A day like today a month ago, a suitcase, an inflatable bed, a bedside table, a mirror and a clothes rack was all I had in a nice little room in Portland. Every morning I would grab a couple of Kellogg’s energy bars, put them in my backpack and start my 20 minute walk down to Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy in Osprey Quay, mostly known as the sailing venue for the London 2012 Olympic Games.
The day would start with the scan of my accreditation, a bottle of water from the vending machine (which was free!!), a warm cup of tea and a few comments of amusement from my fellow colleges due to the 10 little packs of sugar I used to pour in it (and the monopolization of the refreshment’s table caused by such activity). So, with all that done, I was ready to find a seat next to my team and be ready for the morning meetings lead by the producer (Gary Milkis) and director (Chris Lincoln). The venue consisted of 5 main locations for the different class races: The Nothe, Portland Harbor, Weymouth Bay South, Weymouth Bay West and Weymouth Bay East (this one was assigned just in case something happened, so it was saved for very exceptional occasions – which I think never happened). So basically, those morning meetings consisted of weather reports; informing what time, what areas, and which teams were covering what races each day.
32 cameras in total, between helicopters, land based cameras (Commentary and Mix Zone areas, the ticketed area, the Nothe fort), robotic cameras fixed on the racing boats and on land; on-boat cameras (fixed cameras); and the ENGs (Electronic News Gathering) cameras. The ENGs were sent in the water on speedboats. There were 6 cameramen, 7 skippers (speedboat drivers), and 8 spotters (aka. camera assistants, timecode loggers, and yes, spotters: Where are the team leaders? Who had a penalty? Where is the GBR team? We had to have the answers to those questions).
The task: To cover the assigned races for the 10:00pm daily news summary. Meaning, we needed to summarise an entire race in 3 minutes. It’s all about key points. So, images of the “heroes” as in the leading teams, and teams with a particular story; the start of the race; the marks (windward and leeward. Yes, I had to learn all this on the first few days); penalties; boats turned up side down (we loved those ones); the finish line; celebrations; and beauty shots (if there was time for them!). By far, one of the most exciting assignments in the coverage.
6 cameraman and 8 spotters? OK. This was a bit tricky at the beginning, but it worked out ok at the end. So, each ENG boat had one skipper, one cameraman and one spotter. A cameraman always needed a spotter/assistant. At the beginning, each cameraman was assigned a particular assistant. So, what happened to assistant 7 and #? Well, somebody needs to pick up the memory cards from the cameras, right? The workflow of the ENGs was something like this: General morning meeting, ENG morning meeting: who covers what and at what time; getting ready: take the cameras out, format memory cards, put them in their plastic boxes, batteries, radio, pick up log sheets, waterproof gearing up, life vests, sunblock, water, lunch boxes. Everything in the trolley. We are ready. Walk down to the Marina, find our skipper, put everything on the boat, strap it, get rid of the trolley. Here we go. We make our way to the race area. We are chasing the racing boats, and as a spotter you need your 5 senses working like a charm. Foreseeing: What will my cameraman need next? He is following GBR, but he’s not noticing who’s overtaking, we have to let him know! Is he rolling? Red light? Be careful, don’t let him fall. We need to change cards, don’t let those bad boys get wet! We need to call the director and the other ENGs, radio ready! I like thinking of the whole thing as 2 people dancing on a boat (you can’t be in the way of your cameraman, and he is moving to get the shot. A LOT). Have I mentioned that the speedboats have their name due to how fast they actually go? I never knew what 52 nots felt like. Now I know. AWESOME. Now dance on that!
After each race the memory cards need to be changed. My cameraman gives me the card contains all the footage shot so far, I give him an empty one (this is happening very fast and very cautiously, if it get wet, it means that we have been working for nothing!) I put the card card and my log sheet in the little waterproof blue bag and we are waiting for the pickup boat and spotter #7 or #8 who will take the cards back to land.
Land: the OBS compound = The Olympic Broadcasting Services compound. Where the entire OBS crew is based: Production truck, editing suites, production office, animation and graphics, robotic cameras, ENG container, camera storage, Technical Operation Centre, telecommunications (the art of video and data feed backing) catering area, toilets, even the BBC had their own space in the OBS compound!
