Whatever the sport, we can divide coverage planning into three variables the director should understand.
These variables are: (1) action flow, (2) team versus individual sports, and (3) horizontal versus vertical versus circular action.
Action flow concerns the continuity of action within the sport. Is there a constant flow, or is the action periodically interrupted by time-outs? In hockey, for example, the action is continuous, with few breaks. The ending of the periods or the stopping for face-offs may be the only interruptions. Soccer is another such game. On the other hand, football involves very sporadic action. There is a break after every play.
Each actual action is condensed into 10 or 15 seconds of intense physical conflictOne thing that television does exceptionally well is take you to places that you can't get to otherwise. By placing cameras in a variety of locations throughout the stadium, and having some of them fitted with long lenses, we are able to achieve an intimate view of the players and the game that you just can't get from a fixed seat location in the building. followed by approximately 30 seconds of time out. Action flow can thus be divided into two categories: stop-and-go and continuous action.
A stop-and-go sport tends to be rigorous and involves a great deal of physical contact or energy exertion. Golf, perhaps, is the single exception. The chief stop-and-go sports covered by television include football, baseball, tennis, golf, bowling, and track and field. All of these sports involve emotionally intense action followed by some period of inactivity.
Directing Stop-and-Go Action
From a production and directing standpoint, the need to maintain audience interest during timeout periods is the primary challenge. Pauses in action are frequent and sometimes very long (at least from the viewers' standpoint). Replay devices have provided an excellent production value for such periods. The longer the "stop" periods or the more complex the action, the greater the need for replay units to provide isolation of and different angles on the same action.
The use of analysis for such events is also essential to maintain the tempo of the production. To sustain viewer interest, it is wise to include sophisticated analysis of the athletes' performance, such as the following: blocking, running, passing, and all elements of defense in football; hitting and fielding form in baseball; form and agility in tennis; form in golf and bowling.
Directing Emphasis on Scoring
The director must be able to even out the emotional highs and lows of the stop-and-go game. Obviously, the coverage of the action is relatively simple, follow-the-bouncing-ball. This means that the director must frame the action in the physical direction of its flow. Most action in “stop-and-go” is offensive action; that is, the individual or team on offense is the center of the directing concentration. Normally, the team on offense is the only team that can score. A team may intercept a ball (or puck), but that team is immediately on offense. The concentration is on scoring and, therefore, the director's responsibility is to follow the team that has the greatest opportunity to score.
In baseball we have a single player (the hitter) against an entire team. Coverage of defense is a much larger item than coverage of offense. After all, the whole playing field is filled with defensive players and the hitter is even standing out of bounds while in the batter's box. Yet, despite the fact that the main focus of baseball is defense, most of the coverage is of the offensive play (the hitter against the pitcher).
Maneuvering the team or player into position to score is the aim of the play in stop-and-go. This is normally accomplished through a series of "plays”. The closer the team or player gets to scoring, the more intense the game. The director can enhance this emotional involvement by warming up the coverage that is, tightening the shots as the emotional level of the production increases. It also means adding more radical shot angles and increasing the intercutting of shots. The pace of the production needs to pick up as the emotional level of the production increases. This enhancement of the emotional level helps the audience grasp the pressure of the sports performance.
To enhance an otherwise dull sport performance, the director may want to pump the game through the use of additional production values that may be viewed as unethical by some. Any attempt to make a game or contest appear more exciting or tight (in terms of who will win) can be viewed as beyond the presentational responsibilities of the director. Some viewers may want the director merely to provide adequate coverage and let the viewer decide whether the game is exciting or dull.
But the director's goal and responsibility is to make the production interesting and entertaining for the audience, so there is a very basic objective to be met in the use of increased production values toward that end. How far to go with the introduction of additional production values so as to achieve this end must be determined before the production begins. Obviously, it is questionable whether to allow the announcing talent to pump up the closeness of the conflict through false excitement in play-byplay and color presentation (analysis of game strategy or quality of individual performance), and to augment this with exciting, fast-paced production when the score is 50 to O. The new director may want to observe the techniques of a seasoned television director faced with coverage of a game that is lopsided in score or athletic match or performance.
Continuous Action Sports
Unlike stop-and-go sports production, the continuous action contest provides little or no time to interrupt for color analysis. Continuous action sports include basketball, hockey, and soccer. Continuous action sports tend to be very rigorous and are usually limited to a specific, bounded playing area. In the cases of basketball and hockey, these areas are rather small, which increases the emotional potential of the game for a television audience because the crowd is close to the playing area and becomes more emotionally involved with the play.
