Saturday, February 24, 2007

The Taming of the Beast

I am sorry, it has been a while since my last post. In that time, the weeks have been anything but routine.

Let's set the "way back" machine to the week after my last Flight week. It was all about our Live specials around the Olympic Countdown to 2010. I love specials. They are a nice break in the routine of general assignment. I was hoping to get on one of the out of town assignments, but I was tasked to our main set. Oh well, can't have everything. As it was, the main sets during our 3 specials had it's moments.

One thing about these kinds of events, and I am sure that all of the folks that do this kinda work will agree, there is a hell of a lot of set up for what seems like very little TV. In any event there had been weeks of planning, preparing, and booking for all of the shows.
The first one of these was a broadcast of our full hour long Saturday 6PM show from an event called "Winter Fest" in Richmond. For those of you not familiar with Vancouver, Richmond part of the greater Vancouver area, the city where the airport is located and is also the city that will be home to the Olympic Speed Skating Oval for the 2010 games. This event was part of a week long celebration that the games were three years out.

Early stages of the Richmond main set

This show of ours would be broadcasting from the event kicking off the beginning of a number of special programing events related to the 2010 games.
As I said earlier my assignment was to set up and light and shoot our main set. This particular show had the talented Kari Adams sitting in the anchor chair. Our stage was a 12X12 elevated stage, covered with one of our tents that we had used at the Pickton trial, and cabled back to our Sat truck and fed back via the bird to CTV on Robson and Burrard. We also had elements of our show coming Live from Whistler. Our Richmond set up was a three camera deal with myself at our main set with a prompter, Mike L on an elevated position high above the crowd shooting the main stage for the event as well as color and bumper shots and Wayne H on a hand held doing reporter hits and invues.
In the truck we had Dave A and Gary T as well as engineer Ron N for support and trouble shooting.Gary and Dave pointing fingers

One member of the field team that usually finds herself back in the station was Tanya B. Tanya usually works on the desk handing the camera requests. She is a very shy person and has a gift for organization and being able to work the problem until there is a solution. She hates to have her photo taken and as a camera hump, I take that as a personal challenge to get a photo of her on the job with out her hand or other blocking object obscuring her face. I managed to squeeze off a few shots. Maybe they will make the calender next year.

The elusive but talented Tanya speaking to Dave at the back of the set

The first known shot of Tanya, speaking to an event official

The show itself had at least from my perspective, little or no glitches. Of course you ask someone else higher up the technical food chain and you may get a different answer. But all and all the show went very well.

Kari preparing before the first of her news breaks

Next up on the special lineup was a Monday noon show from the Olympic Clock unveiling. This show had more challenges. I for one when given a set up assignment, like to be faxed out at least 90 minutes before show time. This time however our stage position was still being built at 9:30 am. The next hours would test us all. The key of course is to make sure that your little piece of the machine was working. My piece of the machine was again a main anchor position. That meant lights, monitors, prompter, mics and IFB and of course camera.
During the set up our GM popped by and remarked as he checked his watch, that he would have expected us doing tech checks by now. At the time I was just getting all of the equipment up on the stage. Keep in mind that the stage had just been erected.
I calmly ( well I was calm on the outside, while inside, I was thinking, this could be the biggest disaster since Katrina) said "Not to worry, we'll be ready within the hour"
"Ready within the hour" I thought. God I am going to need a time machine to pull this one off.
Somehow I got things together with the assistance of my colleague Wade C and truck guy Toby. Wade would be on a camera with a high wide shot of the area. Toby would be sending our pictures and audio back via the microwave truck to our control room. Little did we know about the other technical demons that were rearing their ugly sides back at control.

Part of the team back in the control room

We got our position at the ready very quickly. Our fax check didn't happen until less than 30 minutes to the show. We had been ready earlier, but as I mentioned demons back at control were being "exorcised".

As we went to air all I could do is worry about my set and my shot. I used to hold a position in the company that would require me to worry about the whole show. I'm glad that's someone else's job now.
Up on the main event stage an even bigger drama was about to unfold. A group of thugs (I call them thugs because to call them "protesters" does a disservice to legitimate protesters.) forced there way on stage and grabbed the mic from the VANOC M.C and began dropping "F" bombs.
When it was all said and done several had been arrested and the show went on.

