Jennifer D. Wade Journal

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You Talkin' to Me?

On Saturday, at least three people talked to me - at the same time - for about two hours straight.

Here's what happened.  I went to Penn State for one of my occasional freelance gigs as a font coordinator for a televised sporting event.  Basically, what I do is communicate with a stats person during the game, and work with a font operator to put relevant statistics and other electronic graphics on the air.

The font operator uses a machine that looks very much like a typewriter keyboard to generate these electronic graphics.  The machine accesses a computer disk which contains some pre-produced fonts (team logs, etc.), and which is loaded into a drive in another part of the production truck.  The production truck is a tractor trailer loaded up with pretty much everything you need to put a television broadcast on the air.  So, when I work these games, I spend 8-10 hours sitting in a truck.  (Television is not nearly as glamorous as we make it look!  )

Crew call for these events is generally about six hours before the start of the game.  Often times, the font operator has some kind of problem getting the machine up and running. The problem usually seems to involve the disk.  For example,  some elements may not be there, or the font operator who last used the disk may have done something he/she shouldn't have.  In most cases, the problem is eventually worked out, and then I can start my work.

On Saturday, however, the problem could not be worked out.  I don't know what the exact problem was, but I heard the words "software" and "failure" being thrown around.  Without a working character generator on-site, there wasn't much for me or the font operator to do except hang around and wait for further instructions.

I had some hope that those further instructions might be "go home."  And, the font operator eventually left.  But, no such luck for me.

The solution was to build the essential graphics at the studio in New York and insert them from there.  The producer emailed his list to New York, and a communication line was opened so that I could talk to those folks through a headset.  Through the same headset, I also communicated with the stats person, and I could hear the New York person I was talking to, talking to his font operator.  Sometimes, I had to stop listening to and talking to those people so I could listen to and talk to the producer sitting just in front of me.  Sometimes, I heard the assistant director, who was sitting right behind me, talking to the people in New York.  Sometimes, they were all talking at once, and I wasn't sure who to listen to first.  And, once in a while, I forgot to talk to someone I should have.

Adding to the confusion was a delay of at least five seconds (maybe more like eight seconds) between the signal we sent to New York and the signal that got sent back to the truck.  That's an eternity in television time.   By the time I told the people in New York to put the graphic on the screen and then take it off, I was just seeing it go on the air.  Very weird.  It was kind of like watching live action, but listening to audio coming from another source.  They're always out of sync by a couple seconds.

Overall, things worked out about as well as could be expected.  We managed to build a few more graphics while the game was going on and work in a few stats.  The show wasn't clean, but mistakes were kept to a minimum and the people watching at home probably had no idea that anything was wrong.

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