The last Mo Bot: Great North Run production company FilmNova talks about getting coverage of the famous half marathon onto global screens

Sir Mo Farah is taking one last race in his stride at the Great North Run 2023

Arguably the world’s largest half marathon, the Great North Run, takes place this weekend (Sunday 10 September). The run will be the last professional race of one of Great Britain’s most successful living athletes, Sir Mo Farah who will be in the race to win with 60,000 other runners, pacing themselves along the 13.1-mile course from Newcastle to South Shields.

The event is a FilmNova production for BBC Sport. It will be bought to TV screens globally by a 45-strong production team made up largely of freelancers and that includes four editors, a media manager, five floor managers, and one stills photographer.

While Filmnova has been producing the Great North Run for over a decade, each year a different theme is bought in, which keeps the team on their toes. Matthew Coliandris, senior director at Filmnova, will be the director for the Great North Run this weekend. Speaking to SVG Europe, he comments: “There are different themes in the 12 years we’ve been doing this race. This year it’ll be Mo Farah’s last ever race so that’s the theme this year.

“The planning that goes into [the race] is quite elaborate because being part of a wider company – the Great Run Company that puts the event on – we have a totally unique relationship whereby we work closer with the operations team and the marketing team – all the different strands within Great Run – we work hand in hand with them, whereas with so many other events that you might work on, you would be working with an LOC or a federation or organisation who’ve been making their own plans, and you don’t actually put them all in place. [That can mean] they don’t all marry up until you arrive on site, pretty much, whereas the Great Run Company is the complete opposite of that. I’ve had 30 meetings already about what we’re going to do with Mo Farah with the rest of the company. Nothing’s left to chance.

“We understand as a TV production company that much more about event planning, and Great Run Company now understand that much more about TV requirements because of the relationship that we have and the mutual respect that we have with each other,” continues Coliandris. “So it may look like it’s the same programme each year or it’s the same template each year, but it really isn’t. It’s a movable feast.”

That moveable feast was taken to extremes last year when the Queen died just days before the event, which drastically affected the entire plan. Says Coliandris: “Last year the Queen died three days before the event, so we had to rip up the entire running order on Friday morning and start again. So doesn’t matter how much planning you do, there’ll be something that will come along to change your ultimate plan.”

Coliandris adds: “There’s nothing left to chance on the Great North Run. It’s the biggest deal for the Great Run Company, obviously, and it’s pretty much the biggest deal for us as well so we don’t leave anything to chance. Something could happen within 24 hours of the race – someone might pull out, we might lose a human interest story from someone who’s not competing for whatever reason – but it’s changes like that, we really can’t plan for that sort of thing.”

Mo’s last mile

For the stories around Mo Farah this year, Coliandris says that there is a lot of content planned, yet he adds, “I don’t want to give too much away; it’ll take too much thunder away, particularly from the Great Run in their operations team and their marketing team, so I’m not going to give you too many clues, but there’s a lot planned for him at the start and finish and we have a plan to see more of him on the route, should he not be in the lead of the race”.

“[We will] redeploy a motorbike to go and find him,” continues Coliandris. “We have four motorbikes on the Great North Run, but obviously there are three races; there’s a wheelchair race, a women’s race, and a men’s race. So those four motorbikes work over those three races, and they’re all simultaneous; you have a plan about where the motorbikes are going to be at any one time. The whole 13 miles is carved up so that [each bike has] a role, but then their role changes once they finish their day job. So one of our motorbikes will be redeployed to go and find Mo for his last three miles, essentially.

“He will stay in contention hopefully until the finish line, but the chances are that given that his legs are not as young as they were 10 years ago, during the last mile, he might fall back. Hopefully he doesn’t, [as it would] make my job a hell of a lot easier!”

We’ve got Amiee Fuller running as a reporter and it’s the first time we’ve really attempted this. She’s running with a producer and he’s wearing a pace setter-style flag with big BBC branding all over it saying, “come and tell us your story, come and be interviewed as you run”

The leading packs, within which will hopefully be Farah, will be seen on camera running the last mile down what is a relatively straight road. Coliandris says: “They come down onto the coast and the 12 mile mark is just after that turn, then our finish cameras can see everything from around about 500 metres out on the long lens, but we don’t really cut to them until about 250 metres out. We stop the bikes before those fixed cameras. But of course the dilemma we face is that whereas the focus is on Mo, there is also a race going on and if it happens to be that the leaders are crossing the line while Mo is approaching the finish, well then we’re showing the leaders crossing the line. That’s where it gets tricky. That’s where you’ve got to have a plan for how you going to deal with it not being in the top three of the race basically.”

The Great North run is the world’s largest half marathon. It takes place on 10 September 2023. The run will be the last professional race of Great Britain’s most successful living athlete, Sir Mo Farah who will be in the race to win with 60,000 other runners, pacing themselves along the 13.1 mile course from Newcastle to South Shields

Timeline TV and NEP

Technical service providers for the race are jointly Timeline TV and NEP, supported by Moov on graphics, and MotoCam, a provider of motorbikes for live event coverage. Notes Coliandris: “It’s tied up completely between NEP and Timeline since we took it on, so NEP supply anything that’s plugged into something, and Timeline supply everything that’s RF-based, so that’s motorbikes, plane, and a helicopter as well.”

