For Philly Cycling Race, Budget Cuts Limit — But Don’t Eliminate — Video Production

By Carolyn Braff

This Sunday, the Philadelphia International Cycling Championship will take over the streets of the City of Brotherly Love for the 25th time, complete with a big-screen video production. For the first time, however, this year’s production will not include a live broadcast, as budget cuts have made the expense of RF cameras and a 35-person crew impossible.

“With the economic downturn, one of the industries that’s been hit the hardest is advertising,” explains Kent Gordis, who runs Brooklyn-based Kent Gordis Productions, the company that has produced race coverage for most editions of the international race. “The media is dependent on advertising for the vast majority of our financing, so it came down to the choice between do we do the event or do we have TV. Obviously, if you don’t do the event, there’s no reason to have TV, so they took the television money and put it into doing the event.”

Instead of a live production to air on WPVI Philadelphia, Gordis’s seven-person crew will produce six hours of video to be shown live on a big screen, provided by Atlanta-based XL Video. The screen, located in the middle of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway near the race’s start and finish, will feature live video 17 times during the race, each time the racers come through the downtown portion of the circuit in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

To fill time when the racers are elsewhere along the 14.4-mile course, Gordis has pre-produced plenty of content from the previous 24 editions of the race, including footage and interviews with past winner Lance Armstrong. Once the race gets going, the multitasking production team will also get creative.

“We’ve tried to be as resourceful as possible,” Gordis explains. “We’ll have live interviews with race announcers, highlights from previous editions, and content that will be taped during the race, during the day at Lemon Hill and the Manayunk wall, where there is a very steep climb, a lot of atmosphere, and some very colorful people.”

Two cabled cameras will shoot live from the finish straight, which the racers pass through 17 times, and will also roam to cover other content of interest near the Art Museum, including the pit area and feed zone. Two additional cameras will be used for color and interviews along the course, and a fifth camera will follow the cyclists from the back of a motorcycle.

“Every once in a while, that motorcycle will stop and give us a tape,” Gordis says. “We’re not going to show that content continuously because it’s too misleading, but we’re going to show snippets of the most interesting action from the previous lap off of the motorcycle cam.”

A reporter on that motorcycle will also have a helmet microphone hooked up to a cellphone, so Gordis will have live audio to work with throughout the day.

Home base will be a microwave news van provided by WPVI. From there, Gordis will have access to all of his cameras, tape, and editing and will beam the signal by microwave to the big screen, parked a few blocks down the Parkway.

“It’s all tape; we’re going to be using DigiBeta, Betacam SP, and DVC Pro,” he says. “Our basic plan is to try to maximize resources and people, and each one of our people is doing at least two jobs. I’m going to be producing, directing, switching, and shooting camera. We’re going to be doing multiple roles to maximize the content, given our resources.”

For previous race productions, signals from the motorcycle and other race vehicles were beamed wirelessly to a full production truck at the finish line, but, with the race in financial jeopardy as recently as a few weeks ago, that expense was not in the cards this year.

“The difference in cost between what we’re doing and doing the live coverage is a factor of 10,” Gordis explains. “It would have required an incredible additional amount of money to replicate what we’ve done in past years.”

Putting this year’s show together will not have the thrill of the 35-person live, televised production of previous years, but, for Gordis, this year’s edition is more challenging than ever.

“There’s no way we’ll ever get close to the amount of content that we had in a live production, but our challenge is to keep the content as interesting and varied as possible,” he says. “We have some great content from previous years; we’ll do some interviews with people during the event; we have content from the race announcers, tape from the motorcycle of previous laps of the current race, and it’s our job to use that combination of things to try to keep it as interesting as possible.”

The race — and the race video — hits the streets of Philadelphia this Sunday, June 7.

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