Legendary broadcast production insider Tom Fletcher comes clean with Nestor about how those soaked ESPN cameras happened and how they’re improving it. Let a Hall of Fame Broadcasting camera visionary tell you how those overhead shots happen and have evolved to show you a better game – and help referees get better looks.
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Nestor J. Aparicio
Nestor J. Aparicio 00:01
Welcome home we are wn S T A and 1570, Towson, Baltimore and Baltimore positive we are. We’re jumping into the spirit of Festivus around here with a potential AFC Championship game for the first time in 53 years next week. So it looks out knowings Mills doing all things Ravenstone the tech service will get all the breaking news we’re monitoring Mark Andrews as well as some of the injury situations. We are also going to be doing our not radio row we’re going to be doing crabcake row beginning February 5, five days live broadcast off of the Maryland Food Bank. I’ll be telling you more about ever featuring 100 charities. We’re skipping Las Vegas this year we’re leaving Las Vegas and headed Kingsville I will also have Maryland lottery scratch offs to give away and free soup. Believe it or not, if you are benevolent this guy is a behind the scenes kind of guy to kind of guy used to eat within the buffets for 39 years when I had my my media pass back just before decades, where guys were always wondering like, Oh, I wonder who that guy is, Oh, that guy’s the executive producer of NBC. And this thing comes to me sort of honestly because this guy just recently got into a Hall of Fame and they’re not going to put me in in any broadcasting Hall of Fame’s here, but he comes at me honestly because he’s a hockey guy, but he’s more than that a sports guy. Fletcher sports created a new genre and sports broadcasting the remote control camera, you may be familiar with it. The ESPN ones were not wiped down two weeks ago. During the game here. This guy is entered. He’s a Chicago guy which means I’ll get at least one good pizza recommendations not called Peak wads. He’s entered the sports broadcasting Hall of Fame still appears to be a relatively young man and even has ties to this week’s ravens game we welcome Tom Tom Fletcher onto the program. Fletcher sports like you’re you’re the behind the scenes guy. But you’re a little bit of a mad scientist about getting these ankles I’m sure for gamblers officials. We’re gonna go to New York and see if the knee was down all of these camera angles if that really changed the way we see the game job.
Yeah, oh, mad scientist. My My wife always questions why I’m watching so much sports and I’m able to say I’m watching the sports. This is work. I’m trying to figure out where to put new cameras. We put remote control cameras on the bottom of the scoreboard during the 91 NBA Finals. We rode the Jordan era and the Chicago Bulls with six championships. NBC Sports kept coming back to us saying okay, you did the bottom of the scoreboard. What can we do next? And then we put a camera remote control camera behind the backboard. And then we put it up on top of the shot clock and we put it in the nets we put it behind the nets for hockey put it at center ice for hockey. I go to sporting events and I look where can we put a camera and we made a real good business of it. We changed the way that sports is broadcast hockey, basketball, the above the rim shot for basketball is a staple. In football we do a lot of super slow mo we got into the super slow mo business. Pretty much all those real super slow motion shots. Fletcher plays a big role in that. Oh,
Nestor J. Aparicio 03:18
I remember when instant replay came on dude, I’m 55 you know, and I remember when Alcoa couldn’t wait, I mean, not old enough for the Heidi game, but old enough to you know, remember who bought Harrelson is as of last week, right? So like I go back to the early 70s And I fit in and it looks it’s not hard with technology to see what these broadcasts look like back in the day I saw and I’m such a story you know, I was at the Dr. Game in Cleveland. So it popped up with all the Flacco stuff recently and I saw a video of and I thought man is shot differently feels different leaves covered and I’ve been doing this as a journalist differently but you were you guys have gone into helping solve the game to some degree right to solve and I guess at some point the balls are going to have chips right and we’re going to do away with on pi I mean we’re heading look we’re gambling on games with the Super Bowl in Las Vegas. Most of my lifetime we would have said there never be a team so we’re moving along to all of this but I think when I think of your cameras yeah it’s sexy it’s cool seeing thought this and that but the adjudication of fair foul Balor in bounds out of bounds fault or no fault and tennis whatever would be will in many cases and I’m sure the first time you saw I changed the game they were I put the camera allowed us to see perfectly whether this was or was not whatever it was or was not.
