Tower Safety Gears Up With Ambient Skies For 2022 Tower Rodeo
REACHING NEW HEIGHTS
I remember talking to John Schaus (co-owner and Executive Producer) about some of the projects that were (quickly) approaching during the interview process after I had applied for their Senior Creative Producer position last fall. One project immediately stuck out in my mind… an “American Ninja Warrior” – style, live event for the men and women that work in the telecommunications tower industry.
What is that, you ask? Well, I had the same question.
I mean, we all have our cell phones that need service, and power and internet… but I did not think about all the hard work behind the scenes to make sure these towers stay operational, much less how important safety is in this line of work.
Enter Kathy Gill and Tower Safety. For the last couple of years Kathy has put on a challenge to help train and educate those in the tower industry. Having years of direct experience in the field Kathy knows the importance of safety and wanted to make it more accessible to those in and around the cell tower trade.
Ambient Skies was tasked with covering, editing and delivering video assets from a two-day, live event at the Tower Safety facilities in Phoenix. It was the Tower Rodeo Challenge 2022 event… one that had many moving parts and months of planning.
First question that came to mind… once I wrapped my head around the tower industry and the safety itself… was how are we going to cover all the action for this live event and deliver Kathy’s message about safety appropriately when there is so much going on? With four judges, a host, Kathy, seven teams of two tower workers each and nine challenge stations in two days? That’s a tall order, but WE WERE READY!
There was a meeting with myself, John and Trent Massey (co-owner, DP, Producer) that I still laugh about. We were trying to figure out how to cover each team and each station in order to capture every aspect of the event. We were given the schedule below in an excel doc and I kid you not, we were staring at this thing for almost an hour until Trent finally said, “wait, what if we had our camera guys start at the upper right hand box of this grid with ‘Nicholas R. and Anthony M.’ at 9 AM and then move one cell down, and one cell to the left until we reach ‘Michael C. and Anthony C.’ ” We all just laughed… so simple! But that’s why this one was so important in terms of collaboration. We definitely had the “all hands on deck” approach.
Once we overcame that brain-hurdle (lol) it was now clear we needed to solidify a team that can work with us to pull this off and make sure we had the right equipment to do it… and graphics! Don’t forget about the graphics. Our uber-talented Associate Creative Director, Emerald Leong worked with Chris DiNardo (?) to build the perfect graphics package from scratch… from lower thirds to full screens to wipes… you name it. All those extra details that enhance the viewing experience on-screen was a well thought out piece of art. Now some more techy schtuffffff…
When it came to coverage, we knew we needed at least three workhorses capturing content at all times. Two of the cameras were to be covering each challenge every 30 minutes. Our A camera (Sony FS7) would be placed on a 40ft jib with a Canon 17-120 cine servo zoom lens attached to it. Our B camera (Sony FX6) was a ground cam with a canon 70-200 zoom lens attached to grab tighter shots. And our C cam (Sony FX9) was to be focused on our host and the judges, grabbing commentary and highlights while the challenges were in play. As well as multiple go-pros attached to the body’s or helmets of some of the contestants. For the event hype video and some of the pre-recorded content, we planned to shoot on a Red Helium 8K camera and a Red Komodo 6K camera with Atlas Anamorphic prime lenses.
The crew and the equipment was coming in to focus. Preproduction was in full swing! Or maybe I shouldn’t use that phrase… maybe “harnessed tight” is more appropriate? Anyway, we had a tech scout of the area at Tower Safety to map out each day of the Tower Rodeo Challenge.
Tech scouts are crucial when it comes to these types of shoots. You gotta see the “lay of the land” to make sure that every move someone makes is as calculated as it can be. I do want to point out, this is a LIVE event… so ANYTHING can happen. But we wanted to be 80% planned, 20% on the fly as things unfold. One big thing we knew we needed was a JIB to capture the bird’s eye view of all the action (as the contestants were going to be 70+ feet in the air at times on the towers, and also capture was sweet establishing shots to bring the audience right into the challenge with us.
The space at the Tower Safety facility was tight so there was extensive talk about putting the JIB on the roof of the Tower Safety Building. Would’ve captured some incredible shots, but it turned out to be too heavy and less mobility than being on the ground with all the action. The space we had to work with was incredible. Kathy’s story, her passion and her vision were becoming clearer each day we got closer to the event. Tower Safety had real-life situations planned for the contestants on real-life, sized towers… one’s that they would be seeing everyday in their line of work, in situations that they would be encountering on any given day.
While this event was live, we were going “live to tape” as much as possible which means that we wanted to capture each day of the event as if we were broadcasting it in real time, but we were going to stream it later, when Kathy thought it was best.
Now it was time for the shoot for DAY 1! Arriving before sun-up to catch that sunrise JIB shot is always something special! We were already going to have some top-notch content to catch the viewer’s eye.
The first day was, in my opinion, going to be the toughest day as we had all 14 contestants in play, at all nine challenges; a FULL day of content capture. We had our JIB working, three ops on handheld cams, John directing, I’m producing… running around making sure we capture interviews, moments that were audience-worthy, all while juggling the host’s duties as our on-camera talent, but also emceeing the event for the live audience that was on site. Makes me happily exhausted just thinking about it!
Throughout day one, we were also “earmarking” the best content that would go in to the final streaming video and putting together the run of show for our editors and graphics op to follow. This was crucial considering we had film running for over 10 hours on the first day. And as the day rolled on, we got into a nice groove of b-roll capture, interviews, and prep for the next day…. Where the Tower Rodeo Challenge would crown its champion!
Since this was an outdoor event… we had to keep an eye on the weather. I know, I know… this is the Valley of the Sun… it’s pretty easy to guess what the weather was gonna be like. Buuuuutttt, this event was in early December. And while us Arizonans live through the 120 degree heat for months just to get to this point, we knew we could get some precip in a hurry. And what do you know? Day two called for some rain during the semis and finals of the Challenge.
Cameras were bagged, A/V equipment was moved from under a tent on the grounds to inside of the Tower Safety building and we waited…. Crew, audience, host and challengers alike. This gave us some time to grab some sponsor interviews, have judges and analysts chime in to what they’ve seen so far from the participants and eat some wonderful food! I do have to give a major shoutout to Kathy for keeping us fed like Queens and Kings for those two days.
Once the rain had settled, we were able to continue on with the challenge and crown a team as the champions of the 2022 Tower Rodeo Challenge. Since we had everything inside due to the rain, we set up Kathy’s indoor training facility with prizes, dramatic lighting, and some graphics on a monitor to continue the theme of that “live to tape” feel.
The end might have been my favorite part. Kathy had done it, we had done it. A perfect event that pushed the teams to their limits, made them fail, made them learn… and the Ambient Skies crew was right there with ‘em… learning, growing, already digesting how we can make it better next year for the 2023 Tower Rodeo Challenge.
And you know what? WE WILL!