On land, the cards are received in the marina and taken to the editing suites for the Editors (Ben and Jason) to start ingesting, deciphering the log sheets, cutting and finally, having a summary ready for broadcast at 10:00pm. So in a day, Ben and Jason would receive 12 cards more or less.
Right! The camera assistants #7 and #8! Shiv and I were the lucky ones with those numbers. Printing log sheets, positions info, get in the water with the fastest skipper ever: Richard; go to every race area and pick up the cards, go back to land, bring them to the editors. Michael Gribbin our manager, knew that there was a much fairer way to do this and he rotated positions.
My first assigned cameraman was Don Rutherford from New Zealand and skipper, Adam. Don is a man of few words. First thing he asked me: Can you shout? – Ha! If I can shout? I’m the master of shouting! Good. He was given the Schwem lens, a lens with an incorporated stabiliser, Don could zoom in as much as he wanted, and he would always get the shot. On our first day, our plastic box, the container which was empty except for the Schwem lens cap, got lost in the water. It was massive, one second it was at the back of the boat, the next… nothing. I wanted to die! I told Don how unlucky I was, just on my first day with him, we lose a massive box. He said not to worry, it wasn’t my fault and shit happens. The next day we go back in the sea; and what do we find? The box! In the Marina, next to the police boats! Oh my god! We took it. The world is awesome again.
Two days with Don. Then I was assigned to Reid and skipper, Michael from South Africa (who also happens to have worked in Danny Boyle’s film, The Beach, as an extra) . Reid Nelson, the cool American ESPN cameraman who is crazy about sports! You got to love Reid and his stories. I certainly learned a lot from him. Thank you Reid once again for everything. Reid introduced me to W. L. Jackson when I needed a bit of action during my ENG card-pickup days. Jackson is a great cameraman assigned to the Mix Zone area (where the athletes and racing boats were based). He was a great adviser and for once I was really grateful for being told how things really were and being instructed with discipline. Jackson introduced me to Bill and thanks to him I got the most amazing photo a Peruvian could ever have: Me and the Peruvian Laser Radial.
In my days with Reid and Michael, the sea and weather played us dirty big time. My waterproof gear wasn’t working at all, and the speed wasn’t helping with the spray. Soaked trousers, soaked feet, soaked everything. High sea tides, rain and wind. It was AMAZING. The only thing I was worried about was having to deal with a cold. I was enjoying it SO MUCH, and I didn’t want to get sick and I certainly didn’t want to stop. That never happened. I prepared myself mentally and physically for this. I wanted to make the most of it, and I did. My body was responding amazingly great. And I was feeding it properly at the correct times, with the appropriate rest (except for the opening ceremony and the wrap party, but COME ON! Bodies also need to party!).
Due to forces of destiny, fate, the universe, god, you name it, Reid, Michael and I stuck together for the rest of the games. No more rotations, ENG#1 from then on was Reid, Mike and Cris. I liked that. The wind died on the last couple of days, when we were supposed to cover the Elliots. So we were trying to get some cool shots for the behind the scenes video, and for fun really. The sun came back (it kind of forgot us in the middle of the games), and we were enjoying a nice time having chicken sandwiches and cokes, and getting to each other a bit more.
I can’t end this post without mentioning the top notch catering service we had during our Olympic days. The chef and his team were made of gold. If I didn’t get poorly during those two weeks it was mainly because of the food and all its proteins. It was the best in the world: Fish, seafood, chicken, beef, rices, pastas, soups, fruits, veggies and the most yummy desserts which I struggled to finish (after all that food, who wouldn’t!). Ok, ok, I’m only 1.58m tall and 45kgs, that kind of explains it all!)
By far, one of the best experiences of my life. Two weeks away from home working non-stop on speedboats covering the sailing competition for the London 2012 Olympic Games. I am so happy to have accepted this opportunity, to have been part of such great broadcast community and to have met such incredible people. How to forget my Canadian friends Scott, Steve and Moto in the Opening Ceremony gathering! And Drew! Oh Drew! And super fun dancing times with Reid and French friends Yann and Matt!
Now back in London, back on track, and with more posts to come soon. It’s been too long, I know!