Yeah, gambling is a big part of of broadcasting today and that we make sure we got to give the the angles to the officials that they are going to get the call right. Um and us being able to put cameras in unusual places that you can see if the player is in inbounds out of bounds crossed the goal line the puck crossed the goal line for a goal in hockey, you know, our cameras that are in the nets, you know, help that tremendously. And if they got it’s got to work. So it’s been an exciting, exciting ride, um, of creating these new camera angles.
Nestor J. Aparicio 05:25
I remember going to Japan with Cal Ripken in 2007. Before the the Beijing Olympics, and when I got over there I was like walking around Japan I was in China as well but I went to Japan specifically because they make good stuff there. And the cameras they were making there was so much better than anything you could buy here that you know stuff you could find in stores there. And the technology and I’m thinking for like a nerd like you that loves this stuff. And anybody that’s a photographer that has seen it Whitman or the pictures I just took a Cardinals in the snow out my window with my phone. You know, it really does skip generations the way computers do and iPhones a technology. What have your eye seen that when you they put you in a hall of fame? What’s the what’s a seminal moment for you where like you have that moment we’re like that cameras going to do this. And it’s going to change the game I’m thinking the rope cameras that I think ESPN or maybe Sunday Night Football was using pretty early on again above the huddle to give get above a huddle was something that every NFL Coach Marvin Lewis is Jim Schwartz, those guys with the Ravens here. They always told me get the seat in the endzone, get the seat up section 513 Next to the cameras so you get coach’s view of what’s going on. You want to be above the play. I don’t think even the coaches could realize how they could assess offensive line play if the camera was right above the line, right?
Yeah, the you’re referring to the sky cam that was invented by another sports broadcasting Hall of Famer Gary Brown, who also invented this, the steadicam? And sky cam is one of the shots that we don’t do. We we actually work fairly closely with them, we actually would in the early days of sky cam and cable cam. We would rent them our small box cameras for them to be able to do the broadcast business.
Nestor J. Aparicio 07:16
You own cameras, you place cameras, you do this. Dare I say professionally, right? Like that’s literally what you do.
That’s exactly what I do. You
Nestor J. Aparicio 07:26
rent them out or you rent you’re set. You’re a production company that comes in and makes cameras better.
What Fletcher what Fletcher is, is we’re a specialty supplier to the broadcaster, which is generally engaging with a truck vendor, a mobile truck vendor, any P who actually owns Fletcher, we actually sold Fletcher a few years ago. So any P supplies all the traditional hard cameras and handheld cameras, and then we come in with specialty cameras, and we rent it to the broadcaster for the entire season or we get a contract for the for the length of of their agreement with the broadcaster. The broadcasters, ESPN, NBC, they don’t own their equipment, they rent the equipment from a truck vendor, and then the truck vendor or the broadcaster. Rents are specialty cameras, whether it’s a super slow mo camera, or it’s a remote control camera behind the backboard or above the rim or in the net. So yes, what was the one of the big moments was putting the camera on top of the gold judge for hockey was to me the shot that really changed the way you watch hockey. You know, people would say to me, hockey’s a great sport, but you really got to watch it in person. And that was a dagger in my heart and a challenge to me to make the sport of hockey better on television. And Gary Bettman in from my induction video, Gary said, you know, Fletcher was one of the companies that helped change the sport of hockey on television and make it much more fan friendly and something that they didn’t think was possible.
