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Live From the US Open: Broadcasters Rely on F&F Productions for Major Court Coverage

On the court, the US Open may be every man for himself, but not so in the truck compound. Located just outside Arthur Ashe Stadium, F&F Productions’ GTX-16, GTX-14, and an accompanying B unit provide resources for CBS, ESPN, and Tennis Channel, while sharing resources with fellow mobile-production providers to ensure that every network gets a smooth show.

GTX-16, a 53-ft. double expando, serves as the primary broadcast truck for Ashe (Court 1), supplying production facilities for both CBS and ESPN. GTX-16 features a Grass Valley K-Frame Kayenne Elite production switcher, Evertz 288×516 HD router, Calrec Apollo digital console with Bluefin2, and eight EVS HD XT2 replay servers.

GTX-14, a 53-ft. single expando, provides coverage of Louis Armstrong Stadium (Court 2) and supports the Tennis Channel. Anchored by a Grass Valley K-Frame Kayenne Elite production switcher, GV Trinix 256×256 HD/SD router, and Calrec Artemis Beam with Bluefin2, the truck has three six-channel EVS servers.

F&F Productions’ GTX-16

“The Calrec Apollo [in GTX-16] is the big main board, and that does both the ESPN and CBS stuff, and the Artemis in the GTX-14 does Tennis Channel [and] Court 2 effects,” says VP, Engineering Bill McKechney. “All the trucks are tied together with MADI so that all the trucks can get all the effects from each of the courts.”

Camera feeds from each court go through NEP’s ESU, which distributes the feeds to the appropriate mobile unit. For example, GTX-14 receives four cameras from every court, six cameras from Court 2, and any additional cameras that Tennis Channel uses. GTX-16 and GTX-14 broadcast in 1080i, which the various networks can choose to downconvert to 720p at their home facilities.

Last week, F&F Productions had six staffers on-site; this week, it has five. As the tournament progresses, the facilities dedicated to courts that shut down are added to the complement at Ashe. By the Finals, slated for Sunday and Monday if weather permits, GTX-16 will have three super-slow-motion cameras at its disposal.

“This is a show that it starts out at its biggest and then, as we progress and the courts drop off, it gets a little bit smaller,” explains McKechney. “But it’s totally managed throughout the two weeks that we’re here. Depending on the weather, after Friday or Saturday or whenever the first court’s finished, that equipment will be released. … It starts out the biggest it’s going to be, and it gets smaller as we go along, [but] it never gets real small.”

Live From Final Four: Teamcast Model Births Twin Production Compounds

It should come as little surprise that running three simultaneous live shows would produce a significantly larger production footprint.

CBS and Turner Sports have nearly doubled their equipment output over last year’s Final Four and, as a result, were required to lay out two full truck compounds on different levels of the stadium’s grounds, one for the main game production and the other for the Teamcasts and international shows.
L to R: F&F Productions’ Bill McKechney and CBS Sports’ John McCrae have laid out a robust pair of production compounds at AT&T Stadium.

Productions’ Bill McKechney (left) and CBS Sports’ John McCrae laid out a robust pair of production compounds at AT&T Stadium.

“It’s not something we haven’t done before,” says John McCrae, executive director of field operations for CBS Sports. “In a perfect world, it would all be together, but we do what we can here. This is not the worst run, and there’s a good amount of space down here, more than most venues.”

The indoor lower compound is the de facto “main” production compound and houses F&F Productions’ GTX-16 (the main game truck), Turner Sports’ TS1 (which powers each of the on-site studio shows), Bexel’s BBS1 (for technical support), and supporting B units for graphics, stats, and audio.

The outdoor upper compound hosts F&F’s GTX-11 and -12 (ESPN’s international telecast and CBS Sports Network’s studio show), NEP Supershooters 18 (Connecticut and Wisconsin Teamcasts), Game Creek Video’s Patriot (Florida and Kentucky Teamcasts), power generators provided by Filmwerks, and office trailers.
Nearly 50 fiber lines were run up an exit ramp to connect each of the two compounds.

Nearly 50 fiber lines were run up an exit ramp to connect each of the two compounds.

The challenge lay in connecting those two compounds. With all three crews working off the same infrastructure and EVS server, it was critical for them to be wired.

