Harvard Students Game-Ready for Live Sports Production
“If a production system is too complicated, it doesn’t really matter if it has amazing quality or a large number...
October 06, 2017 by Brian Leopold
José Burgos is a rock star. Everyone says so. He’s the Michael Jordan of the TriCaster, the Mohammed Ali of TalkShow, the Peyton Manning of 3Play. Sit José down in front of the TriCaster, and he’ll not only make it sing but tap dance as well. If you need the ceiling of your chapel painted, you call José. End of story.
But unlike Michelangelo, if you’d like to learn to paint something yourself, like say, a portrait, Burgos is happy to share his knowledge and drop a few tricks of the trade on you as well, all in the hopes of turning you into your own version of a TriCaster rock star. As one of only three authorized NewTek trainers, Burgos has taught well over 1,000 operators to use NewTek products. Maybe he trained you. Burgos’ students have come from all over the world.
“I recently had a guy come from Africa to train with me,” Burgos says. That makes every continent, but Antarctica. So obviously, somebody needs to sell a TriCaster to some penguins so José can check the last box on his quest for worldwide domination.
NewTek Vice President of Training, Don Ballance is a Burgos believer.
“José is one of those rare individuals who has not only mastered the use of a very powerful tool but also has the ability to break the technology down and make it understandable to people with all different skill sets and backgrounds,” Ballance says. “That’s what makes him such a great trainer.”
Making Technology Understandable
“I can teach anybody to run a TriCaster,” Burgos insists. Over the years, José has taken on all comers; people with technical backgrounds, people without technical backgrounds, engineering types, artistic types, administrative types, people from every imaginable background and experience level. “Being a qualified trainer means I’m able to address each client’s specific needs and understand what they’re hoping to accomplish,” Burgos says. “Then, I can come up with a workflow that efficiently accomplishes their goals and train each staff member accordingly.”
According to José, getting a new operator up and running doesn’t necessarily take weeks of training. “In a niche situation, I can train a person in one day,” Burgos says. “Take, for example, a middle school who wants to do a daily show to broadcast their morning announcements, possibly do a sports report, maybe even run some videos. When I walk away from that one-day training, I can guarantee they’ll be able to do their show without a problem.”
Hiring José to train a middle school to run their TriCaster might seem like using a nuke to kill a mosquito, but according to José, learning from a skilled operator is the most effective and time efficient way to become proficient in a hurry.
“People always talk about the TriCaster being an “intuitive” tool, but really, it’s not,” Burgos says. “It is straightforward and easy to explain, but just because you understand computers doesn’t mean you’ll automatically understand the TriCaster.” In fact, according to Burgos, too much reliance on computer knowledge is the number-one obstacle beginning users face in learning to use this powerful and versatile tool.
“Take file management, for example,” Burgos says. “TriCaster handles files completely differently than a computer does. If you didn’t read the manual, you might import a file into the TriCaster the same way you would when trying to transfer a file to the hard drive on your computer. But that’s just not the right way to do it. That, by far, is the number-one pitfall novice users fall into. I tell them, it’s a TriCaster, not a computer.”
Training Intermediate Users
But it’s not just neophyte TriCaster users who call on Jose for help. He also does a fair amount of work training intermediate to advanced users. According to José, training an experienced user is much different than teaching the TriCaster to rookies. It involves showing them the best ways of optimizing their workflow to efficiently tackle complicated production scenarios.
“Recently, I was called in to help train operators for an entertainment show that had some very ambitious production goals,” Burgos says. “The show was shot on green screen and involved Skype and TalkShow calls, as well as live on-set celebrity interviews, all in a small studio on a TriCaster Mini, with one person operating. It was ambitious, not impossible, but ambitious. So, I tried to make the show more manageable for the operators. I created a whole bunch of macros and wrote up a workbook for the producer, listing all the macros, so they could communicate with the operators about what they wanted.