Coliandris comments: “The start OB is its own entity, so it’s completely self contained. It has its own graphics operation, it has its own director, own VT, so it does everything. I direct the finish at South Shields and I don’t need to input anything to that start of the programme. It all comes from the start OB and we don’t take over at the finish until the race goes off. So it is two completely separate operations in that regard. There are two OB trucks which essentially mimic each other, their operation at start and finish.

“We did that because the way it used to be done meant that you were directing cameras and presenters from 13 miles away with talkback delays. Everything that goes with that – hesitant links into VT’s that don’t run soon enough, and more – so we just did away with all that. The start, which it supplies an hour and a half’s-worth of pictures, is its own OB programme in its own right. They have something like seven or eight cameras, we have six or seven at the finish and we’ve got all the mobile cameras as well.”

4G cameras

Overall, the plan for the race has not changed in the last 12 years. However, FilmNova has made some improvements over time, as technology has evolved. Explains Coliandris: “[The plan] hasn’t changed. We’ve adapted certain things here and there. We’ve changed technology a little bit. We’ve introduced 4G cameras in a couple of places that you wouldn’t necessarily know about unless I’ve told you [that’s what they were]. But the planning for it is pretty elaborate and because we work so closely with the event, there’s not a single minute of that four hour programme that’s left a chance.”

Aimee Fuller, former Olympian and now broadcaster, is set to run the race while interviewing fellow runners around the course. Says Alison Lombardi, Filmnova’s head of production, who will also be one of the race competitors on the day: “We’ve got Amiee Fuller running as a reporter and it’s the first time we’ve really attempted this. She’s running with a producer and he’s wearing a pace setter-style flag with big BBC branding all over it saying, “come and tell us your story, come and be interviewed as you run”.

“I don’t know if [the producer] knows quite how heavy [the camera] is, but he’ll have a sort of mini MVP camera on his back; it’s a lightweight camera with a gimbal,” continues Lombardi. “Hopefully Amiee’s going to capture some on-the-go interviews for us, which will be relayed by the MVP over 4G, and we’ll pull those down at the finish.”

Lombardi adds: “We’d never go to them live, but hopefully it’ll give some nice junctions within the programme to go and see what’s really happening on the course.”

The 4G cameras being used are LiveU packs supplied by Timeline TV. Says Lombardi: “We use them for crucial angles of the Tyne Bridge and also what we call our halfway point – which traditionally would have been an SNG camera – which is the White Mare Pool roundabout on the course where we’ve had a reporter [covering the race], which will be Jeanette Kwayke this year. She stops runners and gets interviews with them. Those are the static [4G cameras] versus the Amiee Fuller mobile one.”

4G cameras were actually only bought into the Great North Run production plan last year, when the Queen’s funeral meant equipment was requisitioned. Explains Coliandris: “We only stumbled across the camera at Tyne Bridge being 4G last year, because it was traditionally sent back via a satellite truck, but the satellite truck got called away on funeral duties. So we were about to not have a camera there at all until we realised that we could redeploy a 4G camera from a motorbike to go on Tyne Bridge. It held up fantastically well given that there were 60,000 people running over that bridge, and then another 60,000 people taking photographs on their phone. It was excellent.”

Solid coverage

The additional TX over the weekend is on the BBC Red Button for coverage of the British Athletics Mile and 5K events on the Newcastle and Gateshead Quayside, which takes place on Friday 8 September from 4.20pm to 5.50pm. This will be produced remotely, using seven cameras on site and Coliandris directing from Timeline TV’s studios in Ealing. the footage will be presented by JJ Chalmers.

Then on Saturday 9 September on BBC One at 12.30pm, a short film reliving the career of Farah, titled, Mo Farah’s Last Mile, will air. Interviewed by Sir Brendan Foster, the piece was filmed recently at Farah’s training base in the South of France.

Main coverage of the race will be on BBC One from 10am to 2pm on Sunday 10 September. Gabby Logan, Jeanette Kwayke, JJ Chalmers and Aimee Fuller will lead the coverage on BBC One, with commentary from Steve Cram, Tanni Grey-Thompson and Paula Radcliffe.

This will be followed by a highlights show on BBC Two from 5.00pm to 6.00pm, which will be produced on site with a fast turnaround.

Adds Lombardi: “There’s also a two hour international broadcast that’s produced simultaneously within the TX, within the scanners with a separate director and bespoke graphics, so a bespoke feed mix. We have an off tube commentary for that also back at Ealing with Timeline. It’s practically going to every territory, including the Olympic Channel, FloTrack, the Great Sports channel, Super Sport and Eurosport and Discovery+, so it’s got a good reach.”

Coverage of the Great North Run will be shown on BBC1, Eurosport and Discovery+ and the Olympic Channel in Europe this weekend.

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