F&F Productions VP of Engineering Bill McKechney helped lead the way by running 49 fiber lines to link the two compounds.

“We’re very excited about being a part of this event again,” says McKechney. “Working with the Turner group as well as CBS, who has been a partner for a long time, has been fantastic.”

An F&F Productions Tradition: GTX Units Dominate Truck Compound at Final Four

Take one step into the production truck compound at this year’s Final Four and it’s easy to tell who the big man on campus is.

Six F&F Productions mobile units – three “A” and three “B” units – are packed inside the concrete cave just outside the north doors of the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

CBS has made F&F their truck company of choice for numerous years now at some of its biggest events, including the US Open tennis tournament. The Final Four in particular, however, is a gig that has proven to be a big win for the company over the years.

Bill McKechney, VP, engineering (left) and President and CEO George Orgera of F&F Productions oversaw six of their trucks - three "A" and three "B" units - in the compound outside the Georgia Dome during the Final Four.

Bill McKechney, VP, engineering (left) and President and CEO George Orgera of F&F Productions oversaw six of their trucks – three “A” and three “B” units – in the compound outside the Georgia Dome during the Final Four.

“It’s fantastic, and what it proves is that we’ve done the job in the past and we’ve got the best guys that are doing the job,” says George Orgera, president and CEO of F&F Productions. “CBS wants us back every year and that’s quite an honor. I think we’ve come a long way. Just look at all the equipment we have here. We have about $30 million worth of equipment here.”

For the third straight year, F&F’s GTX-16 is the main game truck for this weekend’s broadcasts. Meanwhile, GTX-15 steers the pregame, halftime, and postgame shows.

Cabling Conundrum
The Georgia Dome is a very familiar building for the CBS Sports team. In addition to the occasional Atlanta Falcons game, CBS broadcasts the SEC Football Championship Game from the venue on an annual basis. That didn’t keep this Final Four from presenting its own unique set of challenges.

“This is a large stadium to cable,” says Ken Aagaard, EVP of operations, engineering, and production services for CBS Sports. “Our primary cameras are on the reverse side of where they normally are, so we had to run a lot more cable. We kind of like how it’s worked out because we like the angles we’re getting. But it’s a little weird being on the reverse side.”

According to F&F Productions’ Vice President, Engineering Bill McKechney, his company is working primarily off of fiber this year and transported 14 bins of cable to Atlanta to get the job done. In these bins are 22 500-ft. cables and five 650-ft. cables. That totals up to about 14,250 feet of just SMPTE and triax. On top of that, F7F also brought along approximately 25,000 additional feet of DT-12 cabling to help cover the Dome.

Under the Hoods
All of F&F’s trucks at the Georgia Dome carry Grass Valley production switchers, including both the Kayenne and Kalypso HD switchers.

GTX-16 has a 4.5 M/E Kayenne Video Production Center switcher with 96 inputs and 48 outputs and an integrated K2 Summit server for clip playback and storage (ClipStore). GTX-15 sports a Kalypso HD Video Production Center switcher and Grass Valley Jupiter software controlling a Concerto Series compact routing system.

GTX-16 also has five six-channel EVS XT[2]+ servers, a Calrec Apollo audio console with up to 1,020 channel-processing paths, and a 3G Evertz router with 288×576 inputs and outputs. The router makes it suitable for both 3D and 1080p productions.

F&F Productions Covers Massive Superdome for CBS at Final Four

As six of his finest mobile production units rumble and hum around him, F&F Productions president and CEO George Orgera is beaming.

Leaning slightly against the walking cane in his right hand, Orgera couldn’t be more pleased with the sight: an all F&F truck compound outside the Superdome in New Orleans for the biggest weekend in college sports.

GTX-15, parked outside of the Superdome, will handle the pregame, halftime, and postgame productions for CBS Sports at this weekend’s Final Four.

Six production trucks – three “A” and three “B” units – line West Stadium Drive between the Superdome and New Orleans Arena, but F&F also provides nearly the entire infrastructure

Thirty six cameras, twenty five miles of cable, 36,000 feet of DT-12 cables, 30,000 feet of Triax. Even 45,000-feet of fiber was packed and shipped in bins with 25,000 feet of it actually being used. Due to the largeness of the Superdome, a significant amount of cabling is needed to get the production in line. Orgera and his team nearly stripped their home facility in Clearwater, FL empty for this one.

