Shooting Pinks - COVERING SPORTS: High Gears and High Stakes

Reality TV shifted into a higher gear when Pinks debuted June 29 on the SPEED channel (see Created by host and Executive Producer Richard Christensen, Pinks takes viewers into the heart of drag racing. Drivers have a safe course to race on, the opportunity to negotiate the race and whoever wins goes home with the “pink” slip of the loser’s car. Christensen makes sure the races are fair and that vehicles have the same approximate value and speed. It’s the gamble that creates the high stakes drama, capturing all of the action was one of the great challenges for director-producer Stephen Pullin.

From Grease to The Fast and the Furious, drag racing has been an American subculture for generations. “There’s an underground group of people who have been doing this since the ‘50s and ‘60s. There’s also a lot of young people who race for money or cars on the streets illegally all the time,” Pullin says. “The basic premise of the show is the racers arrive, they negotiate the terms of the race and the best two out of three races wins.”

To accommodate the multi-camera shoot that took place in Sacramento, CA and Cedar Falls, IA, Pullin called upon Crews Control—an agency with a roster of 2,000 film and video crew in various locales around the world.
Says Andrea Keating, CO of Crews Control, “producers tell us what they need for all of their content acquisition and we make sure everything they need is waiting for them at the location.”

As a producer shooting on a conservative budget, Pullin must rely on a local crew to cut costs for traveling expenses.

“In the beginning stages of any show it’s always critical to build a good team and I’ve been just delighted in working with the extremely talented people over at Crews Control. They are all top of the line crew people,” he notes.
Putting It All Together Crews Control tapped Kevin Deane to shoot the intense action and help coordinate the show’s visual design with Pullin and Christensen. “There’s a very high-concept look and feel to the show. We were looking for a very edgy style with some extreme shots,” Pullin says. “I used matte boxes and wide-angle zooms on every camera. For the last shoot we shot on DVCPRO50s in 16:9, so it’s got a very cinematic look to it. On top of that, I built in a musical style as well, with a lot of hard, high energy rock ‘n’ roll music that makes a half-hour TV show like a movie.”
In addition to having an edgy look, the show’s producers still wanted a style that was grounded in reality. Says Deane, “early on when I was talking to Stephen and Rich, they really wanted a gritty, not too polished look. They were concerned that if it was too polished, the audience wouldn’t respond to it. We wanted to keep the cameras moving and be very ‘in your face’ to follow everything that is going on.”

The actual shoot for the half-hour program takes place in a two-hour period, covering everything from when the drivers meet to when the victor claims the new car. “It’s a live event,” says Pullin. “The whole deal has to be completed within that two-hour period. We generally do two complete races in one day, one during the day and one at night. In the future we are going to be shooting everything at night.”
Several cameras shoot simultaneously during the production with the three main cameras running the entire time.

“Generally we have three principal cameras and then two DVX100As capturing additional B-roll or one may be set up at the finish line,” says Deane.

As for the tape format of the three main cameras, the team has experimented for the different shoots. With each show, the videographers have gained insight on what works and what hasn’t, fine-tuning the production with each episode. The first two shows utilized Beta SP with the next two episodes shot on DVCPRO50 to accommodate widescreen format. “Everyone loved the 16:9 look so much better and we opted to go to progressive scan,” explains Deane. “However in the DVCPRO50 mode, we can only shoot 33 minutes. For future episodes we’re going to go with DVCAM because we can get loads up to three hours long, thus shooting two entire hours in a single take.”

According to Pullin, “we’re rolling all the time because we’re trying to capture everything. That’s important when we’re covering negotiations while different subplots are happening around the track between these two groups of racers. It gets very intense, especially towards the last half of the show as things get more serious and someone is going to inevitably lose. We want to get everything so that we’ll have it when we get into the editing room.”

Racing under these terms in not for the faint of heart, as their website states, “Poseurs need not apply.” Racers refusing to negotiate in good faith will have their vehicle confiscated and awarded to the other racer. After the final race, the loser must hand the winner their keys. “We haven’t had problems with people getting second thoughts. The race sorts out the men from the boys... once they are in it, they are raring to go. We provide a safe race course and they get to be on national television, so it’s a big thrill for the racers. A lot of them have told me it’s the best thing they’ve ever done, whether they’ve won or lost. They get totally into it and love the experience,” says Pullin.

Nevertheless, some of these car enthusiasts are losing their prized vehicles. “There’s a lot of real, raw emotion there,” points out Deane. “You are dealing with strong personalities and there are times when people want to walk away from the camera. We’ve had people go into their trailers, slam the door and start swearing once they’re off camera... but of course they’re on wireless mikes. The emotion is there, none of that is contrived. We are definitely cutting down the footage and building a story, but it’s not fake. It’s about as real as it gets.

The Reality of Reality

Culling the two hours of footage down to a half-hour show is under the supervision of editor Chris A. Peterson. “People are putting their cars on the line and the drama is automatically built in,” says Pullin. “I’m not into manufactured drama. There are no retakes, no staging, no coaching of the participants. Whatever happens in those two hours is what you see on the finished product. We just shorten the finished project. Christopher is key in this process. He’s done features in addition to Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. He is a great storytelling editor.”

Sound is recorded uninterrupted during the shoot with Derek Vanderhost overseeing the process. “Derek has also done quite a few feature films,” says Pullin. “I’m the biggest fan of Jerry Bruckheimer, he takes film people and puts them on TV shows. If you think about the kind of people I’m putting on the show, that’s what I’m doing as well. I wanted it to look and feel and sound as dramatic as any film. You sit on the edge of your seat after each commercial break, waiting to see who is going to win.”

Pinks doesn’t just challenge the owners/racers. “It’s been one of the more challenging shoots I’ve been on,” says Deane. “I’ve had the good fortune from day one to have this gut feeling about the show and about the group of people involved. We all have a similar vision for how this show should turn out. It’s nice when you can work with people who just want to make a good show. The logistics are small challenges but it’s a lot of fun to work on. Even if you’re not a car person, I think it will appeal to everyone because of the drama quotient. Every episode I’ve shot so far has been very dramatically different.”

Races are not only limited to cars, but episodes have also been shot using shifter carts and motorcycles. “We have all the safety precautions for the course and the rules they have to follow. We would like to have people come to Pinks racing and have a safe place to do this, to do it legally and do it right,” says Pullin.

Currently the show is looking for more competitors to be on upcoming shows. Locations are still being determined, but racing centers are tentatively slated for California, Florida, and the Midwest.

“I love this project,” says Pullin. “Many people didn’t think we could get enough people to give up their cars. We’ve proven them wrong and it’s an exciting show. It’s about stepping up, putting it all on the line instead of just talking.”

Elina Shatkin is the editor of