The director must take into consideration a number of factors when preparing to cover continuous action sports such as camera action and shot sizes, camera changes during action which we will cover in another article, Coverage Design.
Team and Individual Sports
Sports coverage can also be planned from the Stand point of the number of athletes involved. Most television sports are team sports (football, basketball, baseball, hockey), but for a number of years there has been a growing interest in individual sports (tennis and golf).
With team sports there is a built-in interest because of the complexity of the teams working together. Most avid sports fans understand the sophistication of various games and appreciate the role of various team members and their contribution to the team's success or failure. For example, the offensive line of a football team should be made up of players highly skilled at their specific positions. Fans may want to concentrate on the efficiency of these players as they carry out their assignments. This increases the attention factors for the viewer, and thus the excitement of the game. In most team sports, the ability of the team to work together as a well-organized and effective unit provides unusual coverage opportunities. It also however, increases the demands on the director to understand the game and the complexities and fine points of quality play. Because of these complexities, coverage of team sports is more involved than for individual sports.
Individual sports on the other hand, have their advantages. There is a greater opportunity for the director to increase the emotional level of the production by concentrating on close-up production techniques. It is easier for the audience to associate themselves with an individual player than with a team of players. This involvement is inherently greater if the individual is in a contest with another individual (tennis) than if he or she is in a contest with him or herself (golf).
With individual sports the director has a greater opportunity to warm the production through the use of close-ups and single shots. Examples include tennis, boxing, skiing, track and field, golf, and wrestling (real or exhibition).
Horizontal versus Vertical versus Circular Action
All productions have a horizontal axis. In most sports this axis is critical to the orientation of the audience. With few exceptions, sports coverage can be divided into three types: (1) horizontal action, (2) vertical action, and (3) circular action.
Fortunately for television directors most sports contests are horizontal in nature; that is the action takes place on a horizontal plane in front of the cameras. Football, for example, is made up of two teams moving up and down the field across the screen. Basketball also is a contest of two teams moving up and down the floor in front of the cameras. Unfortunately for the director, such action violates the z axis rule. It is better to have action toward and away from the camera than across the screen. But since the orientation of the audience to the game is horizontal, this dictates the type of coverage you must use.
The director can take advantage of the ease of establishing cameras in horizontal games by drawing the imaginary axis down the middle of a football field, from goal post to goal post, and down the middle of the basketball court, from backboard to backboard. If during action all cameras are kept to one side of that line, it will be easy to keep the audience in the game.
Cameras can be located within the end zones or under the backboards in a horizontal contest. But if coverage of play extends beyond those points and crosses the axis, the audience will become disoriented. Cameras can be placed in these locations for color and for some timeout coverage, but they should not be used extensively for coverage of plays. The single exception noted previously is their use for reverse-angle replays. In these cases the audience must be reestablished through a statement from the announcing crew or from a graphic on the screen indicating that the replay is from the opposite side of the field of play.
In horizontal games, such as tennis, the director must treat the action as if it were vertical. The movement of the ball and the action of the players makes it difficult to provide general coverage in the horizontal camera set-up. In these cases the z axis becomes a major factor. The director attempts to make the movement of the ball function within the z axis, moving toward and away from the camera. In tennis for example, cameras set up for coverage from one of the baselines show the ball moving from one player (with his or her back to the cameras) to another across the net (facing the cameras). It makes little difference which baseline is used, since the players exchange sides of the net throughout the match. In this case, although the game is horizontal (across the net from court to court), the coverage is vertical (toward and away from the cameras). Since tennis is a stop-and-go game, sideline cameras can be used for "stop" coverage, with close-ups of players and fans.
Some sports appear to be basically round-axis sports. Baseball, boxing, racing, and wrestling are examples. Golf putting may also fit into this general category. Here the action seems to move in a circle (although most of the playing areas are square, such as baseball diamonds and boxing rings). Because of this it is difficult to establish a specific axis. The director may help establishment through the use of boundaries, such as the foul lines in baseball or the ropes of the boxing ring. The audience generally will not mind a loss of orientation in these sports as long as reestablishment is provided periodically.
Most sports are a combination of the general types we have just discussed. Football is a team, horizontal, and stops and go sport. Baseball is a team, stop and go, basically circular sport (although the action of the ball, from the pitcher's delivery to the batter as well as its flight from the bat, is more vertical than circular).
These classifications are important because they provide the basis for the design of coverage. The placement of cameras for proper coverage will depend on the axis of the game. The size of shots used, the lenses needed for those shots and the need to establish and re-establish at specific times will be determined by these factors.