“We’re doing one of the bigger shows in the country,” says Orgera. “I think what that says is that F&F Productions over the years has developed the infrastructure to do a big event like this. I think F&F really has kind of arrived from a bunch of poor, starving country guys to something like this.”

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GTX-16 Set to Take Center Court for Final Four

For the more than 80 million basketball fans in the U.S. alone who couldn’t land one of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome’s 74,500 seats for tip off at the 2012 NCAA Men’s Final Four at New Orleans, the best seat in the house will once again be provided by CBS Sports as F&F Productions rolls up for ‘the big dance’ with a trio of newly-upgraded GTX signature series 53’ expando HD mobile trucks and their B support units.

A 30-year tradition for CBS Sports and the NCAA continues as F&F’s recently launched GTX-16 joins the network on site in New Orleans for their exclusive live coverage of the Men’s Final Four with Grass Valley’s Kayenne HD video production switcher, Calrec Apollo console with Bluefin2 and two new Hydra2 I/O’s, four EVS XT2+ LSM HD 6 channel servers, before gearing up for the network’s coverage of U.S. Open Tennis.

With 24 live cameras positioned around the court for game coverage and more than 20 replay sources aboard GTX-16, a viewer would have to turn off their TV to miss a shot.

GTX-15 takes command to host CBS’ pre/post-game shows with 8 Ikegami HDK-79EC CMOS cameras, (of 12 cameras provided and wired for 24), supported by GV’s Kalypso HD production switcher, Calrec Alpha console with Bluefin, two EVS XT2+ LSM HD 6 channel and two EVS XT2+ LSM HD 4 channel servers, enhanced DTS Neural Surround Sound, expanded monitoring boasting 18 Boland 32-in. HD-SDI monitors, router output capacity doubled to 288×576, and its updated Image Video Tally System.

GTX-12 also visits The Big Easy to provide 7 cameras to ESPN’s international feed of the Men’s Final Four with its own GV Kalypso HD production switcher, two EVS XT2+ LSM HD 6 channel and two EVS XT2+ LSM HD 4 channel servers, DTS Neural Surround Sound system, with all three HD remote production trucks supported by their own well-equipped ‘B’ units.

With TV viewership expected to exceed 20 million for this year’s championship game, and now in our seventh consecutive year supporting CBS Sports’ live coverage of college basketball’s most widely-viewed event of the year, F&F Productions has remained a first choice for every major network for three decades, backed by its renowned commitment to excellence in engineering, 24/7 technical support, and veteran broadcast team.

Fujinon Lenses Fit the Bill for F&F

Wayne, N.J., – Although the oldest privately held mobile production facility provider in the U.S., F&F Productions strives to keep all of the equipment on its HD mobile units as current as possible. Every truck in its fleet is equipped with FUJINON lenses, for a total of 90 lenses from the manufacturer.

The company’s newest HD truck, the GTX-16, carries an array of FUJINON 2/3-inch HDTV field lenses including: the XA88x8.8BESM telephoto lens and the XA101x8.9BESM. It also carries four HA23x7.6 lenses for hand-held cameras as well as two HA14x4.5 super wide angle lenses, which are particularly well suited for entertainment shows. Many of F&F’s FUJINON lenses have image stabilization, which is critical for HDTV, as well as two-times extenders, and digital servo focus and zoom.

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GTX-16 Excels in Sophomore Year

F&F Productions’ GTX-16 HD mobile unit is back for a second year at the US Open, having launched at the event last year. GTX-16 is once again serving as the primary truck for CBS’s host feed — which is taken by ESPN, Tennis Channel, the world feed, international broadcasters, and others — from the USTA Billie Jean King Tennis Center, following a full season of SEC college football on CBS.

Ryan Hatch on hand with one of F&F’s two US Open trucks.

“The first year went very well for [GTX-16],” says F&F Productions SVP Ryan Hatch. “It debuted here last year and moved directly into SEC college football, where it performed flawlessly. We’re very happy with year one and excited for year two.”

This marks the fifth consecutive year that an F&F truck is at the center of the US Open production. GTX-15 ran the show for CBS and ESPN from 2007 to ’09, served as ESPN’s secondary truck last year, and is being used this year by ESPN International, which is looking to increase its presence at the Open.