Nestor J. Aparicio 09:08
Well, I call it hockey in the 80s. I’m an old hockey head I covered the age Oh Barry trots all that stuff all these years. We lost right here three decades ago, but I was that guy. And I marveled at all of it. You know, I had the guy on who did the blue pucks a couple months ago. The pucks with tails and Fox and so I mean, there were a lot of thing Kenny Albert, literally started my show with me so Kenny’s like, brother and his book just came out and all that and during all of this era to think how far that’s come for fans. And look there was always novelty stuff in all star games where you put a camera on a guy on Marielle amuse head or you know, whatever, or guy spying around and Steadicam allow maybe a little bit of that to not feel like you were drunk when you’re watching it right? But but for you where where were these moments along your journey where you’re like, I think we should put a camera and I’m mocking that because That would be good
um the putting the camera in the hockey net and have it be a remote controlled camera it’s one thing to have a locked off shot it’s more important to also be able to frame the shot and have a little bit of a zoom so we have a little three to one zoom that’s in the net so that you’re you’re able to follow the action and line up the player that’s in the slot shooting the puck right at Yeah. But you know you mentioned the all star games all star games are great places for us as broadcasters to experiment with new ideas. So sky Steadicam in hockey was first used during an all star game and you know we tried using Steadicam we ultimately went in a different with a different went in a different direction. And but we put a camera in the targets for this for the accuracy shooting contest. Um, you know for for the all star game we put a puck in a camera and center ice for an all star game. So they like coming up with little gimmicks and gadgets during an all star game. Some of them turn into spectacular shots like sky cam going back to that sky cam was in the NFL and the XFL allowed the NFL to see how great sky cam was and when I was talking to Chris Collins Werth who went in with my my class of 2023 for the Hall of Fame. The first thing he brought up with sky cam because he goes that’s that’s my go to replay you know right after after play because he wants to see how the play on on unfolded and he wants to explain to the audience what happened. And we do that more with basketball and hockey with the behind the behind the behind the net gold judge or the gold judge camera are though above the rim shot. The eye
Nestor J. Aparicio 11:55
in the sky does not lie Tom Fletcher is here he is the Fletcher sports and a pioneer and and a broadcast Hall of Famer and was inducted a couple of months ago but trying to get you on with Sharon trying to work this thing out. And as I brought you on you’re like am I cameras are going to Baltimore for the game this week. I can’t have you on and not talk about weather and football because dude, anybody can set a camera up at a basketball gym, right or whatever, it doesn’t move, baseball’s a little different because of the geometry of it and all the ballparks a little different in some way, football seems to me to be a square, but it’s not. And all of these stadiums are different. You sit and watch even the broadcast level of a game in like buffalo because it’s an older stadium, you sort of see the game a little bit better through the main cameras, and where new stadiums allowed for places for cameras to be and we’re asses get in the way and you can only go so low are so high getting up off the crowd is probably the way to do it. But but the weather and snow and ice and things that happened in Buffalo in Green Bay and hopefully in Baltimore. But the conditions change in football way more than any other place. Right?
Yes, the challenge of a camera operator you know, certainly our remote control cameras have to be able to withstand the heat and the cold. But then the camera operators that are out there you know, in Kansas City and and in Buffalo, and you know, it’s going to be pretty cold this weekend and Baltimore and be out there for extended time periods and be able to you know, you’re focusing and you need to get the focus exactly right. And you need to do that with gloves. And that’s a challenge and a testament to all those operators that do it. Now I look at that and say okay, how can we make that better that that is exactly how my brain works is I I see a problem. So the the Steelers and the Ravens you guys had tremendous rain there a few weeks ago. This past week in Dallas, I was there coming up with a solution or rain deflector that blows the rain off of the lens at 300 miles an hour. So
Nestor J. Aparicio 14:06
everything your hold on because that came everybody in my audience saw that game. Everybody I had three tweets up that I felt like I was drunk because the when we thought I tweeted they their billion dollar company, billion dollar Football League. Billions of dollars being gambled on this and you can’t get a clearer picture for ESPN. I thought where’s their rain next? You know what I mean? Like so literally you were a person two weeks ago. We don’t have a solution here literally.
I on this past weekend in Dallas and went down with a company. Abelson in New York. There’s a company in London called Bright tangerine that makes a rain deflector that’s used more in the motion picture world I live in both worlds are our business. We had a we rented cameras and the motion picture world is Fletcher camera. We had the sports business. So I see technology that crosses over all the time and your life’s work a little bit I’m not quite. When they’re shooting a, when they’re shooting something in the in the field, they’re shooting a scene from the wire years ago, and they’re doing a rain scene, well, that rain and that mist is going to come onto the camera that would ruin the illusion of you’re watching something. So they have to deal with, with getting the rain off. And with sky cam, they’ve tried a spinning mirror, well, that can’t, that can’t work with with sky cam, because of the centrifugal force of the sky cam being above the crowd. So this is now something that will blow the rain off. Exactly, you know, 300 miles an hour, and you would have a clear, perfectly clear picture. And if they want to show that it’s still raining there, they can point the camera and the lights, they can leave that leave it off for a few seconds. I I look at those problems, and I try to come up with a solution. That’s That’s why you were
Nestor J. Aparicio 15:52
pissed to watch and say, Oh, come on, man. It’s 2024 we put a man on the moon 50 years ago, we can’t get rain off the camera. We
we we are working on that I was with with Fox and with the the the truck engineers from game creek down in down in Dallas and said, you know, we have a solution. So I think this is something by next season, you’ll see much better, a better solution for that. But at the same time, the directors do like showing you that it’s raining. And but I agree that game became unwatchable. And from a gambling standpoint, going back to that you have to have that shot, you can’t be like, we can’t tell if he’s in bounds or out of bounds and there’s lots of money on it the over under whatever it is.
