of experience were what got me through editing this piece in a record short amount of time and getting it on the air.
Once it was finished uploading, just a few minutes before the 6 o’clock news began, I went back and played it.
Watching the piece alone, by myself, I didn’t think it was as good as I could have made it look. But it was clean and no errors. And it was in on-time.
The story aired. And afterwards, everyone was thrilled. The managers couldn’t believe how good the story looked. Photographers watching it loved were how the two-camera interview footage cross-cut and what the arena looked like on the inside.
I felt like I’d just been running a 10K.
I packed up my laptop, which the story was edited on, and headed out, pausing at Executive Producer Aram Sarkissian’s desk, who shook my hand and told me that this was exactly why he wanted me on this story. He thought it looked terrific. Exactly what he was hoping for.
Marcelino Navarro had a beautifully lit live shot with Kellie DeMarco in front of the arena, and from there she anchored our story of the tour, as well as two more stories that dealt with the arena and with the Kings. It was a terrific opening segment of the news. And it was exclusive. A news story that no other station or news organization in the area had.
And it was all put together in just a matter of hours.
As I was saying, this is what I love about this business: every day we come into work, most of the time not knowing anything of what the day has in store for us, what we’re going to do, where we’re going to go, how—or when, sometimes—the day will end. But every day we come in, we do the news, put it on, and do the best we can.
There is one underlying rule of news that I have found always carries us through the day: Whatever you’re covering and however you get it on the air, just make sure that it’s honest and true, and you will have done a good job.
In this case, we got it on the air. It was honest. True. And it looked really good.
Something else that I’ve learned over the years: When I’d finished editing a story that I thought I could have done better—yet when I’d watch it going out over the air, I’ve almost always thought the finished story looked better than I’d thought. This happens almost every time. Stories always look better when they play in the mix with the rest of the news. This reminds you that you’re just a component in a larger operation, which is the news itself.
I then shouldered my backpack, with my news laptop inside, headed out of the newsroom and down the KCRA hallway for the front parking lot and my car to take me home . . . to begin my weekend.
It’s always great to finish a work week on a terrific high of doing a good job, getting it done, making it work, and, once in a while, pulling a rabbit out of a hat and making a homerun.