In the broadcasting business, technology changes daily.
Every time you turn around, there is some new piece of hardware, some new format, or a new high-tech gadget that claims it will make your life easier and your broadcast look like Monday Night Football. One of the latest and greatest gadgets to come out in the last few years is the NewTek Tricaster. With a little planning and a Tricaster, you can actually make your high school broadcast look like Fox Sports Sunday.
However, even the latest and greatest gadget won’t help if you don’t have some sound fundamentals behind your broadcast. As little as 5 or 6 years ago, in order to successfully produce a multi-cam sports production with graphics, announcers and live web streaming a half-million dollar broadcasting truck was required. Well, with the introduction of the NewTek Tricaster those days are over. Its introduction has brought multi-cam production to the masses, or more specifically, to the budget-conscience high school broadcaster. There are similar products available, but this article will focus on how we use and setup the Tricaster Pro in our high school sports productions.
Football is king in South Louisiana, so there is great interest in seeing the local High School teams on TV and on the internet. The following tips focus on football, but can be applied to soccer, basketball, volleyball, softball and baseball.
Multi-cam broadcasting starts with two cameras and goes up from there. If the weather is bad, or you don’t have a full crew, you can produce a great broadcast with only two cameras. Our standard setup is three cameras, using a Tricaster Pro. This setup requires a crew of eight students: a director, audio person, three camera operators, two announcers and a grip/cable-puller for the field camera. Click image to right for a "Behind the Scenes Look at a Soccer Game)
The biggest production my crew has ever done used five cameras and two Tricasters on the same broadcast. We used one Tricaster and two cameras in the press box and for the third camera input we took the output of another Tricaster on the stadium track with three cameras hooked to it. We had a camera on each goal line and another camera on our pre-game set. This type of setup requires a pretty substantial crew and a lot of coordination between two directors. We only use this setup once a year for the big rivalry game in our district. Your setup will depend on crew availability and budget.
The first decision you need to make is how many cameras you want to use. We’ll start with two cameras. Using two cameras gives you a wide “safety” shot and another camera to use for tight shots and cutaways. These cameras should be placed high up, usually at the press box level and can be next to each other or, even better, separated on each side of the press box or stands. Make sure to place them where fans can’t stand in front of your camera and block the shot. Guess when they are going to stand besides the National Anthem? Big plays and touchdowns! You may have to even rope off a small section of stands to make this happen, but make sure and get permission from the Principal or Athletic Director.
Adding a third, field-level, camera can really take your productions to the next level. This camera would optimally be placed on the sidelines at field-level. Even if you are limited to one corner of the field, this will truly add another dimension to your broadcasts. From field-level you can get up-close shots of the game, the sidelines, the fans and the band at halftime.
There are a few unwritten rules or guidelines you should follow when shooting from the sidelines. First, if at possible, have two people work the sideline camera. One person can be the camera operator and the other can be a cable-puller and spotter. What are you spotting you might ask? How about players running at you at full speed looking at a ball and not you, referees backpedaling down the sidelines following a play and again not looking at you. Also, trainers on golf carts, marching bands, cheerleaders, you get the idea. There is a lot going on the sidelines before, during and after a football game, and you are just adding to the choreographed chaos.
If you are shooting from the sidelines, you shouldn’t use a tripod unless you are at least 20 feet from the sidelines. If there is a track at your stadium, you are usually pretty safe on the track with a tripod, but again, check with your principal or athletic director beforehand. This is a safety issue. You don’t want to get run-over by a play which could injure a player, injure the cameraperson and destroy your equipment.
However, if you really want your viewers to be a part of the action, shoot handheld near the sidelines. This gives your viewers that up-close and personal view that many never get to see. Once again there are rules you should follow on where you can stand. There should be a painted line six feet from the actual playing field called the “restraining line.” NEVER CROSS THIS LINE DURING GAME TIME! Before the game, halftime and after the game should be OK, but never during actual game play, even if the action is on the other end of the field.
One last “rule” about camera placement, all of your cameras should be placed on the same side of the field. Remember the 180 degree rule?
