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Crew tries to control the chaos

Sunshine team makes all the action make sense.

By JOHN C. COTEY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 11, 2003


TAMPA -- As you sat at home watching Thursday night's Lightning playoff game, leisurely focusing on one television screen, director John Cook was looking at dozens, his eyes darting up and down, from side to side, his head on a swivel.

"Take 2, take 2, take 2," he calmly said, and Tracy Sammins would punch up Camera 2.

Behind him, Mike Griffin was dictating a statistic to Wanda Whitener, who quickly tapped it into her computer. Behind them, the guys in the sound room were making sure the game's announcers were coming in clear.

And in another room, George Demko was deftly spinning a knob with one hand and recording with another, putting a series of crosschecks into a sequence for use on the way to a commercial.

When it was over, Sunshine's production team had done it again -- filled another 30 seconds.

No time for rest.

Let's do it again.

* * *

Cook has plenty of action to choose from, with seven talented cameramen at his disposal and various still cameras. As the video streams into the truck, Cook is picking and choosing; the cameramen are selling.

They will look for the shot -- the best angle on a goal, a fight, a kid on his dad's shoulders, someone in military gear, fans painted for the occasion.

Cook makes the calls with help from his cohorts. As the national anthem finishes, he immediately calls for Camera 6, which has a group of applauding men in military fatigues in their sights. "Go get those guys," Cook orders, and the cameras zoom in.

Later, he asks for a shot of Washington goalie Olaf Kolzig, which he gets. A sound bite of Vinny Lecavalier on Kolzig is cued to follow, but there is no place to fit it in. A minute later, it is killed.

If there is nothing on the monitors in front of him he likes, Cook asks for it. During a break in action, he orders a crowd shot.

He gets three and uses them all: "Take 2 ... take 4 ... Take 3."

Then, satisfied with the myriad shots provided to viewers, he says "let's play hockey," and it's back to the faceoff.

Stan Rhoads, who has been shooting sports for more than 20 years, says the effort that brings together a telecast "is like an orchestra, and we're all just one piece."

Hundreds of shots come and go, and the good ones get Cook excited. Eyes moving, head bobbing, and then ... THERE! ... Right there!

"Take2take2take2 ... take4take4take4 ... "

Sammins, the technical director, the heart of the operation according to Rhoads, hardly says a word all night, dutifully pressing the buttons that grant Cook his wishes, never missing a beat.

* * *

Between the first and second periods, Demko is talking with color analyst Bobby Taylor, who is seven floors up in the press box.

Taylor wants a replay of the first Washington goal to break down with his telestrator, but he doesn't like the first one offered. Taylor wants one that clearly shows the puck coming off the top of Robert Lang's stick. Demko finally gets what Taylor is saying and produces it.

"He's really good with the telestrator," Demko says. "I know what he's looking for now. He's really good about working with us to get the right shot."

Demko is working on the Electronic Video System, EVS or Elvis as they call it, the most powerful replay machine in the truck. He can edit and record at the same time; the other four machines can only replay or record action.

When a Lightning shot is smothered by Kolzig, and before the referee has the puck in his hands, Demko has the replay ready to go and sends it along to producer Mitch Rubenstein and Cook.

He then stretches his ever-moving fingers and moves on to the next thing. He estimates that about 50 percent of his work makes it to air.

* * *

Executive producer Ned Tate calls the truck, proudly, "controlled chaos." Somehow, the 67 monitors on the wall facing Rubenstein, Sammins and Cook, the massive sound boards, the hundreds of blue and green and yellow wires plugged into various machines all make sense. As long as the other 20 or so people involved in the broadcast keep those monitors filled with the very best action and graphics they can find, the trio makes it work.

"It is amazing," said Tate. "You watch at home, but can you imagine it takes all this?"

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