According to José, creating this more efficient system for producing the show made all the difference in the world “Fast forward a few months,” he says. “The show now has two operators who are able to execute the show flawlessly, all because I was able to bring it down to a manageable workflow with macros to execute the more difficult tasks.”
And the next time the producers decide to up the ante and add some new production wrinkles into the mix, José is confident that his newly-trained protégés will be able to adapt without his help. “Now that everything is going well,” he says. “I expect the producers to come up with new, more complicated things for the operators to pull off. And that’s okay. I love to design efficient workflows, and then develop good operators who can adapt to future changes and take the program to the next level.”
Burgos says that, despite being a rock star, he still regularly learns new and more efficient ways to use the TriCaster. “I like to push the envelope. I’m always doing my own research and development, always trying to find more efficient ways of doing things with the TriCaster, coming up with things that have never been tried before.”
So, what happens when a client really wants to push the envelope, taking their TriCaster to the very limits of its capabilities? I’m talking all the bells and whistles, the full Magilla. According to José, the TriCaster is usually capable of doing whatever a client asks of it, but the same can’t always be said for the operator. So, what do you do if your show is one of those boundary-stretching productions that require an operator who can think fast as lightning, adapt to change at a moment’s notice, remain bombproof during a nuclear attack, and punch buttons like an over-caffeinated octopus? In that case, there’s really only one option. You hire José. “Hello? Superman?”
Welcome Back My Friend to the Show that Never Ends
That’s just what one of the world’s largest computer software and cell phone manufacturers did back in 2016 when their annual corporate kickoff show became so elaborate that even most grizzled TriCaster veterans shied away from the gig.
Lenovo’s Annual Kickoff Tour takes place in four different locations around the world over the course of a two week period. The yearly presentation is designed to highlight the company’s successes over the past year, and outline their vision for the future while energizing the company’s vast and diverse workforce. The tour is produced as a series of live event, with hundreds of attendees at each location, but it is also sent out as a live stream on both Facebook Live and YouTube Live. In 2016, the tour began with a two-hour show in North Carolina. Four days later, the caravan moved to Cannes, France, then, migrated to Beijing, with the grand finale taking place in Tokyo. Although the show was very similar in each location, it turned out to be a three-headed monster to produce, with as many as ten cameras in the mix, including drones, jibs, and wireless interview cams. Pennsylvania’s Event Strategy Group designs and executes the show every year, and according to the company’s production manager, hiring José to switch the show was essential to its success.
“Without José, we would have been sunk,” ESG’s Production Manager says.
“Basically, we had to arrive at the site, connect up fast, troubleshoot fast, and be ready to go, all within 24 hours. After each show, you’re literally running to the airport, setting up, then doing the next show. The client wanted a CNBC look, an active environment with lots of graphic information simultaneously on the screen, so there were a lot of moving pieces.”
With Burgos at the controls, ESG was able to design a show that combined complexity with flexibility in a live scenario. “They had five different looks that they wanted to put up and switch between at will,” Burgos tells me. “A look might have up to four different boxes positioned on the screen, with a frame graphic for the boxes to sit in, and two additional graphics layers added in. And the director wanted to be able to say, ‘Give me look three with cameras one and four and the logo bug.’ And put it on the air instantly. It was a challenge.
“I was originally going to fill all the boxes manually, but the producer said that wouldn’t be fast enough, so I had to come up with something else.” Burgos’ solution was to design a series of macros that would create the configuration of looks, cameras, and graphic placements required by producers. Each of these macros could then be called up with the push of a button, depending on what the director was looking for. Burgos came up with a series of 28 macros that captured the most commonly used production looks within the show. “Then, I had the producers add a column to the show rundown called “Macro” where the number was recorded for easy access.”
But of course, during a two-hour live show, anything can happen, so Burgos also created a cheat sheet of evergreen macros that could be referenced at any point in the production, for those inevitable moments when the show meandered off-menu.
