An inside look at the monumental task of Champ Car TV production
by Mark Cipolloni

 October 10, 2006

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Part 2

Pre-mix Room

Gary Elghammer the master audio mixer for international TV

Located outside the main truck, in what we call our “B” unit is the pre-mix room. Into this room comes every microphone, with the exception of announcer-related microphones. This is pre-mixed here, then sent to Mike Pope (Domestic) and to Gary Elghammer (International) simultaneously. It's done by Steve Miller.

He is the one responsible for that rat's nest of wires I showed you earlier. Nobody goes close to that (laughter). His whole function is to get the right sense. Remember, I told you television is the enemy of racing from a sound point of view? He is the guy that gets you the zoom, zoom, zoom. We've got microphones at not only every camera position, plus special effects microphones at every place. He's the one that mixes those.

Mike Callahan and Dave Goldsmith in the video control room

Mike Pope is the master mixer. He's the guy that takes all of the divergent audio signals, and there are hundreds of them at a place like this, and mixes them all to what you hear back home. He also, because of his position here in the domestic truck, is really the guy that supervises all of the other audio within the compound.

So he has a huge responsibility because this is a terribly, terribly complicated audio mix setup. I've been in this business for more years than I care to ever tell anybody. This is the most complicated audio system I've ever seen, and it is because of the international influence that we have and we have to address, plus the fact that we're involved very much with the Internet and all of the mixing that goes on with that. We have some really serious audio people here.

Videotape Room

Doreen Murray and Marc Dorsey run the videotape equipment
Mark Cipolloni/AutoRacing1.com

Doreen Murray is our tape producer. Neil Rogers is the lead Elvis operator. He does the music pieces that you see airing that have been garnered from live coverage just mainly 20 minutes ago.  Plus, he does all the roll-outs for us. He does all the packaging for us when we're in preproduction. This is really a pressure-packed position.

Marc Dorsey runs the second Elvis and the two Elvis operators talk to one another electronically so they are able to assist one another. It's really incredible how quickly we can get packages put together back here because of that.

Pierre Perrault over there is our lead videotape operator. The difference between an Elvis and a videotape machine is that an Elvis can handle up to four channels of incoming video. A regular videotape machine handles one video feed. But any one of these tape machines can take in any individual source and, in fact, have different assignments depending upon what is happening on the track.

Every single camera has a record source somewhere.

Charlie Farr is our second videotape operator in this room. You see what he's doing right now, he's counting the control room into this preproduction piece.

Simultaneously it's going into the Elvis. If you hear me say, I want 1-4-2-A, one, four, two alpha, that corresponds with the number assigned to that piece at the time it is created., Doreen, then, knows where everything is stored and, working this group of very talented guys, makes certain we get the right video on the air.

We have online nine tape machines, a total of three Elvises, and that doesn't include the recording facility.
Q. What happens with a tape-delay event, like qualifying? Do you actually sit there and edit it and determine what you're going to put in that one hour or half hour show?

JOHN MULLIN: We do it live to tape. I found it amusing that sometimes folks talk about the Atlantics, for instance, being heavily post produced. Never. It's all done live to tape. It's done as though it's a live television show. The turnarounds that we have to hit these days are so fast we don't have time for post production any longer.

Q. How about Australia, would you delay that?

Antennas beam the live feed out from the TV compound up to satellites which relay the feed to over 140 broadcasters worldwide

JOHN MULLIN: We will do that live to tape from Australia, but we will have a moment or two if we need to condense something or fix some problem. We still have to get it to the network very quickly. For instance, we're going to do Australia in Allentown, PA, where NCP, the people who provide us with these remote facilities have their headquarters. It's got to get both to Charlotte and to Los Angeles for the FOX uplink.

And at the same time we will be doing a live feed at 1:00 in the morning to our friends internationally.

Q. There is a lot going on.

JOHN MULLIN: Yes. It's all right here, right now, get it right the first time. That, is basically what this business is about. Decisions are made instantly. You need to trust your instincts, and when you are wrong, you beat yourself up, and then go forward.

Television has gotten to the point where the expectations are great and it takes an awful lot of equipment, and a team of highly skilled, dedicated professionals to get things done. The trucks that we use, NCP out of Pennsylvania, are superb. You really can't do this kind of production without this level of equipment on-site.

