During the course of live HD coverage of the Tour of California cycling race, Versus experienced quite a few ups and downs — from the top of Mt. Baldy to the bottom of a mud puddle that nearly trapped several production trucks. The eight days of coverage, for which the network invested quite a bit more time and personnel than for other races it covers, offered spectacular vistas of the state of California, as well as a primer in how to effectively move an entire production setup every day for a week.
“As compared to other races we cover, we definitely do a much bigger production for the Tour of California,” explains Joel Felicio, cycling producer for Versus. “We have a lot more invested in it, being that it’s an American race. For some races, we just take a feed and do coverage from [Versus headquarters in] Connecticut, but we have on-site crews in California capturing live interviews, and we’re doing a lot more features. The coverage is a little bit more high-end because we’re on-site and have a bigger presence.”
New GoPro Angles
For the eight-day stage race, which took place May 15-22, Versus deployed three cameras on motorcycles, one helicopter, and four cameras at each finish line, including a super-slow-motion camera. New for the 2011 production was the addition of GoPro cameras on some of the racers’ bicycles, which offered a whole new angle to the network’s cycling coverage.
“We had GoPro cameras attached to some of the racers’ bikes,” Felicio says. “When the race finished, we would gather the cameras and choose a couple of clips that we thought were entertaining. Those would air during the nighttime show. That was an element that we hadn’t done before in cycling. It really gave you a feeling of what it’s like to be amongst the cyclists during a sprint finish.”
In addition, two ENG crews shot live interviews at the start of each day’s stage. With a bit of maneuvering and some creative transportation, footage from those interviews was incorporated into the live show the same day it was shot.
“They would shoot the interviews, drive them to the finish, and then we would play them back during the show,” Felicio explains. “The race starts out with your being thrown into it, setting everything up for the first time. But after three or four days, you do get into a rhythm, and people do find their routine.”
Almost Stuck in the Mud
Upsetting that routine, however, was the weather. The night before the race’s first mountaintop finish, it poured all night, creating an interesting parking situation for the four production trucks on a small road atop the mountain.
“There’s nowhere to park up there,” Felicio explains. “It’s basically just a road; there’s no parking lot with cement. Our production trucks are big, and they take up a lot of room. We started trying to park them at 6 a.m., and they got stuck in the mud. We didn’t get everything parked until 11 a.m., when crew call was 9 a.m. That was a hard day.”
Not to say that the other days were easy. Felicio, who has covered cycling for Versus everywhere from Australia to Switzerland, is quick to point out that, on most televised sports productions, the crew has a full set day to park the production trucks, test the equipment, and get everything ready for game day. With a bike race, however, there are no set days.
“You have to strike the set at the end of the stage when you’re done and drive the production trucks to the next stage, which could be three hours away,” Felicio notes. “You wake up early the next morning, and the crew has to set up the truck in a two-hour time frame, when, normally in the sports world, you would have a full day to set up. That’s what’s challenging about a bike race; you have to move your entire production every day.”
Luckily for Versus, its crew of 35 production personnel gets the same adrenaline rush from the production as Felicio does, making for a teamwork atmosphere that is necessary for the network’s first-class production.
Audio Wish List
While Versus was able to tap into audio from the motorcycle cameras to help bring viewers audibly closer to the action, Felicio would love to have access to true rider audio, in the same way NASCAR is able to listen in on drivers’ conversations during races.
“There’s a lot of communication between cyclists and team managers in cycling, so it might be cool to listen to the racers talking to each other and talking to the team director,” he says. “That’s something I’m hoping can happen one day.”