In order to accomplish these complicated production effects, Burgos needed to use the full power of his TriCaster 8000, using three Mix/Effects banks to accomplish every element in the show. It was a lot to keep track of, but with the help of his newly created macros, Burgos was ready for whatever the director call. “He would say, “ready macro 12, take 12, ready 20, take 20, ready one, ready two. It didn’t matter; it was all one push of a button away. It’s a live show, and you can’t script live, but the director could always jump ahead or behind in the rundown, and go to any effect by referencing its macro number.”
Once all the cameras, DVR’s, PowerPoint presentations and other graphics were accounted for, Burgos was left with one final hurdle in providing the director what he needed to call the show. It proved to be a monumental one.
What About Program and Preview?
As with any show this complicated, the director needed to be able to preview the next effect before it went on air. Which presented a problem for Burgos. With 3 M/E’s in use to generate every completed effect in the show, previewing the next shot without altering the program feed became problematic. Burgos solved this problem, thanks to the versatility and power of the TriCaster 8000, by mirroring every effect within the show a second time.
“If I was using M/E-1 as my program output, with M/E-3 and M/E-5 filling in the effects, those M/E’s were untouchable. So, using Notepad Plus-Plus, I copied and pasted all the same effects into M/E-2, with M/E-4 and M/E-6 as the fill-ins. Then, all the DVR’s and graphics for the show had to be mirrored in a similar fashion. Once I’d done that, all I had to do was switch between M/E-1 and M/E-2, using my macros. I would set up the next shot on whatever Mix/Effect trio wasn’t currently on the air, either the evens or the odds.”
So, now Burgos had 28 macros for M/E-1 and 28 for M/E-2. That’s a lot of effects to keep track of, and it was essential that he always knew whether he was working on the M/E-1 or M/E-2 output, without giving it a lot of thought.
Enter the Novation Launchpad; a relatively inexpensive piece of gear that allowed Burgos to organize his sources, macros, and Mix/Effects banks.
“The Launchpad Mini works very well with TriCaster,” Burgos says. “TriCaster even has a configuration for it. The configuration allows you to change the color of the buttons on the Launchpad. So, I made the top half of the device yellow and the bottom half green. That way, I always knew whether the effect I was setting up was for ME-1 or ME-2. Then, all I had to remember was which M/E was on the air.”
In addition, in order to eliminate any last vestiges of confusion, Burgos utilized every production professional’s favorite tool, the black Sharpie marker. Burgos used his handy-dandy Sharpie to write the macro number of each effect on the actual Launchpad button. (Insiders production tip: most alcohol-based wipes will remove black Sharpie ink from Novation Launchpad buttons, enabling them to be cleaned in preparation for the next big production.)
All This and Graphics Too
Another factor adding to the complicated program configuration was the unique way graphics were handled as part of the kickoff show. Graphics for the show required two additional video layers since they were not inserted into the show as keys, but instead, were dealt with as separate video sources. The first graphic layer contained such information as the presenter’s name and title, as well as any informational bullet points the presenter planned to cover during their talk.
The second graphic layer in each kickoff show was devoted to a stream of social media posts generated by attendees and web stream viewers. In North America, Europe, and Japan, the social media feed was Twitter-based, and in China, the social media feed was generated through Weibo. Keeping this flow of information fluid in as close to real-time as possible was perhaps the most daunting challenge the production team faced in creating a successful show. Burgos knew from experience that efficiently streaming social media can be difficult, if not impossible.
Social Media Storm: Making It Rain Tweets
Burgos had worked on several productions in the past that had attempted to accomplish this same lofty social media goal, and every time, he’d seen it result in epic failure, due to inefficient data handling.
“Every time I was called on to do another production with live tweets, I thought maybe someone had finally figured out a way to accomplish the task successfully, and every time, I was wrong. Once the show began and the tweets started coming fast and furious, they eventually reached a certain critical mass where the people in charge of processing the tweets became completely overwhelmed. Sometimes there were teams of people working on social media, and they still couldn’t handle the volume. Ultimately, we’d end up getting just a fraction of the actual tweets on the air, not a stream, but a dribble. Finally, I had enough. I’d seen so many failures I felt like I had to come up with my own solution.”
