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Bringing Order To Mayhem

(click thumbnail)HOLLYWOOD

Remember what sports broadcast control rooms looked like in the '70s? Remember walls full of black-and-white monitors, when football used nine cameras and you could smoke cigars in the booth?

For Monday Night Mayhem, a TNT movie about ABC's legendary Monday Night Football, executive producer Lewis Kleinberg and director Ernest Dickerson had to capture more than just Chet Forte's libido and Howard Cosell's toupee. The team took scraps of footage not only to create '70s-era football for the viewer, but also to fill multiple monitors in the staged control rooms where the actors playing technicians directed Monday Night's action. The team also had to sync the multiple video streams to 24 fps so that they could be filmed without flicker.

Joe Trammell, owner of Navesync Inc., used GlobalStream's GlobeCaster Studio to create hundreds of video clips to match the program's need for control room footage appropriate to about 20 different football games from the late '60s to early '80s.

Working without the NFL's cooperation, they had to make all that footage from a few hundred hours of clips – old commercials, cheerleaders, football at various levels, blimp shots, fans, stadiums – plus their own original footage.

Although contractually limited from some treatments of certain clips, "We slowed stuff down, we reversed it, we zoomed, we turned it, we made it look like it was shot from very obtuse angles, as if cameramen were playing with their cameras trying to create more interesting shots," said Kleinberg. "We added a little noise, a little grain, so that it would appear to have been shot by a camera from the era." They used no NFL Films footage.

(click thumbnail)GlobeCaster’s on-screen controls allow for quick special effects.ALL-IN-ONE BOX

For example, Trammell wanted to switch lines drawn on a field from blue to green.

"We went in and I narrowed the hue range of the blue to exactly what blue was on the field, and replaced it with a color green," he said. "I took this effect and I dropped it back into the GlobeCaster. Once it's kicked in, I could put that just about anywhere and change the nature of the video that I was running through it."

"One of the beauties of this GlobeCaster unit is that all of these things are in one box and it's easy to make them all happen," he said. "It has a little bit of a learning curve because it's something that does so many things. But once you're in the groove with this, you wonder why you never had it before."

In another tweak, Trammell took a clip – about three seconds – of a quarterback barking signals and taking the hike from the center.

"We scrubbed it at that point," he said. "We kind of eased into it and scrubbed him back and forth so he looked like he was jerking around in back of the center, really trying to draw the defense off sides. We did about five seconds like that, and then we could let the rest of the play proceed, but we did stretch it by two or three times, and it looked pretty natural."

They also used the GlobeCaster's character generators to create period-piece "cards" that would appear on viewer's screens promoting ABC's programs – and recalling the graphics of Happy Days-era ABC.

When time came to roll some footage of Ronald Reagan, they wanted the control room to appear as if the three networks each ran a different feed. So, using just one image, they created that illusion.

"We took the original footage and put it on one monitor, we created another tape where we zoomed in incrementally, about 25 percent, and then we created another tape with the original footage that was flipped horizontally, so it looked completely like three different camera angles," Trammell said. "And we just cued all the decks to the start mark with those three camera angles and played them. [Reagan] was lip-synched to everything that he said every time around, and it looked absolutely like three different networks."

The GlobeCaster Studio, a successor to the Trinity product line, starts at about $20,000.

(click thumbnail)Director Ernest Dickerson sets up Dandy Don Meredith, Howard Cosell and Frank Gifford (played by Brad Beyer, John Turturro and Shuler Hensley).FILLING THE MONITORS

To create that Monday Night Football control room atmosphere, producers had to fill about 16 monitors with production detritus: tapes sped up or reversed as an operator sought the starting point of a replay; footage of the play-by-play booth; footage of a single play from multiple angles.

Trammell also had to synchronize the 29.97 fps videotapes with the film being shot (at 24 fps), to prevent a show with a roomful of flickering monitors. Navesync has 23 years of experience in readying monitors for the set; a big job was the film Wall Street, in which trading floor shots required synchronization of 240 monitors.

Trammell used the GlobeCaster's switcher not only to stream the multiple pictures live on the set, but also to switch images from some of the smaller monitors (which corresponded to cameras) onto the larger preview and program monitors.

"The director – our actor Nicholas Turturro, who was playing Chet Forte, the director of Monday Night Football – would say, ‘Ready one, take one,' and we would be able to literally follow his direction, move his picture from Camera One, a small monitor, onto the larger color monitor," Kleinberg said. "It really helped the actor because he could see the switches that he was calling out in front of him."

And, Trammell was able to send the feeds quickly, without making the cast and crew wait around.

"We can start everything simultaneously with the click of one button," he said. "And then once the scene was finished, and they were setting for the same scene, I just had to push the button and everything would rack right up to the cue mark and be standing by before the camera even had a chance to get back to its original position."

While many of the GlobeCasters' functions – color effects, for example – are possible with dedicated boxes, Trammel said, having so many features in one unit was needed to make so many images possible so quickly.

These special effects were the type the viewer never sees as special – only as a realistic recreation of the subject, which Trammell said was not lost on cast and crew.

"When every one could see that we were able to create that atmosphere, it got very exciting. We put the music on, and we had football on 12 or 16 monitors, and it really looked like a control room," he said. "Then everyone clapped and cheered."