By: Greg Ideran
I was lucky to have the opportunity to continue my passion for live directing this year in Oshkosh, WI at EAA AirVenture 2014. Tri-Marq produced over 50 hours of live video spanning the entire week of the EAA event. Footage consisted of simple one-camera interview shoots in addition to eight-camera coverage of the afternoon airshows. It was a live directing experience unlike any other I have had before.
We sent our stream to two trailer-mounted, 27 by 15-foot LED walls, positioned on either side of the show center. We began broadcasting every day at 10:00 AM and stayed live until the end of the airshow around 6:00 PM. In the first hour, we provided a video supplement to the EAA Radio Show being broadcast from the announcer’s stand. This was a simple one-camera shoot, with the camera focusing on the person being interviewed by the host. We also used video clips and stills to support the interviews when possible. During the downtime between the interviews, Tri-Marq ran pre-produced video packages provided by EAA. Along with the one tripod-mounted camera used to shoot the interviewee, we used a GoPro mounted to the outside of our trailer for a wide shot of the grounds. This footage proved useful to cut to before and after the interview, helping to ease cuts between video footage and shots of the guest on the announcer’s stand.
From 11:00 AM to 2:15 PM each day, the content we were showing was mostly pre-produced video, with a few miscellaneous interviews from the announcer’s stand. The airshow started at 2:30 PM every day except Sunday and lasted three and a half hours. During the airshow, we had eight different cameras running: two wireless cameras placed near the crowd at the show center, one camera in the air traffic control tower, one camera on the announcer’s stand, one camera on the north side of the show center, and one on the south side. In addition to those six manned cameras, we had our GoPro mounted on the side of the trailer as well as several different feeds from wireless GoPros mounted inside or outside of certain aircraft flying in the show. We were able to showcase in-cockpit footage of the pilots including aerobatic pilot Sean D. Tucker, the Geico Skytypers, the pyrotechnic duo Tinstix, and the famous Red Bull aerobatic helicopter, among others. Additionally, a GoPro mounted to the outside of the lead plane of the Honda Aeroshell team allowed us to see the other planes behind the leader while they performed their routine. The in-cockpit footage was particularly effective and exciting when the announcer’s stand was able to pair it with a live audio feed from the pilot. In these instances, we were able to build a stronger connection between the performer and the audience by showing him or her on the LED screen while they were talking.
Directing coverage of an airshow is definitely challenging. During most live events, most of the action occurs within the boundaries of a basketball court or a stage. Directing an airshow is an entirely different experience because the action is happening in the sky, where there are no boundaries. To add to the excitement of the airshow this year, there were several acts that included pyrotechnics. When they went off, they sent a shock wave through the entire production trailer, flexing the screens of the monitors in front of me, and shaking anything else that wasn’t secure inside. We were sure to capture the “wall of fire,” which covered a good stretch of the runway. To make sure we did not miss it, we had a radio tuned to the air boss frequency, so we were able to hear when and where they would be blowing the pyrotechnics. The giant walls of orange flame were nearly as exciting on camera as they were in person.
The major benefit of covering the airshow for seven days straight is that I was given the opportunity to learn and improve every day. As the days went on, I was able to anticipate the action more easily, allowing me to be ready with my shots quickly. But, of course, as soon as I started becoming comfortable with the way the show was running the first few days, something new was thrown at me, at 500+ mph: the United States Air Force Thunderbirds.
This year was the first time in EAA history that the USAF Thunderbirds made an appearance at the show, so they were the most talked about act the whole week. The Thunderbirds performed on the last three days of EAA AirVenture. For these shows, the crowd line was pushed back around 50 feet. Our trailer, however, remained inside the aerobatic box, which presented a few challenges. The first of these challenges was that once the Thunderbirds started their show, there was absolutely no movement allowed by our team or anyone else on the ground inside the aerobatic box. This meant that our cameras had to be set long before the show began, and once it started, they could not leave their positions. So, if the camera malfunctioned, lost communication, or ran out of battery, we could not send anyone out to it to fix any problems, and that camera was done for the rest of the show. Another challenge we faced was the volume. The six F-16s flying 500+mph past our trailer while I was trying to communicate on the headset made communication a difficult task. It was definitely one of the loudest environments in which I have directed.
Over the seven days, we were at EAA AirVenture 2014, we produced some great content. Whether it was getting a close-up of a pilot’s aerobatic maneuver 1000 feet in the air or taking the audience inside the cockpit of some of their favorite acts, we did all that we could to enhance the airshow experience for everyone who attended the event.