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Live Movies and Football

I've ranted to my friends about the idea of live movies. I guess that live episode of ER was probably along those lines (though I didn't have a chance to watch it), but it's certainly not common. ... Or is it?

I just realized that we actually see live movies every week, more or less, but it's called football. That Atlantic article goes behind the scenes of a football broadcast, where a director watches a dozen video feeds at once and calls out which camera to switch to. The article gives us a glimpse of what his job is like:

“Aaaand go!” shouted Fish, a wiry man in faded blue jeans and a loose-fitting, long-sleeved cotton shirt, a headset clamped over a baseball cap. He was leaning up and out of his swivel chair, choosing shots and barking orders, arms elevated, snapping his long fingers loudly with each new command. “Go fan shot! Ready four. Take four! Ready eight. Take eight! Ready one. Take one! Ready 12. Take 12! Ready five. Take five! Ready thre—ready two. Take two! Ready three. Take three!”

Camera three, which Fish returned to just before the snap of the ball, offers a wide angle from above that’s used to frame the play. In this case, with one eye on the play clock, Fish snuck in one last scene-setting image—Burress lined up and looking back toward his quarterback—before returning to the wide angle as the ball was snapped.

This was just 30 seconds. The entire broadcast would last more than three and a half hours.

The article calls the director a "virtuoso", and I certainly agree. I've done some video editing, and it's quite an effort when you're doing it non-linearly with all the time in the world; I can barely imagine trying to edit to capture the right moments while presenting the right pacing and energy, all in real-time.

Unfortunately, the article misses the opportunity to give us a deeper look at this obscure art. It shows us a few examples of the directing. It quotes this director, "Fish", as being frustrated by the directors of other networks who have prioritized fan reaction shots over what's happening on the field. But I would love to find out more about how he chooses his shots. What considerations go into the cuts? When is it good to show a close-up of a player, and which ones? How often does the audience need to see a wide-angle view to maintain a mental map of the players during a play? What are his techniques for maintaining tension when not much is happening on the field? And who is managing the audio feeds, for that matter? The audio switches from players to fans while mixing in the commentators; the live-mixing of that feed must be just as demanding.

Sometimes when I've told friends about my live movies idea, they say it's just like filming live theater. I think the difference is that the camera is not an integral part of live theater. Even in a typical multi-camera sit-com, the cameras are mostly there just to capture the action; you typically have close-ups of the actors talking, and then mostly wide-angle shots beyond that. The camera is not, in a sense, an integral part of the performance. I would say that camera plays a much bigger role in football. Tight closeups of the action and precisely chosen montages both might raise the excitement if done just right. There are many more choices of characters to focus on, too, so the selection of shots adds meaning and effect to the broadcast that would not be present for the audience attending in person.

Another aspect of "live movies" in my opinion would be the use of special visual effects. I want to see live use of green-screens, sort of a Sin City in real-time kind of thing, so the actors can be in scenes with backgrounds that aren't made of cardboard. :) If you think about it, football already does this! That's what that yellow first-down line is! The entire field is a giant green-screen! :D Ars Technica once published a popular article about the technology behind football broadcasts. They have to start laser-scanning the field hours before each game to calibrate the first-down line drawing. Crazy.

I don't know if live movies with special effects will ever really take off as more than a novelty, but millions of people watch football every week. It's not quite a live movie, but it's pretty close!

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on January 19, 2009.

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