• Mitch Parris

Getting into Television Production , The Director of Sky Sports Role & How Technology has Developed

This is Chapter 1 of 3 in the guide to becoming a TV Direction within Sport. The PitchTALKS team sat down with Graeme Spink, Former Director of Sky Sport, and now Freelance Director of some of the biggest sporting events in the world.

Welcome to a brand new episode of Bringing You The Game by PitchTALKS. Chapter 1 focusing on how Graeme got into sport, working for Sky Sports and how technology has changed the quality and production of Sports Broadcasting.

Thank you for joining us Graeme. It would be great to understand what sport meant to you growing up and what gave you that passion to them, wanting to work in sport later on?

I always loved sport. Strangely enough, not a massively sporty background.

My dad, way back when used to be a very good swimmer, but that was sort of it. He never sort of played football, rugby, anything like that.

On my mum's side, my grandad was a passionate cricket fan. I always loved playing cricket, football, and table tennis which was one that I got into and I wasn’t actually too bad at it, but same as quite a lot of people, never to a standard that it was ever going to be a profession.

So it sort of channelled a passion in the another way and filmed the people that are better than me.

How did you go then from the start of your career to then ended up as the director at sky?

I actually started thanks to my Aunt who used to work for rank Xerox films, not the film side, she was an accountant, but in that sort of division that she always knew that I wanted to do. She said, I should be in front of the camera, as a kid I was always a joker, messing around.

But actually when it came to it, you go, no, I don't want to be in front of camera. It was never something that would make me feel comfortable.

I now tell people to stop doing that and it's all good.

So she actually got me a magazine called broadcast weekly, which had colleges and courses and I ended up seeing one in there which was based in Guilford at a place called St Catherine's drama studio.

So I actually did a stage management theatre and television production. It was run by a guy called Adrian Cooper, who was an ex ITV director way back when he did the TV side. It was also an acting school, which was run by his wife, Jean Cooper, who was an actress.

I went there, did a course, I got a BTEC certificate, and it was great. It gave me a ground in and then from then on, it was like, yeah, I do want to do this.

I did a little bit in theatre to start with part of the course. We worked at the theatre, which was the first gig you work on as an assistant floor manager with Brian.

From there, I wrote numerous letters. I mean, hundreds.

It's funny actually, a couple of days ago I was tidying out the office going through boxes and found, I think virtually every rejection letter that I don't know why I kept them, but I've got old ones from ITV and Hattrick Productions from way back when, which they say:

sorry, we haven't got anything for you”.
No, no, I haven't got anything, do keep in touch”.

That sort of thing is actually really strange nowadays because everything's done on email. You just don't get letters sent back to you.

I actually got one back from a company called TVP, which was a production company in Soho. They had offices in Potent Street and Golden Square right next to where Virgin radio was filmed. So it was always quite funny. You walk into work in the morning, Chris Evans has walked past you or someone like that.

So I actually went there as a runner, which is, probably everyone's start in TV and it's the least glamorous job in the world. It's making cups of tea and coffee for people, getting them food.

Soho was slightly better because we were looking after clients. So you'd get clients coming in to do music videos, who would have a bottle of champagne and asked for a McDonalds. So you'd walk out, go and get their food, sit back and then I basically just watch the Editors.

It was from then I got into the VT side of things. So videotape, but again, something completely out of the blue for people nowadays. Tape? What's that? [Laughs]

You had a machine called a one-inch, which is basically two reels and you connect them together and you have to lace the machine up. Nowadays it's a dinosaur of a machine and I did a year there [Soho]. Then again realized that I wanted to get into more live programming because everything there was just dubbing tape to tape, making big copies.

In live programming there was a lot of watching films, QC, so quality control. Somedays, It was great. You get to watch a really good film, start to finish and check that it was right. And then the worst one was when I had to watch, I think it was the 24 reels of a Take That concert and it was 24 separate cameras of Take That, so I think I've watched their one show 24 times from 24 different angles.

PitchTALKS: I bet, you'll never forget that experience…

See what you've done there.

Nowadays, my kids would have thought that was the best job, but I didn't have kids at the time.

So from there I basically went to overnights. I sort of applied to do an overnight, not the best job in the world, but it just gave me the chance to write letters, go to interviews during the day.

I actually then got an interview at Sky which I went to and it was great. As I was saying about the one inch reel, one of the first things they have you do is lace the one inch to check that you can actually do it. Luckily, I got the job.

What was that like going into a company like Sky?

Strange. I mean, cause it's not as big as what it is now. I mean, you go there now it's multi million pound state of the art buildings. And I mean, the VT area was literally in what was sort of an old shed type building at the time, but it was still doing a lot of the big, the big work.

Again, it was full of tape machines, which again, in this day and age you just don't get, so it's noisy and dark, you spent pretty much all your time in the dark.

So the one thing with our job, you sat in a dark room, I've come onto it later, but you sort of travel around the world to glamorous locations and you walk into a truck and sit in the dark all day.

What is the biggest difference for you from when you started?

Currently? Nothing has changed other than technology.

You know, people still sit and talk, they still run VTS in and stuff. You have chats. It's just what goes on around it and the way it gets put to air.

So the technologies, like I say, head and shoulders above when I started, you don't have type machines anymore. Everythings on disk, it's EBS or an X file. So everything is exported.

You don't dub one tape to another and sit there, you just plug it in. Then it’s on your laptop. Send that to the OB.

The studios have changed, but not all of them. I mean, a lot of the work that I still do is still just in a normal studio with a backdrop, a monitor in the middle.

Fundamentally, you're still producing the show. It doesn't matter whether you're doing replays off the tape machine or a disk machine, it's just quicker on a disk machine.

You’re still turning around the footage that the camera man has given you, studio chats, again, visual mixing desks have progressed massively. You can do a lot more. You can make backgrounds, fill screens, make boxes.

You know, you can make up different boxes for chats, which have come in a lot more at the moment with social distancing, a lot of programs are just doing stuff in boxes. I'm not a massive fan. I'm not going to lie. I think it's nice.

If you can just see everybody where they are rather than three big heads right next to each other, two meters apart, isn't that bad, you're limited sometimes where you go, cause you don't have the space and that's why they do it.

But yes, going back to your question, it's just the technology that's changed.

It's like anything the sports are getting quicker. So technology is getting quicker. One of the fastest things I work on is darts. I mean, it's phenomenal, the speed that they're throwing and you've got to get across that. The cameramen have got to get there.

Sky have gone down the robotic route, which can work. It is very good, but you get the odd time where the camera isn't in the right place and it is not as ideal as it should be.

For more on the 'Becoming a TV Director at Sky Sports' series, following any of the links below:

Tune in to the Podcast Here

Chapter 2 - Greatest Moments Witnessed whilst Being a Sports Director at Sky Sports & Freelance Director

Chapter 3 - Career Advice: Getting into TV Directing and Broadcasting

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