CBS Sports prepares for US Masters
Augusta National has always been a larger-than-life golf course, but, in the past few years, the Masters tournament has become a larger-than-life production. This year, CBS Sports will produce not only its signature wall-to-wall HD coverage, which began on Monday with a four-camera extended practice show on Masters.com, but also a full 3D broadcast of the second nine holes, which will air on ESPN’s 3D network in the US. With upwards of two dozen production trucks in the compound, more than 100 cameras on the course, and a crew of 650 working the tournament, the 2011 production of the Masters has grown to match the grandeur that surrounds the course itself.
“The hardest thing for us and the Masters is that it has grown relatively quickly over the last several years,” says Ken Aagaard, EVP of engineering, operations, and production services for CBS Sports. “The house has gotten a little heavy, and I want to make sure that the foundation holds. That gets to things like video routers, audio routers, distribution, EVS networking, bandwidth. If the fiber on the course goes bad, what are our alternatives? We’re at the top of everything, equipment-wise, and there’s not a lot of room for technical uh-ohs.”
After six decades of experience producing coverage of the Masters, however, no one at CBS expects many uh-ohs to mar this year’s event.
All cameras always on
New for 2011 is a second featured follow group, with its own dedicated camera. All told, including the 3D production, that brings the total camera count in Augusta to 106.
“We have a handheld camera that’s dedicated to following the group, but you’re also cutting in the other cameras that are already there,” Aagaard explains. “Those cameras are controlled by the primary director of the second nine, and every camera guy on the second nine knows that he is hot all the time.”
With dozens of feeds to produce, from the followed feature groups to the DIRECTV mosaic, follow-the-leader, Amen Corner, and international feeds, all of the camera operators know that their images can be used at any time, whether live or recorded to tape. Given that ongoing demand for coverage, the camera operators have all been instructed to avoid quick pans, shoot every player hitting the ball, and always cover, assuming that someone is always using their feed.
Bringing in relievers
To help ensure that the camera operators stay fresh working 10-plus–hour days for four days straight, CBS Sports has more than two dozen relief operators on hand. For a production of this size, it is those relief camera operators who are often the unsung heroes the live broadcast in Augusta.
“The job of the relief cameraman is so important, and it’s so hard, especially in golf,” Aagaard says. “Every guy who sits on a camera will set up his controls just right. When he takes a break, the relief guy comes up, but he cannot touch the settings because he’ll only be there for 20 minutes. He suddenly has to climb onto a camera that he can’t mess with and adjust. In golf in particular, especially in this event, I give a lot of kudos to the guys who have to do relief, on the hard cameras in particular.”
Most of the time, in fact, the director does not know that a relief operator is working the camera because there is not always time to call the change over the PL. Steve Milton, who will be directing the overall show and the second nine holes, and Bob Matina, who will direct the first nine, will be talking to the cameras all day and must keep calm as operators slip in and out to take breaks over the course of the tournament.
“It takes a lot of patience,” Aagaard says, “and some really good expertise from a lot of technicians and production people.”
Those production people are all experienced professionals, but, with 650 individuals credentialed to work the Masters, if you have ever worked on golf anywhere in your career, Aagaard says, you are probably heading to Augusta this week.
The Augusta marathon
In addition to expertise, endurance is also a requirement to work the Masters. Setup begins in earnest on Wednesday, with rehearsals and camera checks before the first round begins on Thursday, but the biggest moments of the event occur on Sunday.
“These guys are working 10-, 12-, 13-hour days, nonstop,” Aagaard says. “When you get to Sunday, that’s when you have to have your A game. You have to pace yourself. This is true of everybody, not just the technicians. When you think of some of those great finishes at the Masters, you can’t afford to miss anything, so you’ve got to be on your toes the whole time. By the time you get to Sunday, you’re worn out. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. I really give these guys a lot of credit.”