Holiday Cheer Comes to St. Bonaventure, Courtesy Game Creek Video

By Carolyn Braff

The holiday season came a bit late to St. Bonaventure University, but Paul Weiland, a lecturer in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, could not be more thrilled. Last Friday, Game Creek Video’s Red truck, formerly owned by Unitel Video, arrived on St. Bonaventure’s Western New York campus, proverbially gift-wrapped as the basis of a new series of sports-production courses Weiland will be teaching next fall.

How the truck made its way from a Game Creek storage unit to the St. Bonaventure campus is a bit of a Christmas story in itself. One of Weiland’s students, Alex Wolf, is the son of CBS producer Mark Wolf. Weiland invited Mark to serve as a guest speaker in one of his communication courses and happened to mention that he was in need of equipment to teach a course in production.

“Two weeks later, I get a message from Mark that he not only found some equipment for us, he also found a truck,” Weiland says. “I thought he was kidding.”

Kidding he was not. Wolf had reached out to Ken Aagaard, EVP, operations and production services, for CBS Sports (and SVG’s advisory board chairman), who put in a call to Ray Cantwell, VP, operations, at Game Creek Video, who just happened to have a truck lying around.

“In 2000, we bought a truck called Red that was originally built by Unitel,” explains Game Creek Video President Pat Sullivan. “It’s a well thought-out truck that’s exceptionally well designed, but it’s analog SD, so we weren’t having any luck selling it. Ray came to me and told me about this conversation with Mark Wolf. I know that St. Bonaventure has a pretty active TV-production program. I contacted them, and the truck was on its way.”

In Game Creek’s early years, the company” headquartered in Hudson, NH” did a fair amount of work in the Atlantic 10 conference, home to St. Bonaventure.

“We were at St. Bonnie’s a lot, and people were always really grateful to us,” says Sullivan. “Trucks are meant to be used, not sit dormant. It was not a difficult decision.”

For Weiland, it was a Christmas miracle indeed.

“I looked up the specs on the truck and realized I used to direct on that same truck when it was owned by Unitel back in the ’90s,” Weiland laughs. “The reason it’s available is, it’s a standard-def truck and nobody does sports in standard-def anymore.”

Built in 1988, the 48-foot double-expando analog SD truck was once one of the signature mobile units in the country, taking on big-ticket entertainment shows like the Academy Awards. As a former freelance producer and director” as well as long-time head of the Buffalo Sabres’ television operations” Weiland worked in Red, among other production trucks, before leaving the road life seven years ago to teach at St. Bonaventure. Thanks to the gift of the truck, two new sports-specific production courses are in the works, although there is plenty of work to be done before they enter the university catalog.

“We haven’t even opened up the truck yet,” Weiland says. “We just took the cameras out of storage, but we’ll fire it up as soon as Game Creek sends some engineers to show us what to do.”

Game Creek has a contract with the Buffalo Sabres, whose home ice is 70 miles north of St. Bonaventure, so an engineer will be able to spend significant time on campus giving Weiland’s team a rundown on the truck. With the equipment already inside, “it could do a college basketball game tomorrow,” Sullivan says.

That equipment includes a Grass Valley 3000 switcher, four hard Ikegami cameras with Canon lenses, three hand-held Ikegami cameras, four Sony W75 Beta decks, a Yamaha 3500 audio console, a Chyron Infinit, and an Abekas DVEous. Weiland intends to hire a full-time broadcast engineer to be in charge of production from the truck, which he envisions will allow the journalism program’s 275 students to provide content for Time Warner’s Upstate New York sports channel.

“The thrust of the truck would be to provide in standard-def a series of sporting events to Time Warner,” Weiland explains. “They don’t do any high-def stuff themselves, so we could actually turn out product and make it a learning laboratory for baseball, women’s basketball, men’s basketball, soccer, lacrosse, and whatever else comes down the pipeline. The kids will be able to learn doing real events, not just theory.”

Weiland will also bring in adjunct professors to teach specific modules on technical production, asking his friends from the Sabres’ production team, for example, to teach one on graphics.

The existing staffers at St. Bonaventure are equally excited to get involved; Weiland has a maintenance worker already studying manuals on how the expando function works.

“Everybody at the school is just thrilled,” he says. “What a student magnet this is going to be. Our journalism program is pretty strong, but this is the coolest thing. It’s like Santa Claus came.”

The gift of Red cleared out Game Creek Video’s large-magnitude holiday cheer for this season, although Sullivan has promised an old audio console to a local community college.

“We have other trucks, but I’d rather not give them away,” Sullivan smiles. “The balance of our fleet in the SD realm is digital trucks, so they have more currency to them.”

Still, it never hurts to ask.

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