Anchor Bill Good just before going to air for the Noon Special

During all of this Bill, our anchor, lost the prompter, a fact he would not reveal to me until almost the end of the hour. It was a credit to Bill, he just did his thing. He's a pro and nothing seems to rattle him.

Camera and all round great guy Wayne H capturing a moment at the clock with a Alpin Hornsmen

The Olympic Countdown Clock

The prompter problem was corrected before the 6. As the 6 would be the last of the remote broadcast specials for me that week. The show itself looked and sounded great. The technical demons had been vanquished. All that would be left as Bill said his good nights was to strike the set and go home and wonder where the hell the last 4 days went.

Bill just before the Good Nights on our 6 PM Set

That's what I love about the live TV special thing. Taming technical beasts, making a hostile TV environment into something airable. It's what men and women all over TV land do every night when they do live hits into their respective shows.

Sunday, February 04, 2007


Like all of my flight weeks, last week time passed quickly. I had been given a heads up on Friday that we would need to be in the air early on Monday so as to tag along with a team of GVRD water shed staff as they measured the snow pack up on the mountains. The story has been done before, but any excuse to go mountain flying was always welcome. It certainly was something to look forward to after a week at the Pickton Trial. As luck would have it I would be spending the weekend with my brother visiting from New Jersey and my son, skiing up at Whitsler/ Blackcomb so Monday's assignment on the snow pack would kinda be an extension enjoying mountain air.

The thing I did not expect was the weather at sea level, hence at YVR to be so, well foggy. Fog could screw a weeks flying very very quickly. It can hang around for days and make VFR flying out of YVR impossible. But as luck would have it, the folks at Talon Helicopters had a plan. That plan was to relocate operations away from the fog at the airport. Those operations also included Chopper 9 and with that we began our week of flight ops high in the mountains at our "secret mountain lair". From there we would be able to fly above the fog bank that seemed to plague the Vancouver International Airport and parts of the Frasier River.

A blanket of fog covers all but the tops of the sky scrapers over Vancouver. Off in the distance YVR is completely socked in.

Those of you not familiar with the topography of our area, the international airport is located at the mouth of the Frasier river. The fog at this time of the year can just sit around the waters edge or drift inland and shut down the VFR operations in and out of YVR. The fog builds overnight and usually burns off in the afternoon. This week it would burn off in most parts but all local airports had problems. It would affect our competitors ability to fly.

the "secret mountain lair" Location: Secret

Of course above the fog at our "secret mountain lair" it was beautiful and clear sunshine. Perfect for mountain flying. Our mission with the Survey team would be to follow them up to one of the measuring stations and shoot some material on the ground with them. Then we would get some air to air shots of the team as they went to a second station.

The survey team takes to the sky with Brian Douglas at the controls

The survey team would be transported via helicopter to these locations. Kink and I would also be flown in. We would not use Chopper 9 for the first part of our mission as since she is a heavy flying machine and the landing zones at the survey sites are limited, Kink and I would take a ride in one of Talon's ASTAR's. It was kinda fun to be flying around in a regular utility heli.

Kink gets the front seat AGAIN as we fly into meet up with the survey team

I got the front seat on the return flight as my flight station aboard Chopper 9 in in back. Pilot Brian Douglas at the controls.

There was nothing unusual about this shoot. Pretty routine really. But as all mountain flying, the vistas were breath taking. I never get tired of it.

All the machines back at the "secret mountain lair"

The week had began with such promise. The weather improved to the extent a decision was made to return to Talon base back a YVR on Tuesday. The weather had suckered us in. By Wednesday, it was back to fog and this time there was no window to allow us to escape back to our "secret mountain lair". Wednesday produced zero flight time. This suddenly had the makings of a crappy week on the flight rotation.
Thursday brought a scene call, but the weather again closed in and scrubbed flight ops for our shows.
Now going into Friday, the flight hour count was barely 5 hours for the week and I was facing another week of the Trial next week. What had I done to the flying gods, to the TV gods to produce so little in flight,,,,,

Friday was better, there were, a story, scene calls and of course the shows. A descent day really and although the week would yeild less than 10 flight hours, it was a respectable total for a week of fog.