Some of the wiring necessary to make it all happen

One entire trailer is just for power

Q. Because of the nature of racing, the nature of the playing field, so to speak, a four-mile track, is this the hardest kind of sport to broadcast?

JOHN MULLIN: Oh, you know, I think if you ask anybody that does golf, they'd tell you that it's the hardest. If you talk to the guys that really know how to do baseball, they'd tell you it's the hardest.

I'll say this: compared to doing a football game, soccer game, anything that's on a field where you can sit in the seats and see the entirety of the field, this thing -- racing blows the doors off of them, if you will, to use a racing term. It's extraordinarily complicated. It's done by people that have an awful lot of experience and who are specialists.

Q. What are you directing then during the commercial? The commercial is running. What are you directing?

We are busy through an entire commercial break. There's no pause in anything for us, because what we're doing is figuring out how we want to come back. We're getting any elements set up we need to, any sales elements we need to get into the upcoming segment.

We frequently open up all of the microphones between our announcers, and we talk amongst ourselves.” Hey, are we covering this correctly? Have we got all the stories? What's happening in the back of the pack? Is somebody moving through that we haven't figured out yet, that we haven't seen?

There's a lot of communication that goes on during commercials.

Q. Who directs during commercials?

JOHN MULLIN: Jack Sedlak in our International unit.

Jack Sedlak - Director of the International Truck

JACK SEDLAK: I direct all the cameras during commercials for the International feed. Then I talk to their director (Gary Clem), I'll say, What do you want to have when you come back? He'll say,” When I come back, I want to be on the lead.” At that point I'll transition to the leader.

When I hand it back off to him, he's right where he wants to be. The camera operators aren’t confused if they're covering two battles. He might say, There's a great battle for third. Get me to that. Then I'll get to that and hand it off to him.

Q. If something happens during break, like an important pit stop or an accident or something, you make sure that gets covered properly?

SEDLAK: Yes. We have access to all of the recording devices that John and Gary have.

Q. If they want to see a tape delay of it, a one-minute tape delay of it, what happens?

SEDLAK: If it was an accident, it really wouldn't be a tape delay, it would be a set of replays played back, you know. But if there was a pass for the lead, they might say, “Here is what happened while you were gone, show the line cut as a replay.

SEDLAK: Everybody in this room is a specialist in racing television and has hundreds of hours of production under their belts specifically with respect to racing. Many of us do other things, but the racing is something that is a specialized art form.

Engineering Room

JOHN MULLIN: This is the engineering area of the truck. In other words, this is where the brain trust that keeps all of this working resides. Garrard Wark is the Engineer-in-Charge.

Garrard Wark, Engineer-In-Charge

GARRARD WARK: I have a staff of one, two, three, four other engineers. One is in charge of the truck over there. One is in charge of the truck there. Then there's a floater. Three drivers.

All the cameras do come to here. This is the main truck. We distribute the feeds from here to the compound, to whoever needs it, whatever trucks. Not all the cameras are mine that are here. There's some Brovos that come into the truck. There's robotic cameras also.

Mike Callahan and Dave Goldsmith are responsible for the video quality that you see on the television show. They monitor constantly all of the camera sources that are out there that are fed into this truck. That would include everything.

They're responsible for everything including the in-car cameras, the RF cameras, POVs, track cameras.

JOHN MULLIN: This is a black art. There are two black art areas in my mind. One is video and the other is audio. In terms of video shading and what have you, it takes a very unique eye and an ability to almost sense what the light is going to be from one corner to the next.

You asked me about the complexity of motorsport. If you're doing a football game that has Musco Lighting on it, it's a constant source of, say, 75-foot candles. It's very evenly lit. You can pretty much run those things on autopilot. These two gentlemen have to sit there and gauge between each camera cut what the weather is doing, what the cloud cover is, whether or not the front straight or corner No. 1, which is two miles away from corner 10, what the lighting is going to be, try to level it out so we have quality throughout. I call it a black art because I'm not smart enough to figure it out.

Part 1 | Part 3 | Part 4

The author can be contacted at markc@autoracing1.com

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