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Producing The Games - OLYMPIC COUNTDOWN: Part II

Creating a quality production “scheme” is always complicated. However, the task of creating a production scheme for the largest sports event of 2006 that will include 15 venues and over 2,550 athletes from 80 countries makes it a monumental task.

Torino Olympic Broadcasting Organization’s (TOBO) Executive Director, Brian Douglas, believes his production staff is up to the challenge. The first task for the production staff is to get to know each individual sport and venue. Some sports are familiar to the staff such as hockey. Other sports, such as curling or skeleton, may need to be learned.

Tapes are analyzed and research is completed on the rules. Getting to know the venue is also a challenging task. TOBO production and engineering staff begin the first of many surveys. In fact, Coordinating Producer Gary Milkis says that “as many as 15-20 surveys will be completed for each venue” by TOBO. The next task is to find out the budget parameters that they have to work with... will they have six cameras or 25 cameras to work with? What can they afford to do?

Once they know the sport, venue and the budget parameters, then they begin to talk internally. Their Coordinating Producers, Associate Producers and Douglas put together a rough production plan. Coordinating Producer Greg Breakell says that “the plan is based on previous Games, personal experience and a collaboration of specialists.” They seek advice from producers and directors from around the world.

This first rough plan includes types of cameras, camera and mic placement and coverage strategies.

Their goal is to try to push the envelope. That means that they are constantly asking themselves the question “What can we do to make it better?” They are also looking at what others around the world are doing with that sport. As in all coverage, it’s a matter of adapting all of this input into their current situation.

Team Approach

Once the broadcast team is chosen for a specific sport, the TOBO broadcast plan is given to them. The production team is either a group of hand-picked freelancers or a broadcasting company who has been hired to produce the coverage. The goal is to put together a production team that includes the finest broadcasters in the world for each specific sport.

International networks that will be covering some of the events include Italy’s RAI (opening & closing ceremonies and alpine skiing), Switzerland’s SRG (alpine skiing), Canada’s CBC (hockey & curling), Australia’s Seven (aerials & moguls), Finland’s YLE (Nordic combined), Japan’s NHK (speed skating), Norway’s NRK (biathlon), Slovania’s SLO (ski jumping) and Italy’s SBP (bobsleigh & snowboarding).

The next stage is to invite the production team to Torino to discuss the production plan. Each team is encouraged to put their own fingerprint on the production. This review allows the team to give significant input, giving them a sense of ownership and a bit of personal pride in the production.

Building relationships with the production team leaders makes all the difference. The production blueprint is analyzed to make sure that there is general agreement on the coverage. They visit the venue to make a site survey, which may include skiing the course. Camera-by-camera the entire plan is evaluated. They discuss the types of lenses that will work best, sometimes changing what is described on the original plan. All along the way they have to make compromises, creating a plan that they can all believe in.

It’ll Be Like This

The broadcast production team, made up of the Broadcast Venue Manager, Information Manager, Technical Manager and the Logistics Manager, are then invited back to Torino for a second visit. This time they review the plan within the context of an actual test event staged by the Olympic Committee. The test events give the team an opportunity to see the venue in operation, to spot possible production problems and experience weather conditions that will be similar to the Games-time weather.

The TOBO production staff also meets regularly with the engineering staff to review the production plans. As Douglas says “we have to make sure that the production requests fall within the abilities of the equipment.” If the engineers say that something is borderline, then production has to determine what it will take to make it feasible. Sometimes they just have to drop it.

The whole way through the process, production is in contact with their sport federation contact. It is important to get feedback from the sport people throughout the planning phase. Once the plan is together, the production staff meets with federation technical delegates to get them to sign-off on the plans. Both the sport federations and the Torino Olympic Committee must sign-off on the plans since both are involved in the decisions made for access to the field of play and the final competition format. The production staff must be able to defend their camera positions and all other production equipment and staff in or near the field of play.

TOBO must also understand the competition format so that they know how to stage the event. During the Salt Lake Olympics, Milkis was responsible for directing at two different venues that had six unique sports events... which required three different resets of the equipment within just one venue! They had to use three different monitor walls.

That meant that the production and engineering staff must have had enough time to move equipment, set-up, adjust the OB van’s monitor walls and rehearse... before that specific sport began. So, it’s imperative to work with the Olympic committee since they are creating the schedule.

The TOBO production staff has to deal with freelance crews, rights holding broadcasters, federations and the Olympic Committee. Building those relationships is an important aspect of the production staff’s job. As Douglas says “my job has much more to do with relationships than anything else.”

Jim Owens is the chair of the Communication Arts Department at Asbury College, has worked on the broadcast of eight Olympics and is the author of the book Television Sports Broadcasting. He can be reached at