Mobile Control Room
The next option to consider is your mobile control room. You are pretty much at the mercy of your athletic department on this one. In our district, we are lucky enough to have a room in the press box that is for our use. Again, it doesn't hurt to ask if you can get the same. Another option could be under the stands or under a pop-up tent on the track or near the stands. You want to make sure your equipment is protected from the weather. Water and electricity don’t mix well. Speaking of electricity, make sure you have a reliable power source for your equipment. Running the Tricaster on a uninterruptible power supply or UPS is highly recommended.
The use of a Newtek TriCaster Pro has made setting up a mobile control room a snap. With the TriCaster you can use s-video, composite or component video from your camera to input into the unit. If your cameras are over 50 feet from your setup, you will probably have to use composite inputs, which is perfectly fine. You will get good quality using composite video as long as you use a good quality cable. We use Belden 1694A cable with BNC Connectors for all of our composite cable runs. The BNC will connect directly to the TriCaster and you can get BNC adapters to your cameras. Remember to secure your cable runs with plastic ties or gaffer tape and don’t run them where people can trip on them. This is why you should have plenty of cable to your field cam, because you will probably have to take a “round-about” route to the field.
Many high school broadcasters don’t put a lot of thought into the audio setup. However, giving it some consideration will take your broadcasts to that “next level.” At the very least, you will need to mic your commentators and have some nat-sound mics near the press box. Other places to consider for mic placement are near the band and the cheerleaders. When you show them on camera, shouldn’t you hear them? Also placing a mic on your field camera will really bring the action to your viewers. Wireless mics in these areas can make this easy and should be well within their range.
With all of these mics, you will also need a dedicated audio person, or, at the very least, have the commentators work the audio board. A small mixer with at least six inputs should easily interface with the TriCaster using the mic or line inputs.
An intercom system is the most overlooked, but integral part of having a clean, professional looking broadcast. This can be as simple as walkie-talkies or as elaborate as a full-duplex Production Intercom, Clearcom or Telex system. A walkie-talkie system will be “simplex”, or one person talks at a time and everyone else listens. A full-duplex system allows everyone to talk and listen at the same time, very helpful if there is a problem. Get what you can afford.
There are also rules for the intercom! During the broadcast, the only person that should be talking or have their mic open is the director. The director should not sit there in silence. They should be calling their camera shots, constantly reminding the camera operators which camera is live and which camera is coming next and most important, not chit-chatting. Also, the director should not be texting their friends during a broadcast. They are the final “gatekeeper” of what the audience sees and they need to PAY ATTENTION.
There are two options with using graphics in your broadcasts with the Tricaster. The director can very easily keep the score updated for football by using the lower thirds and full-screens that come with the Tricaster or the graphic sports-paks that are sold separately. This is more of a challenge with basketball or volleyball as the score is constantly changing. For this, you will probably need a graphics person. The Tricaster offers LiveText which is very convenient, but requires an external laptop.
If you are broadcasting on the internet, consider the size of your graphics and make sure they are readable on a small internet player. Test this out on a couple of different computers before your broadcast.
In this article, I focused on the “nuts and bolts” of a basic multi-cam sports broadcast using the NewTek Tricaster. Over the next several months I will discuss:
• wireless microwave field camera
• streaming services and internet access
• creating a website for your broadcasts
• using an all-student crew
• commentator preparation
• to pay or not pay your crew
• partnering with your district PR or cable access channel
• showing replays and selling DVD’s
Albert Dupont has been the Advanced TV Broadcasting Facilitator (Teacher) at the Satellite Center in Luling, Louisiana since its opening in 2005. The Satellite Center is a “satellite” facility of Hahnville and Destrehan High Schools. The schools are a part of the St. Charles Parish Public School System located near New Orleans.
Before becoming a teacher, Mr. Dupont was a news and sports videographer for WVUE-TV in New Orleans for twelve years and news producer at WAFB in Baton Rouge and KATC in Lafayette for five years. As a sports photographer, Mr. Dupont was a field videographer at the New Orleans Saints games from 1994 to 2009. He also was a videographer at two Superbowls and numerous college national championship games in a variety of sports. He is an Avid Certified Instructor in Media Composer 5.
If you have any questions or comments he can be reached at: