Filmwerks, Game Creek, AVS, Fletcher, and NEP Serve Broadcasters’ NFL Draft Needs in Chicago

Last week’s NFL Draft in Chicago proved to be every bit the grandiose FanFest and ratings extravaganza the league had promised. The NFL’s grandest made-for-TV event took over Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre and Grant Park, setting a new bar for the size of ESPN’s and NFL Network’s Draft productions. Here is a look at some of the army of production technology vendors and service providers that were on hand to help make it all happen – supporting ESPN, NFL Network, and the Draft itself.  

Filmwerks Gets Creative With NFL Network’s Grant Park Set
NFL Network’s massive Super Bowl Blvd. set in Manhattan at Super Bowl XLVIII proved to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship with Filmwerks. Fifteen months later, the two have partnered once again to create a unique new 24-ft. wide x 32-ft. deep x 17-ft. high studio set on-site at the NFL Draft. Due to the always uncertain weather in Chicago in April right off Lake Michigan, NFL Network worked with Filmwerks to design a set flexible enough to weather a potential storm or reap the benefits of a beautiful day.

Filmwerks' David Fioravanti in front of NFL Network's Grant Park set

Filmwerks’ David Fioravanti in front of NFL Network’s Grant Park set

“There were two primary challenges for this set,” says Filmwerks project manager David Fioravanti. “First, NFL Network wanted 180-degree open views for their cross-shots, which meant we couldn’t have any vertical [beams] closer to the downstage edge of the roof . So we did 17-foot cantilevers on this roof. The second challenge was having glass that could slide open and close. So on both sides of the structure we were able to put a high-grade rolling system that allows us to slide the glass back and forth.”

Filmwerks utilized ModTruss truss structures, which allowed it to eliminate the cement ballast that would usually be required to create a cleaner overall look.

“I think the weather had everything to do with the design of this set,” says Fioravanti. “Their biggest concern was they wanted talent to be comfortable. For us that meant having a heated set with enclosed glass to keep them warm if the weather turned cold or it started raining. And then if it was 70 degrees out and beautiful they could open it up and expose the sets to the fans. They really got the best of both worlds.”

NFL Network's set in Draft Town was designed by Filmwerks

NFL Network’s set in Draft Town was designed by Filmwerks

Filmwerks also provided power for the set with twin 175-KW generators, as well as for NFL Network’s truck compound via twin 500-KW generators.

Fioravanti says Filmwerks is already brainstorming with NFL Network regarding potential sets at Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium in February.

“Filmwerks has become a great partner for us,” says Adam Acone, director of media operations and planning, NFL Network. “We first worked with them back in New York for the Super Bowl where they built our big structure in Times Square. We have been working with them since and it’s been a great partnership for power and sets. They have been able to get things done even when we are asking a lot from them and we are already talking to them about building a similar structure to here at the Super Bowl.”

Game Creek Serves NFL Network With Plenty of Pride, Glory
Game Creek Video, NFL Network’s longtime truck provider, was on-site with Pride and Glory A (both with A and B units). After parking the trucks on Friday, the real work began – integrating the four trucks together for an ultra-complex multi-site, multi-studio show.

Game Creek Video's George Bailey at NFL Network's truck compound

Game Creek Video’s George Bailey at NFL Network’s truck compound

Game Creek leaned heavily on its custom truck-to-truck fiber system and Evertz TDM for the audio interconnect in order to connect the trucks with the various venues.

“Luckily, these trucks are tied together often throughout the season, so there is a lot of network infrastructure already in place,” says Game Creek Video Engineer in Charge George Bailey, who oversaw his first Draft production. “We do a lot of these big shows, so this has almost become a default mode for us. But when you get to scale like this, obviously things get a lot more complex.”

In terms of cameras, Game Creek had initially considered creating a single massive network of  every camera, as it does on many of it larger shows. However, in the end Bailey and Co. opted for a more separated approach between the two trucks, though both still shared a massive number of feeds.

“There was a lot of planning ahead of time, but it has grown even more since we arrived,” says Bailey. “Since it’s the first time in this inside-outside setup, we are all learning a lot about how to integrate all these sets. One of the good things with NFL Network is how many Super Bowls they have done with the NFL Fan Experience, the media show, and all their sets. We all know how to do a show like this, so both NFL Network and Game Creek go into a show like this with a multi-site, multi-studio mentality in mind.”

In addition to the complex multi-studio show on-site, Game Creek was also tasked with integrating 25 inbound paths from teams’ war rooms and facilities around the country for NFL Network’s telecast.

“We can integrate all these feeds in from everywhere and have that infrastructure due to the fiber interconnects in the trucks,” says Bailey. “Otherwise, it simply wouldn’t be possible.”

AVS Ramps Up Role at Draft for Increased RF Needs
Aerial Video Systems’ (AVS) presence at the Draft skyrocketed this year with the move to Chicago. In past Drafts in New York, broadcasters employed a single RF Steadicam, whereas this year AVS was on hand with nine total RF cameras for NFL Network and ESPN.

AVS's Tony Vazquez at the RF-3 truck in Grant Park

AVS’s Tony Vazquez at the RF-3 truck in Grant Park

For NFL Network, AVS provided two RF SteadiCams with RF video return and three handheld cameras, as well as five RFPL systems working inside the auditorium and outside, three high-power talent mic packages, and three RF talent monitors. ESPN, meanwhile, received two RF SteadiCams and two handhelds along with two RFPL systems working inside and outside, and one RF talent monitor. The broadcasters also shared AVS’s aerial fixed-wing cameras, which was aloft over Chicago for 25 hours over the three draft days.

AVS rolled out its RF-3 mobile RF center 53-foot truck near ESPN’s truck compound on Michigan Ave., as well as four receive sites: at its truck, near the NEP Trio Video truck being used for C3 Presents’ in-venue production, at Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park, and in front of the Auditorium Theatre for the Gold Carpet Show Thursday.

AVS's RF camera transmitted from the Henry Tower

AVS’s RF camera transmitted from the Henry Tower

Among the most interesting shots created by AVS’s RF cameras was a live look at the Chicago cityscape from the 103rd level of the Henry Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) for ESPN and NFL Network.

“I was discussing with one of our camera operators about our camera coverage and floated the idea of going up to the top of the [Henry] Tower,” says Tony Vazquez, technical operations – sales, Aerial Video Systems. “And so he did it and we ended up with a perfect picture with full comms and everything from the 103rd floor – right from our receive [site] right here at our truck. It was an amazing thing to see.”

An AVS robo backstage at the Draft.

An AVS robo backstage at the Draft

Other unique looks included an ESPN RF camera on board a double-decker bus on Michigan Ave. as it drove by the Draft venue in Grant Park. Both networks also deployed additional RF cams across Lake Michigan.

“Both ESPN and NFL Network and AVS have a long standing professional RF history,” says Vazquez. “Together we enjoy pushing the RF boundaries and challenging one another, in turn putting out a better product and content.”

NFL Draft Proves To Be Successful Home Stand for Fletcher
It was a hometown show for Fletcher Chicago, which has its facility located in nearby Burr Ridge just outside Chicago. Fletcher provided five robotic cameras and two NAC/Ikegami Hi-Motion II ultra-slow-motion systems to ESPN and NFL Network, including unique robos looks from the upper balcony of the Auditorium Theatre and on the stairs as draftees walk from the second-level green room to the stage upon hearing their name called.

This robo covered draftees as they walked downstairs from the green room to the stage.

This Fletcher robo covered draftees as they walked downstairs from the green room to the stage.

“We always send spare equipment, especially when we are local, so being here in Chicago for the Draft has been a huge plus,” says Chicago VP Dan Grainge. “There are two or three more systems there than we would have expected just because we are local and solving a few last-minute issues was so easy since we are right down the street.”

For the first time, Fletcher robos also served as the primary studio camera for NFL Network and ESPN’s sets inside the Auditorium Theatre. The venue’s smaller footprint made it impossible to locate a podium for the camera, so both networks opted to go with robos on their sets – creating a unique challenge for Fletcher.

NFL Network's set inside the Auditorium Theatre utilized a Fletcher robo as its primary camera

NFL Network’s set inside the Auditorium Theatre utilized a Fletcher robo as its primary camera

“They have all had to migrate to robos for what they would normally do with hard-configured cameras,” says Grainge. “Our cameras almost never need tally because it’s never necessary for behind-the-backboard cameras and things of that sort. But in this case, in order to make sure talent knew which cameras to look at, we had put a solution in place for tally. That is something we rarely do, but we were able to think on our feet and everything worked out great.”

NEP Festivals Continues to Partner with C3 Presents
In addition to providing its EN-1 mobile units for ESPN’s Draft production, NEP’s Rhythm was on hand a the Draft to support C3 Presents’ in-venue production in Chicago. 2015 marks the 9th consecutive year NEP’s Festival team is supplying state of the art mobile units and expert tech support to C3 Presents biggest music events in North America (including Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits Music Festivals). While the world watched the NFL Draft on ESPN and NFL Network, NEP Festivals team was on site at Chicago’s Grant Park supplying 18 channels of content to over 80 video screens and monitors. From draft countdown information, sports programming to fan interactive games and competitions, NEP supplied seamless continuous content to the NFL Festival site throughout the 3 day festival.

“We’ve got a great relationship with the C3 team, when they asked us to help with the inaugural NFL Fan Fest, we jumped at the chance” said Peter Kimball, Senior Account Manager at NEP US Mobile Units. “The entire event was a great success.”

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