Director Spotlight: Sandy Grossman

Approximate 3 minute read

The Big Game …

At a recent National Association of Broadcaster’s convention a man walked up to the booth I was working in, introduced himself and said that he wanted to talk to me about a TV production package for the upcoming Baltimore Raven’s season. I’ll admit it, I am not a sports guy, at all.

In an attempt to be polite I chatted with him and did my best to talk “sports-talk.” At one point I asked, “What stadium do the Raven’s play at, Camden Yards?” His face turned sour and said, “ah, no.” A bit later in the conversation I threw out a few baseball references. He finally cut me off and said, “You don’t watch much football, do you?”

What was that about one’s sin finding them out?

Anyway, I’ve been reading lately about the late Sandy Grossman, a CBS Sports football and Fox NHL hockey TV director. Here are some of my take-aways, things I’ve learned from Sandy:

I – The Crew

The first thing I learned is that ten days out from a game Grossman’s crew assignments are locked in. It’s difficult to shoot a sports event if you have to talk a cameraman through every shot, or if they don’t know what to do in a contingency (if the Director puts “X” on-line, I need to shoot “Y”).   If a few cameramen are new, it’s exponentially more difficult.  A crew that you are used to working with should know what their role is subject to the position of the teams on the field, what just happened in the game-play and they’ll know what secondary shots to give you when they cannot get you the best angle on primary action.

II – Research & Planning

The second thing I learned is Grossman would find out which players were playing that week for each team, the condition of the field, the weather report, etc. Anything that could affect either team, the TV coverage, or offer the producers a personal interest angle was explored and accommodated in the telecast planning.

III – The Practice

Grossman and the production team go and watch both teams practice. This information is vital in predicting what they may see during the big game. Many times the home team will practice at the stadium but the visiting team will practice off-site.  No matter, Grossman would find out where the practice is and travel to both practice sessions.

IV – Review Past Game Footage

Grossman, his play-by-play and color commentator would watch the previous week’s game footage from both teams. This (along with watching the team practice) directly affects what cameras they choose to have “in-iso” for instant replay or slo-mo.

V – Team Staff

Grossman would meet with the coaching staff of both teams. Here again, the goal is to get any information which may help the TV crew predict how the gameplay will unfold and what the on-air talent will talk about as its happening live.

VI – Camera Meeting

Grossman has a meeting with his camera operators before every game, tells them what he’s learned and what to look out for. Zone assignments are reviewed.  Who can go hunting for shots and when is summarized.  As much as you can plan for the unpredictable, is planned and discussed.

As I read about the routine that Grossman went through each and every week, each and every game,  I thought about the similarities between a church service and a sports production. Do we just come in a hour before the service and wing-it? Or do we plan out our crew assignments, find out who’s available and plan our camera coverage based on who is strong and who needs help? Do we find out which musicians are playing that week and what other production still and video elements might be needed for the sermon? Do we check the condition of the field (or in this case the stage), including sight lines and look for downstage obstructions and upstage clutter? Do we attend band rehearsals and take “A.D. notes” for each song that will be played?  Do we watch a previous service’s footage with our team and post-mortem special events? Do we speak to “the coach” (or the Pastor) to get any insights regarding what’s on his mind and what changes he is considering? Do we hold a short meeting with our camera operators and go over all that we’ve learned pre-service?

I must say I am now impressed with the care and attention that Grossman would give every game. In a Hollywood Reporter article  regarding Grossman’s passing April 2014, they quote Grossman as saying,

“I always made a point to treat every event I did like it was the Super Bowl because, for them [the people on the field and the audience], it is.”

I think we would do well to do the same.

Photo Attribution: Dave Wilson on Flickr