With the help of a programmer friend, José came up with an app called Tweet2Live, which allows incoming social media to be effectively previewed, sorted and sent to air.
“I was talking to my son about what I wanted the program to do, and he said, ’it sounds like you want a screen where the tweets just rain down.’ That was an ‘aha moment.’ It was exactly what I was looking for.”
Raining tweets. That’s exactly what Tweet2Live does. Once the waterfall of tweets begins flowing, a social media producer can grab any of the descending tweets on the screen and toss it into a bin. Then, the tweets in this standby bin can be quickly reviewed one last time before being dispatched to a queue that sends them to air, in the case of the TriCaster, using LiveText.
According to Burgos, “The beauty of the program is that the person who operates it only has to be a Public Relations type who decides what tweets they want to go on the air. There’s no special training needed.”
Armed with Tweet2Live, the flow of social media generated by viewers and participants of Lenovo’s Worldwide Kickoff Tour never flagged, and for the first time, Burgos was able to keep the flow of social media information flowing without impediment. And that led to some happy clients.
“Without José, we would have had to restructure the show,” ESG’s production manager tells me. “It would have gone on, but there’s no way it would have looked the way it did. Thanks to José, we were able to produce what looked like a two-remote-truck production from a tabletop. When the producers are saying, ‘We want those four graphics and these three tips, and those cameras on the air, all within sixty second’s time, Jose’s brain is able to take that apart and put it back together again coming from a really deep understanding of how the TriCaster works. Then, it comes out the other end and he pushes the buttons that make the magic happen, and we get what we want.
On To 2017
Event Strategy Group was so happy with the look of the 2016 show that they brought José back for an encore performance in 2017. This time, armed with the new, more powerful Advanced Edition software, Burgos was able to use just two M/E banks to accomplish what had taken six the previous year. And the other big change for 2017 was providing a second screen experience for live attendees of the presentation.
“In 2016, we produced what was essentially a pregame show before the actual presentation began,” Burgos says. “We had reporters at live, wireless cameras interviewing people as they entered the room, and other pre-produced pieces, all designed to build up the hype for the main show,” Burgos says. “In 2016, the preshow was produced strictly for the web stream, but the company liked it so much, that they decided to incorporate it into the show. For 2017, we fed the pre-show program to both the left and right screens within the venue, and the main program feed was only sent to the center screen up on stage.”
And thanks to continued innovation from NewTek, Burgos is assured of being able to accomplish even more ambitious programs in the future, continuing to push the envelope of what NewTek products can accomplish. “The engineers at NewTek listen to their user base, and they’ve improved the workflow tremendously over the years. I’m sure they’ll continue to do that so that operators can create ever more complicated live productions with success.”
Whether it’s training the next thousand TriCaster users or facilitating the most complicated productions imaginable, José Burgos’ mission remains the same, always over-deliver on his production promises. “I always want to make sure that the client gets much more than what they bargained for,” Burgos says. “I want them to walk away knowing why they hired me. I’m not satisfied with happy clients. I want to go way beyond that.”
José Burgos Top Tips for Freelance TriCaster Operators
Don’t pretend to be Technical, If you’re not. “In this industry, if you pretend to know things that you don’t, you’ll quickly run into someone who does know, and everyone else will realize that you don’t know what you’re talking about,” Burgos says. “If you don’t know something, don’t pretend; find out. There are plenty of resources to draw upon in the production world to get your questions answered.”
Test, test, test. before you go on air. “Just because you’ve done something before, doesn’t mean you can just walk up and everything will be fine,” Burgos advises his charges. “Things change. Don’t get caught.”
Do Your Homework. “I recently did a job in North Carolina,” Burgos tells me. “And before I ever met with the clients to plan for the production, I went online to search for videos of what they’d done before just so I could get an idea of what the production entailed. My clients appreciate that I’ve done my homework ahead of time. I very rarely come across a client who’s never done a video production before. There’s almost always a track record that can be researched.”
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