Thursday, January 21, 2010

Behind the Scenes of the A-Sun, CSS TV Production

MACON, Ga. – Ever wonder how you can see an Atlantic Sun Conference game besides the convenience of A-Sun.TV?

Director and producer Patrick McCree and the rest of the CSS film crew bring the experience for your viewing pleasure right to your flatscreen television, so you don’t miss one minute of league action. McCree shows that one can never underestimate the time invested with this adventure.

Aside from an early start time, gamedays are lengthy and the prep time begins long before tip-off. Patrick McCree begins this process by contacting sports information directors from each school and requesting updated rosters, game notes and anything else that could prove useful to the crew during a broadcast. In between the initiated contact and gameday, schools may play a few games before CSS ventures to a site to telecast the contest.

“You’ve got to prepare in a sense because I have to put the paperwork together that I distribute to the crew,” McCree said. “All of that information of when to be here, what time we’re doing stuff, then I have to take all of that information off the game notes from each SID and build a graphics list of what I want our graphics designer working on. Then I have to put together a format, which is basically a guideline for everybody to follow, not only the truck personnel, but also the people back at master control, so they know when we’re going to break and also for the announcers so they have a guideline of what we’re going to do and when it is going to happen.”

Although this format, or guideline, stands as the layout for the events during the game, McCree notes that basketball games do not follow guidelines and sometimes the production team needs to adapt.

“The games dictate what you’re going to do because our breaks fall at certain times so I have to put together a format of what we’re going to do in the open and how long that has to be,” McCree said. “At halftime, I have to say these are how long each segment is going to be and I have to say, ‘OK, this is how long those segments need to because you only have a certain window during the break to get all of that stuff in so you have to play in your mind and time that stuff out so you don’t come back in and they’re waiting to play the game and you’ve still got all of this other stuff to do.’ There’s a lot of timing involved into it.”

While McCree directs and produces these events, the most viewable aspect on game day remains the announcers.

“I’ll generally call the announcers prior to that game and touch base with them because I’m doing so many games,” McCree said. “I can’t just sit there and focus on one particular team or the two teams that are fixing to play. I can’t watch what they did in their last game. I can look online at like the Atlantic Sun website and see the updated scores and standings or I can go to the team’s websites and look at that kind of stuff. I have to rely on the announcers’ knowledge and talent.”

Storylines, a favorite word in the truck, help push the television experience along, whether or not the viewer recognizes it. McCree plays an enormous role in talking with the announcers in order to establish interesting storylines ahead of time. Questions asked during this time range from what makes the game special at that moment, to what is going on here in this very arena in this very town? Or even specifically, what have these players done today? Storylines give the viewer that much more to take away from each broadcast.

“When I meet with the announcers I will say, ‘Hey, what kind of interesting storylines do you see?’” McCree said. “I’m looking at the game notes here and I’ll see a key player who was hot off the season in the first three games and now they’re barely making two points a game, that’s a story.”

During the game, the crew remains on-topic, always looking for something interesting for the announcers to discuss. For example, when the Kennesaw State Lady Owls visited the Mercer Bears on Saturday, McCree mentioned second chance points and field goals, or if there happens to be a big discrepancy between the first half and the second half or a big turnaround at any event. Those become some storylines.

“I’ll ask the announcers, ‘Hey, do we want to talk about field goals here?’” McCree said. “A lot of times, some people will not even ask the announcers, ‘Let’s talk field goals coming out of here.’ Numbers pretty much speak for themselves.”

Preparation remains the key to every game. However, every game is different.

“We can say that we have 10 storylines that we want to cover, but the game may start writing its own storyline, so you just kind of disregard those,” McCree said. “But, you always want to come into the event prepared. Say today’s game was a 40-point blowout. You have to figure out something to do, whether its graphically or with storylines, or whatever it is to keep that viewer sitting in front of that television watching that game. You tend to always over-prepare for games.”

Chances are though that when a fan decides to leave their house and walks into the arena at any of these basketball games during the season, McCree and the crew have already been hard at work for hours, finally putting together all of the acquired pieces for a game day television experience.

“When we arrive, I have to walk through the arena because I have to show the camera guys where the cameras normally go, especially anything out of the ordinary, like if we’re going to do an interview at a certain point,” McCree said. “I have to get the crew, let them understand what we’re doing. So when they go start setting up, they’re not lost or confused. Then I have to come in here and I have to get with my graphics person and go over the format, any graphics I want to see and in-game stats we want on-screen. I have to explain to our technical director that this is what I want during the show. He takes the tape that I bring and makes sure everything is loaded and then I’ll start doing my format.”

Standing in the truck, staring at a wall of monitors, it seems like directing and producing a basketball game for television would be difficult. However, in basketball, the media takes a set amount of breaks during each half and McCree is only allowed to do so many things at halftime. The only thing that makes it difficult for the crew in a truck is being in a truck.

“ESPN for example, they go away to a studio,” McCree said. “We have to support our own halftime, we have to fill that with league stuff and that’s why it’s so nice working with the Atlantic Sun. Matt (Wilson) and Eric (Moyer) do a really good job of putting that information together for me.”

