By ALEX PUTTERMAN, email@example.com The Hartford Courant
7:24 a.m. EDT, July 10, 2014
WEST HARTFORD — Before it can appear on television screens across America, this clip must pass inspection in an editing room in West Hartford Center.
Footage of Germany’s Thomas Muller and Brazil’s David Luiz course across the screen, the booming voice of actor Jeffrey Wright narrating over the highlights and thumping music pulsating behind them. The clip concludes with a black screen and “Germany vs. Brazil” hovering above the word “semifinals.”
“I think the music is there,” Julie McGlone, ESPN‘s coordinating producer of creative content, tells the room. “The pacing at the end we want to be driving, driving, driving. Instead of poetic and ethereal, we want to be driving.”
McGlone says the “semifinals” at the end is unnecessary. A producer turns to his computer and deletes the word in a few clicks.
It’s Tuesday morning, about five hours before game time and four hours before the clip — a match “tease” — will run on ESPN. The crew at Bluefoot Entertainment in West Hartford Center is applying the final touches before sending the clip to Rio de Janeiro, to be broadcast to hundreds of thousands of fans watching at home.
Bluefoot is one of two Connecticut production companies, along with Victory Pictures in Avon, working with ESPN on post-production for World Cup teases, features, and video essays that have aired throughout the month-long tournament. Though ESPN’s Bristol mothership handles some post-production, more than half of that work occurs at these off-site locations.
For previous World Cups on ESPN, production has been handled entirely on-site in the host nation. But given the development of fiber telecommunications technology, ESPN Executive Producer of production Jed Drake decided to delegate some of these responsibilities back to Connecticut.
“It was primarily an opportunity to use great people,” Drake said Wednesday by phone from Rio, “and to do so now with the technology that can afford us the opportunity to use great people in Connecticut.”
Bluefoot this Tuesday morning is also working on another tease¸ for Sunday’s final,and it’salmost done. ESPN’s Wright Thompson has taped his narration, and Bluefoot has cut its footage, with an emphasis on the children of Brazil. This, Thompson’s voice explains over images of children kicking soccer balls, is how Brazil’s players grew up. Seconds later a shot of Argentina’s Lionel Messi, arms outstretched in celebration, appears, corresponding with a line about the game’s biggest stars.
The narration and the clip fit the occasion perfectly but for one problem: Argentina and Brazil have yet to win their semifinal matches.
“We’re big Brazil fans today,” McGlone says, blissfully unaware of the rout to come. “The last four teams are all great, but if it’s all South American teams that would be especially great.”
Founded by Tim Horgan in 2003, Bluefoot maintains eight full-time employees and roughly a dozen freelancers, who produce sports content year-round. About 70 percent of the company’s business comes from ESPN, Horgan estimates.
“We try to stay loyal to ESPN. We’ve been with them so long it’s like family,” Horgan says. “We’re fortunate that we get to work with not only their better people but their better projects. We smile every day knowing we’re working on cool stuff.”
Horgan personally has won 10 Emmys, most recently as part of College Gameday. Bluefoot as a company boasts 14.
The World Cup is Bluefoot’s biggest endeavor yet. Horgan and his team have used footage they shot in Brazil before the tournament and ESPN game film to produce 54 pieces ranging from 20 seconds to 2 minutes.
These include features on individual players, teases for upcoming games, and Thompson’s video essays. Perhaps most notably, Bluefoot was responsible for the Thompson-narrated trailer for the U.S. team that aired before its game against Belgium.
One of the most memorable of ESPN’s World Cup features is “The Rhythm of the Game,” a 2-minute, 42-second presentation of soccer’s percussive qualities.
The spot was produced in Avon, at Victory Pictures, using footage from various sources, including original material captured by the Victory staff at a pre-tournament trip to Brazil. It aired on ESPN on Saturday during the quarterfinal and might pop up again, McGlone said.
Victory is a smaller operation than Bluefoot, with a writer and three producers in a small house with a single editing suite. Since its founding in 2006, the company has been run by creative directors Mike Sciallis, a former ESPN producer, and Rico Labbe, a former NFL defensive back.
The company has won six Emmys, all in conjunction with ESPN, but the World Cup is as thrilling as anything its producers have done before.
“This is a brand new experience for us and it’s exciting,” Sciallis said. “It’s been a huge opportunity. To be able to do that here, that’s what’s cool.”
When the World Cup is over, Victory will have been responsible for post-production on about 15 ESPN pieces. They include a tournament-opening celebration of Brazil, a parallel World Cup-ender and teases for the U.S. team’s three group stage matches, narrated by “24” star Kiefer Sutherland.
Before the tournament, Victory shot footage in the Amazon Rain Forest and at the U.S.’s pre-World Cup training camp in Palo Alto, Calif.
“It’s challenging, but it’s rewarding,” Labbe said. “We’re in here and we’re looking at the games and we’re [cheering] like ‘Ahhh,’ and then it’s back to work. It’s a fascinating roller-coaster ride.”
Better Fiber, More Flexibility
Four years ago, for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, ESPN uplifted its entire production operation to the host nation, producing all its content on-site.
At the time, exchanging footage between the International Broadcasting Centre, or IBC, in Johannesburg and production studios in Connecticut was essentially impossible.
Improved fiber-communication technology, which allows the transmission of images across great distances using electromagnetic waves, changed the game. In recent years, ESPN has used fibers for smaller events but never for anything near the World Cup’s magnitude.
Still, Drake felt confident with the technology.
“I would never take a big risk on an event like this,” Drake said. “Once we decided to go in that direction several years ago, as the technology started becoming available it was all thoroughly tested, and we felt really comfortable with the solution that had been created.”
The fiber connects ESPN’s three production locations in Connecticut — Bristol, Bluefoot and Victory — the IBC in Rio, and ESPN’s temporary base about 20 miles away on Copacabana Beach. It enables footage from Brazil to arrive in Connecticut in minutes and for McGlone to deliver finished pieces back to Drake in Rio.
There have been small technological bumps, Drake said, but no more so than for any other major event.
“That it has worked as well as it has comes to no surprise to us,” he said
McGlone acknowledged that ESPN could do all its post-production in Bristol if it chose. But room there is tight, she said, and she and Drake have come to trust their compatriots at Bluefoot and Victory.
“These guys are obviously really good at what they do,” McGlone said. “To take advantage of that for an event of this magnitude, I think we’re huge benefactors in that circumstance.”
Much work remains in advance of the World Cup Final. As the biggest sporting event in the world, the game demands dramatic production elements before, during and after the match.
“We’re very pleased with what we’ve accomplished here,” Drake said. “But I keep reminding our troops, we’ve done well but the final evaluation won’t be done until we fade to black on the last game.”
Bluefoot’s dreams of an all-South America final were dashed dramatically Tuesday when Germany trounced Brazil 7-1. At Bluefoot, where the tease for the final already included allusions to the Brazil team, scripts might need re-writing and images re-cutting.
There’s no choice but to head back to the editing room.
Copyright © 2014, The Hartford Courant