Gladman In The Truck
by Dan Gladman
March 28, 2003
“I was born to be a point guard, but not a very good one.”
-Pat Conroy from “My Losing Season”
As the Raptors’ March Madness schedule comes to a close, and we look ahead to an April without a playoff drive, it’s easy now to look back on the season that was.
While the Raptors failed to turn in one of their most competitive seasons, for those of us who follow the team on the road - the Raptors’ TV production crew - it has been a wacky year of ups and downs, hilarious moments and rich experiences.
While many humourous moments occurred on-air, some of the funnier times were shared pre-game, during commercial breaks or in between cities. While announcers Chuck Swirsky and Leo Rautins occasionally needle one another on the air - another Syracuse jab, perhaps? - the gags can be fiercer on the media bus after the games. The fun can even stretch into the daily “hits” Chuck and Leo do for Sportsnet News.
We were in New Orleans in December, about to provide a hit for Jody Vance’s 6:30 show. I emailed Jody that Chuck had been out on Bourbon Street the night before, and she introduced the gentlemen by asking how Bourbon Street was treating Chuck. Truth is, the Swirsk and a number of us had gone out for dinner the previous night just off Bourbon Street. After that, Chuck went home and some of us checked out the souvenir shops. I may or may not have sampled a hurricane.
Those are some of the lighter moments that are all part of the 9-hour day in the truck. Generally, we will show up approximately six hours before game time to begin preparations for that night’s show. The first thing you do when you arrive at a truck is introduce yourself to all the new people you will be working with.
You see, TV technicians do not travel with a show’s production crew. Only the core production staff, which for us means talent (Chuck, Leo and Mark McAllister), producer, director, associate producer and font coordinator (that’s me!). Each of these people requires technical help in the forms of audio people, camera people, a technical director, tape operators, Chyron (graphics) operator, statistician and engineer-in-charge. That’s a big group.
From the beginning it was funny to me that every production truck would more or less look the same in each city, but the people filling in roles would be a rotating circus of technicians.
Dan will be looking for more from Vince and the Raptors next year.|
Ron Turenne/NBAE /Getty Images.
So if a game is at 7 p.m., we are arriving at the truck at 1 p.m. latest. Like any job, there’s always something helping you procrastinate going to work in the morning. In Washington, there’s a great gym attached to the hotel where you are tempted to work out and then play basketball all morning. In Miami, you just want to sit by the pool. In Indianapolis, well, you just want to stay in your room all day.
Needless to say, we always make it to the truck, and on time. The show must go on so we have to be there. There were minimal sick days all year, in fact, I can think of only one day this season when Sportsnet producer Jeff Mather had to be flown in at the last minute to produce a game in New Jersey in January. (By the way, he did a great job, especially since he had not worked with us all year).
Much of the work in the first few hours in the truck focuses on setting up technical matters for the show. Do Chuck, Leo and Mark have working audio in their microphones and headsets? Can the producer and director clearly communicate with them? Are all the lines - which will feed the game to Toronto - open?
For the font coordinator, the objective is simple. Get all of the show’s graphics, in-show promotions and statistics done as soon as possible. When I produced fonts for my first game in Houston way back in November, I was nervous, stressed and had little idea of how to keep a show going, graphically.
What I learned along the way was that, like most things in life, it all had to do with preparation. There is so much less stress involved in TV when you plan ahead of time what you will do, so that you are ready before the moment arrives.
There are two basic types of graphic in sports television. One is called a lower-third, meaning the lower third of the screen is covered with a graphic, or a font. While you are looking at a picture of Vince Carter, his season stats may appear on the lower third section of the screen. A second graphic is referred to as a full-page board, or just a board. On these graphics you may see first quarter statistics, the Toronto Star keys to the game or even the raptors.com poll. A board covers all pictures.
Most of these graphics can be prepared early in the day. When they are needed in the show, the font coordinator simply asks the Chyron operator to call up a number that represents the location where the graphic has been saved. (Chyron is the machine that enables information to transfer onto the TV feed).
By having storylines and information planned early in the day, the font coordinator has time and space to react to changing items throughout the course of the game.
For instance, if we have built a full-page board of Jamaal Magloire showing his season stats in the pre-game section of the game, and he goes on to have a great game against the Raptors, we can refer to the board later, replacing his season stats with the stats from that night’s game. Voila, a continued storyline during the show, easy to change because of pre-game planning.
It sounds easy enough, but it took me a couple of months to figure it out.
As I look back on the season that was, for us TV folk, there are a number of memorable road moments. Here are my favourite eight:
1)Seeing Yao Ming for the first time, Houston, Nov.2
2)The first win in Boston, Nov.29. It looked like the season was going to turn around
3)First time visiting Bourbon Street, New Orleans, Dec.3
4)Bus ride from Milwaukee to Chicago, with pizzas, Dec.17
5)Rainy days off in L.A., Dec.28 and March 15
6)New Year’s Day in New York (Or was it the Phish concert on Dec.31?)
7)Flight and game cancelled due to snowstorms in Washington, Feb.16
8)Leo Rautins’ surprise birthday party, Miami, March 20
It’s too bad there are only a handful of games left in the season. I looked at the sports page today and I see that the Raptors are 22-48. Obviously, that is disappointing. But one of the great things about working in sports and being a sports fan is the hope for next year. For the Raptors, the only way to go now is up.
For the TV crew, and especially the font coordinator, we can only get better too, and continue to enjoy the whirlwind that the NBA tour represents.
“I was born to learn everything about loss and life and everything in between as we struggled and limped and staggered toward March, bound forever by our losing season.”
-Pat Conroy from “My Losing Season”