Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Filming Our First Television Feature

If you see two Kentuckians with a prominent sunburn roaming around the Indian Wells grounds tonight, please come and say hello (no autographs please). It has been a long afternoon for your loyal Outer Courts bloggers as we spent the day filming our first feature for Tennis Channel. The television side of the network decided they wanted to do a feature on the experience and antics of the Kentucky bloggers leaving the Bluegrass and coming into the tennis big leagues.  So Drew and I left the comfort of our computers (and free Diet Coke...a wonderful benefit to the Indian Wells media room) and headed out into the sun to shoot a 2-3 minute feature to appear on the channel. As a bit of background, I have done local television in Kentucky for the past three years, so I have some experience in what it takes to create a "package" for air. Or at least I thought I did. It turns out that what it takes to go on the air in Kentucky and talk about John Calipari or Nerlens Noel (stand in front of the camera, make sure my double crown is not sticking up in the back and then give a "how you doin!" look into the camera) is not quite the same thing that it takes to do a nationally televised produced package on a major tennis tournament. What I thought might take 10-15 minutes (allowing for my verbal slips or Drew making me laugh), instead turned into 2 1/2 hours of intense production.

The premise of the bit was simple...look at these two yokels from the mountains, following the path of the Clampetts and coming to California to hit the big time. Drew and I, dressed in black to both make us look slimmer and indirectly bake our bodies in the heat, were to talk a bit about what we had done during our time at Indian Wells and tell the stories about our meetings with Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. It was all good fun, and after some early nervousness, I thought we did a stellar job. But while the meat of the feature wasn't too arduous, the real difficulty came when it was time to film the "natural" shots of us "hanging out" at the tournament. Now I do hope you realize that many of the shows you watch at home include such scenes that are not, at least in the truest sense, "real". If you are watching "The Bachelor" for instance, you will see whatever couple is walking on the beach (usually with the woman madly in love with a person she met just days before, and the others questioning whether she is there "for the right reasons") laughing, giggling or maybe throwing a beach ball without a care in the world. It looks as if it is all spontaneous fun, just two young lovers on a lark at the ocean. But chances are these scenes are scripted, set up, replayed and repeated in order to get just the right perfect shot. A similar thing happened today. As Drew and I were shown "strolling along the grounds," we had to re-tape a number of scenes to get just the right view of our young, care-free nature. As we strolled, in one moment of natural behavior, I pointed to a flag on the stands and asked Drew if he knew what country it was from. He said he didn't (guessing Trinidad and Tobago) and we then had playful banter about how it was probably a place where people all had "Zs and Vs" in their name, and wouldn't allow us in due to diplomacy concerns. It was a B-level joke, but one that seemed to have some connection to the tennis world and so we went with it. The producers particularly liked this dialogue and then asked that we re-create it four times via four different angles. Repeating the joke again and again (Drew still didn't know where the flag was from and I still think tennis players have names that use the rarest of letters in the alphabet), we tried to get the perfect shot to capture this moment. By the time we hit the fifth angle, the joke had become as stale as a Jay Leno monologue and I cringed as I repeated it a final time (we never did figure out what flag was hanging above).

Still yet, the overall experience was one I did enjoy. The producers couldn't have been nicer, even though they were facing much more difficult conditions (imagining lugging heavy camera equipment around in the desert sun). Plus, we got the chance to meet the legendary Bud Collins, who was on the ground having lunch and agreed to talk with us for a few minutes. We mentioned to him that this was our first tennis tournament and asked on camera if he had any advice on how to cover it. Collins noted that his first tournament as a media member occurred in Boston in 1955, and since then he has had a wonderful life of following his favorite sport. I do think he may have misunderstood my question a bit and thought I was asking for advice on seeing tennis for the first time, as he then went into detail on the difference between a forehand/backhand and how a tournament bracket worked (including looking at Drew and noting that "some players are seeded and those are the better players"). But he was extremely gracious and listening to him tell stories about his early experiences was one of the highlights of this trip so far.

As we taped the closing dialogue, Drew and I made reference to a few things that we felt had to get on the air, including our new hero Ivo Karlovic, the obsession the tennis world has for Victoria Azarenka's boyfriend Red Foo (they act at times like he is George Clooney) and Drew's shout out to the woman that cuts his hair at Great Clips. As we finished, an overwhelming sense of accomplishment overcame me. Here was my first nationally televised piece, and I did it without having to make cheap jokes or pull on anyone's heart strings a la Tom Rinaldi. While we don't know when it will air (it will be during one of these 12 hour marathon days of tennis coverage), we do know that it contains a few surprises for you, The Outer Courts fans. Also, we both have bright red sunburns to remind us of the day we sweated in the hot California sun to give America two minutes of the best entertainment that it could ever imagine on the subject of bloggers covering tennis. All in a day's work. Now if you will excuse me, I am going to go see if I can find someone to let me borrow a bit of aloe.

editor's note: Here is the finished product as seen on Tennis Channel.