GTX-15 and GTX-16 feature a nearly identical all-in-one layout that does not require a B unit. Earlier this summer, F&F installed a brand-new virtual-monitor wall in GTX-15 (as well as in GTX-12 and -14) to match that of GTX-16

“Four out of the five trucks have virtual walls now,” says Hatch. “That is key [because] that is where we see the [market] heading. Plus, we transferred the LCD monitoring from [GTX-15] into the GTX-11.”

GTX-16 is equipped to handle anything CBS might require with a Grass Valley Kayenne production switcher, K2 Summit server, Calrec Apollo audio console with up to 1,020 channel-processing paths, five six-channel EVS XT[2]+ servers, and a 3G Evertz router with 288×576 inputs and outputs. It is wired for 24 cameras and 25 VTRs.

As soon as GTX-16 finishes up the US Open on Finals Sunday, it will head to Gainesville, FL, to kick off a follow-up season of SEC football for CBS Sports, beginning with Florida-Tennessee on Sept. 17.

“We’re very happy with where we are right now,” says Hatch. “The strength of F&F is taking an annual capital budget and folding it back into the trucks to keep all our equipment as up to date as possible. We always want to provide the client with the best possible equipment, and, with our size — five trucks right now — we have the ability to do that with every truck.”

GTX-16 Opens to Rave Reviews at US Open

It is not often that a production truck goes live for the first time with its biggest show of the year, but that is exactly the case for F&F Productions’ brand-new GTX 16, which is making its debut as the core production unit for CBS’s and ESPN’s coverage of the US Open.

“This is definitely the biggest show [GTX 16] will do all year, and it’s only the first show,” says Marc Orgera, VP of sales and marketing for F&F Productions. “The response [from ESPN and CBS] has been very positive so far. It’s a learning process for everyone right now. There is so much technology on this truck that our engineers still don’t even know its full capabilities.”

The truck is built around a Grass Valley Kayenne production switcher with a K2 Summit server and features a Calrec Apollo audio console with up to 1,020 channel-processing paths, five six-channel EVS XT[2]+ servers, and a 3G Evertz router with 288×576 inputs and outputs.

No Need for Plan B
Built by Spevco, the GTX 16 is an all-in-one unit that does not require a B unit. It is wired for 24 cameras and 25 VTRs, and the flat-panel–monitor walls allow operators to be located on both sides of the center console. As a result, the entire production — from graphics to audio to the front bench — is housed in the double-expando truck. Although GTX 16 is capable of working with a B unit, as it will for CBS’s SEC college-football coverage, it is operating independently for the US Open.

“You can fit all this technology and have plenty of space left over into a single, contained unit,” says Orgera. “You don’t have to have tape, EVS, and graphics in one truck and then production and audio in the other truck. There’s major cost reduction for the client because you’re not running two units, which means a quick setup and no interconnecting between A and B units. You don’t need four engineers to run the truck, and that is a huge cost saving.”

The Quick Switch
For the second consecutive year, ESPN and CBS Sports are using the same truck for their respective US Open productions (GTX 15 was used last year), making for an interesting situation on CBS’s coverage days. The CBS crew has an opening of just five minutes between the close of ESPN’s coverage window and the start of CBS’s to change over the truck’s settings and switch out personnel.

“This is a truly shared truck, meaning everything is made for two crews,” says Orgera. “It’s a hot switch. From the time ESPN gets up out of the chair to the time CBS sits down, they really only have about five minutes.

“The program for the monitor wall, switcher, graphics, and so on are saved on the computer,” he continues, “so the EIC switches everything over that way. It can be hectic because you’re just hoping that everything comes up the way it’s supposed to. It’s all computerized so there’s no way to tweak anything. The hardest thing is getting everything set up where everybody wants it. After that, it only takes a few moments to come back up.”

Building a Truck in Less Than a Month
F&F Productions received the truck at its headquarters in Clearwater, FL, on July 23 and needed to deliver it to Flushing Meadows for the Open by Aug. 20. As a result, the F&F team was forced to complete its fastest truck buildout in recent memory.

“Even for us, that’s cutting it close,” says Orgera. “ That’s a quick buildout, to say the least. Even the first few days we were here [at the US Open], they were still messing with the routers to get it perfect. The important thing was, we’ve got great guys back in the shop who can handle that kind of turnaround.”