Nestor J. Aparicio 16:36
Man, last thing for you is you have a new company and I want you to explain it a little bit more to me because I see it over your shoulder a little bit. And I think about these things all the time because we carry you know, cameras I went to see Billy Joel at the garden the other night in New York went up. It’s nice night, you take a selfie or whatever. And but you never really get a picture of yourself jamming or having a good time because like you’re jamming and having a good time as you should when you put your phone away. Same thing at sporting events people are up video and I remember when I first got a camera that worked I wanted to take pictures and videos after we scored and of us being excited. And we had an internet page like 15 years into this now you have something that is sort of a little bit more passive, but pretty cool. Sort of like maybe what happens when you’re on the roller coaster at the bottom of Hershey Park kind of sort of
Exactly. That is exactly the line we say. We are the roller coaster ride booked for sporting events. We put in still cameras around the arena, we shoot across across the across the field and we get every fan. In the moment you go nuts, you score a touchdown, you guys are going nuts, you are going to go to the Super Bowl, the fan Stand Up we go click, click, click click. We give the fans probably about five to seven pictures and every moment that that there’s a big turnover a touchdown. And then you get it delivered to your phone, you know, in a matter of about three to five minutes after that big moment and you’re sharing it on social media. We installed into Seattle for the Seahawks because they love their twelves out there. And they want to celebrate their fans. And the fans love it. And the thing that the fans really like and is as they love a commemorative ticket to every fan can get a commemorative ticket of them celebrating in the moment. You can pick it up in a gift shop afterwards or you can have it sent to you with a final score. Ticket man
Nestor J. Aparicio 18:32
a lady and Billy Joel in front of me had a hard ticket and I got one of the Seat Geek. I’m like, You got like tickets? Stop. I remember them. They were so much Yeah. Everybody loves ticket stops. You know people love
people love the physical ticket. My father just passed this past June and we’re going through he had tickets from the Browns AFC Championship Game and in 1963 You know you people just keep that that is a souvenir that everybody really likes. So the name of that company is called My momento. And were installed that we were installed in the Seahawks were installed into the Kraken and were installed into the Tampa Bay Lightning. So every goal of fans are going nuts. And you can get the picture.
Nestor J. Aparicio 19:19
Tom Fletcher Chicago land native has been named to the sports broadcasting Hall of Fame back at 23. And he does cool stuff, dude, I love meeting the people behind the scenes. I’m trying to get the water off the camera. Sorry, here. See if I would have had you last month we wouldn’t have had that. So hey, keep enjoying the games. It sounds like you got a great business going and between the movie side and the film side in the sports side. You’re having a good time, and congratulations on getting into somewhere. They’re never gonna let me in the sports broadcasting Hall of Fame. But if I go and visit I’ll see you there. All right. Yeah. All right. Thank you very much. Thanks for entertaining us here and at least teaching us some new stuff about the eye in the sky not lying. He stopped Fletcher Hall of Famer. How does that does that make you feel good?
It does it going in with something. A group that includes Howard Cosell to me was was really remarkable.
Nestor J. Aparicio 20:18
Amen. They put me in my high school hall of fame six years ago. I still cry thinking about it. I am Nestor. We are wn St. We got full coverage of the Ravens. Luke’s covering all thanks Festivus. He’s in Owings Mills. Any breaking news you get a first and WNS D tech service and don’t forget the week of February 5. They used to call it Super Bowl week. There’s now we’re calling it a cup of soup or Bowl week. We’re doing that for charity for the Maryland Food Bank. We’ll tell you more about it. Stay with us.