Good support not only helps the CSS crew during a game, but also with prep time between games.

“During basketball, we’re here in Macon, then I go to Mississippi tomorrow for a game and then I drive overnight to Jacksonville to do a game,” McCree said. “There’s not a whole lot of prep time in between each day and each game. So when a production crew gets help from conference staff, it helps out a producer and a director ten-fold.”

The quick turnarounds between basketball games keeps the crew members on their toes, as there is an advantage to doing mostly regional work as opposed to traveling all over the country. McCree knows basketball schedules to be particularly taxing sometimes.

“That’s the thing about basketball because unlike football and baseball, they play on the weekends,” McCree said. “Basketball rolls around for three months and you may have a game today, you may be off tomorrow, but you need that day off to travel to the next game. Things get really hectic and you get tired really quick. But, it’s one of those deals where you know for the next two months what it’s going to be like. It’s about making a living. You just suck it up and do it. Then when summer gets here you get two months off.”

Even with the hectic schedule, the ability to travel short distances in between games remains a positive for the director and producer.

“I’m getting three days out of this weekend, most people don’t because they will do a game Saturday here in Macon,” McCree said. “On Tuesday, their next game will be in Washington. Well they can’t drive, so obviously they can’t work a game in between there. So they have to have tomorrow off so they can go home, pack, get ready, get on a plane and go. Whereas here, I can easily get three paychecks versus maybe one or two.”

So how does one person get involved in something like this? For McCree, it’s all in the family.

“My father started the company that owns all of these trucks back in 1983 when I was a youngster, so I kind of grew up in the business,” McCree said. “I just happened to go to one of the games that he was working when one of the camera guys didn’t show up. I was 15 at the time, or maybe a little bit younger around 13 or so, and the director looked up at me and asked if I could go up to a camera and run it. And I said, ‘I’ll give it a try.’ I’ve been doing it ever since.”

In college, McCree started as a business major and eventually transferred over to the communications department with a business minor.

“Eventually I wanted to step in and take my dad’s position and hopefully run the company one day,” McCree said. “So I started out running the camera and I wanted to get in here and direct and produce. I knocked on doors and basically begged and pleaded and pitched a bit until I got an opportunity. Basically I’ve been doing it ever since. It’s in my blood, I don’t think I could ever do anything else.”

As with all careers, they have their upsides and pitfalls. Month to month, one can never tell how many events they would work. Also, the economy has shown the McCree, as well as another member of the crew, that sports change from year-to-year.

Jacob Pigott, a graphics designer, worked in a news station with no desire to be in the freelance industry until he got sick of the news.

“It’s just like any other job, you take the good with the bad,” Pigott said. “Everyone at the TV station that I used to work for has all been through furloughs. Over half of the station has been laid off. I still get my free time. One of the things that I really like about freelance is that for the most part if you’re good, you’re going to get work. If you can’t hack it you’re going to get weeded out. There are no promises.”

As television is a visual product, it is easy to see when something goes very well and even easier to see when something goes very wrong.

“You’re only as good as you’re last show because there is that much room for error in this business,” McCree said. “Unfortunately we don’t do television for the person sitting at home. If we didn’t get a particular graphic in or if I didn’t get a certain animation in when I wanted it, I freak out. Or when I want to add too much to it when the viewer at home is like you could have one camera, I don’t care, just show me who made the basket. This is for us. It’s a pride thing because we know the level of quality we want.”

McCree models everything he produces after ESPN, the world leader in sports.

“It is my ultimate goal is to be able to say that ESPN calls me on every sport they do and say you’re going here and you’re going there,” McCree said. “Don’t get me wrong, I would still do work with the A-Sun, I’ve done it now for seven years. I’ve been with the A-Sun ever since they’ve been on TV now. I love working with the Atlantic Sun staff. They make my job easy and they are the reason why I love going to these smaller schools.”

“This hurts me to say it because I grew up in Tuscaloosa and I went to Alabama,” Pigott said. “I’m a huge Bama fan, but, I prefer doing games with the Atlantic Sun. When went to Lipscomb the other day it was, ‘Hey! How are you guys doing?’”

“‘Is there is anything we can get you extra or do for you, whatever it is, we’ll do it,’” McCree said. “That’s the attitude from both the schools and the SIDs in the A-Sun.” With the SIDs at some of the larger schools, it’s like good luck trying to find them, good luck getting what you want out of them, With the guys at these schools. I walk in and I have a packet. Smaller conferences are great to work for. It’s a great relationship between the A-Sun, myself and Cross-Creek because we don’t look at it is as a business partner, we look at it as a friendship.”

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The Atlantic Sun Conference is an 11-member league committed to Building Winners for Life. The A-Sun stands for achievement with integrity in both the academic and athletic arenas, with a focus on the balance between the two for our student-athletes. Headquartered in Macon, Ga., the A-Sun boasts six of the top eight media markets in the Southeast. The A-Sun includes a blend of the most prestigious and dynamic private and public institutions in the region: Belmont University, Campbell University, East Tennessee State University, Florida Gulf Coast University, Jacksonville University, Kennesaw State University, Lipscomb University, Mercer University, University of North Florida, University of South Carolina Upstate and Stetson University.

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