Off to Tennessee 
Following the Open’s conclusion this Sunday, GTX 16 is bound for Knoxville, TN, where it will kick off CBS Sports’ SEC football season with Tennessee-Florida. CBS Sports has tapped the truck for its SEC A Game throughout the college football season and will then use it for March Madness in the spring.

“We’re still learning how big a show we can actually do with this truck. It’s not maxed out yet,” says Orgera. “We’re hoping that, after college football and before March Madness, we can get quite a few entertainment shows in. This truck is ready for pretty much anything.”

F&F Taps GV, Ikegami for US Open Coverage

Mobile production company F&F Productions debuted its new GTX-16 mobile production truck in New York to help televise the 2010 U.S. Open tennis tournament in Flushing, N.Y., on CBS Sports. The tournament began Monday and runs through Sept. 12.

The HD-capable production truck features a Grass Valley Kayenne Video Production Center and a Grass Valley four-channel K2 Summit-based ClipStore System, for producing both sports and live entertainment programs in HD. The replay system is based around a four-channel K2 Summit production client, providing a platform for instant, non-volatile replay of more than 10 hours of video, key, and audio clips.

“We continue to choose Grass Valley switchers because of their reliability factor, which is most important to our clients,” said Ryan Hatch, senior vice president at F&F Productions. “We also like the Kayenne’s features and color-coded control panel, which is easy to operate for the crews and gives us a lot of flexibility to produce all types of live productions.”

The GTX-16 also features 12 Ikegami HDK-79EC camera systems employing three 2/3-inch 2.5 Mega-pixel-specified CMOS imaging sensors.

“As our business continues to grow, we rely on the latest HDTV cameras from Ikegami for the flexibility to be able to produce content in 720p, 1080i, or whatever format our clients request,” comments George Orgera, president and CEO of F&F Productions. “With the Ikegami HDK-79EC and its CMOS technology, we have that flexibility and are native in all of these formats. The Ikegami HDK-79EC is the best available. Its CMOS imaging technology not only delivers sharp, multiformat HD, it’s also lighter-weight and consumes less power.”

Configurable for either portable use or as a “hard” field/studio camera, Ikegami’s HDK-79EC’s 1980H by 1080V active-pixel CMOS sensors are switchable between interlace and progressive readout modes. Providing a full 16:9 aspect ratio, the HDK-79EC’s CMOS sensors provide 1080/60i, 1080/24p, and 720/60p HD as well as optional 50Hz formats, 1080/50i and 720/50p, high-speed dual-link 1080/60p, and Super Slow Motion, 720/120p and 1080/120i.

“In this day and age, a lot of stadiums—especially at colleges—are still triax,” Orgera notes. “We have Ikegami’s triax adapters and fiber adapters for the cameras, so we can go either way.”

To Beat the Heat at US Open, ESPN Keeps People, Assets Moving

The sweltering, 90-degree temperatures in New York this week are certainly taking their toll on the players at the US Open, but broadcasters are feeling the heat as well. Operationally, broadcasters CBS, ESPN, and Tennis Channel regularly rotate the camera and microphone operators who must sit outside on the courts, but it is never easy to ensure that everyone is hydrated and healthy when the thermometer flirts with the 100-degree mark.

“CBS is attuned to the rhythm of breaking shifts a few hours earlier and making sure the water supplies are out there,” says Jamie Reynolds, VP of event production for ESPN. “The question is, how well can we create a depth chart at every position and keep people fresh. With temperatures like this, we get into a higher, faster frequency of rotation. But there are certainly plenty of people here on-site to make sure nobody gets spent.”

Instead of bringing a larger team to the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center to accommodate the more frequent shift changes, Reynolds is working the same workforce smarter. Instead of six-hour rotations, for example, the team might do four-hour pulls to get more-frequent breaks.

Although the nighttime hours might be long — tennis is frequently played past midnight at the US Open — fewer resources are required under the stars. At most, two courts are used during the evening session, rather than the five that are televised during the day.

“We have a second shift that comes in prioritized for the evening body of work, so you know that you’ve got fresh folks coming in,” Reynolds says. “We have the same kind of relief plan in place so that the night matches are optimized.”

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