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NFTS Trains Next Gen Sports Producers

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The National Film and Television School (NFTS) recently launched a Sports Production diploma to address the lack of specialist sports production training in the UK and to meet demand from prospective students.

Steve Holdsworth, NFTS Head Engineer, said of the decision to launch the course: "From the outset, we knew that for the diploma to be a success, we would need to partner with leaders in sports production, who could help us to develop a curriculum that was capable of addressing the growing skills shortfall. That partner was IMG, one of the world's largest independent sports producers. In developing the course framework, we also had to choose the infrastructure products that we'd build our core systems around, and ultimately opted to do so around a Blackmagic workflow spanning everything from acquisition through to switching, through to signal management and monitoring as well as recording."

Technical workflow
Holdsworth continued: "My brief for this course was to build a six camera setup that could be used for single camera acquisition as well as multi-camera OB, as these form the main practical requirements of the diploma. The hardware needed to be self-contained for smaller groups of students to use, but easily configurable for use in the field as part of a more comprehensive OB workflow. It was also critical that we matched the real-life sports broadcasting workflow as closely as possible.

"Just as we started to look at products for the course, the URSA Mini B4 mount option was announced, and this seemed to be the perfect opportunity to allow us to use the same B4 lenses that are prevalent in the industry. Our PPU is built around an ATEM Production Studio 4K and an ATEM 1 M/E broadcast panel, with a multiview output feeding a 4K screen. Each camera is rigged with an ATEM Camera Converter, which helps provide full talkback and tally functions over our 200m drums of optical fiber."

Out in the field
"Over the course of a year students spend a significant amount of time working on standalone sports features, and their efforts culminate in a live outside broadcast (OB) and graduation film that we assess," Holdsworth explained. "Alongside the practical elements, we also undertake some studio exercises and classroom sessions where students are encouraged to critically analyze live coverage and develop camera plans before they are allowed to be involved in a production.

"As many of the students don't have technical backgrounds before starting the course, the practical tasks increase in complexity. So having produced some original feature pieces, the student were tasked with putting together a full OB to cover a rugby match taking place at the Ealing Trailfinders Club on a sunny Autumn afternoon. The team collaborated with students from NFTS' Camera, Sound and Vision Mixing course to plan out the OB for the day. All of them had a say in the day's planning, but as a general split, the broadcast production team looked after the live OB workflow, and the sports production students focused on making sure that it would all match what was required to produce from an editorial standpoint. An essential part of this was the camera plan, and the students were really strong in this, with a good narrative, which translated into excellent coverage for a small scale OB.

"The best part of the OB assignment was seeing how much everyone had improved from their initial run through a month before, and it was evident from the final program content that everyone had put everything they could into making the production the best they could. This was a big step up in professionalism, and one of their most significant learning experiences on the course so far."

Image is from the Ealing rugby match production, courtesy of Blackmagic Design.

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