Growing up, I was always glued to the Summer or Winter Olympics. And as a young and ambitious video nerd, I wondered what went into the incredible number of visual stories being told. Luckily I crossed paths with editor Mike Api who is currently in PyeongChang, South Korea, freelancing for NBC in his second Olympic Games. Mike’s “unit” is in the “Control C/Graphics Ingest” unit — that is, the department that cuts promos, sponsorship enhancements, and a few athletic features (or in other words, packages and profiles).
Mike is sending me periodic dispatches from balmy PyeongChang, where it is currently mid-afternoon on a Sunday and 20 degrees Fahrenheit, on track to be one of the coldest Games in recent memory. Check out part one to get started on his journey.
When does the Olympics actually start? Why are you there so early?
The Opening Ceremony is Friday, February 9th, but technically the Winter Games start on the 7th. There are usually some events that take place before the OC because there’s such a huge number to get through and scheduling & broadcasting them all means there has to be some crafty logistical maneuvering. There will never be any medals presented before the OC, but some early round robins/preliminary events get the early go. (In this case it’s biathlon, luge, alpine skiing, and ski jumping.)
We get here almost two weeks before the opening because there’s a lot of work to do! On the editing side, we have a ton of promos, sponsored content, and all sorts of different elements to create beforehand. There are also pieces that were cut in Stamford, CT that will need to be either finished, upgraded*, voiced, or totally recut depending on late-breaking developments (e.g. – if someone gets injured before the Games or if a shoe-in athlete we’ve been producing a feature on doesn’t end up making the Olympics, which always happens). The studio and engineering crews have been here for much longer, building and testing all the studios and technical infrastructure. None of this was here a few months ago!
This year is especially complicated because it happens to be NBC’s turn to broadcast the Super Bowl (in the same week no less!), so a good portion of the crew is still working on that.
Beyond that, we’re still shooting new pieces that will need to be cut, colored, voiced, mixed, and ready to go later this week! (To be clear, this isn’t due to a lack of planning – some things just aren’t possible to do way ahead of time, especially any pieces that involve the athletes physically being in Korea. And again, things always come up.)
* – “upgraded” refers to upgrading the footage. The standards for visuals are very high, so we’re always tweaking until we’re happy with every shot in a piece. For instance, we may cut with “dirty” (texted) placeholder footage from an old race until we get our hands on better angles or better quality replacements. “Specialty” shoots are where we get the really pretty, really stylized b-roll and scenics that sports tv is known for.
In the days leading up to the beginning of the games, what kinds of things are you doing or preparing, in general?
You name it. We’re prepping a bunch of pieces we can’t actually edit until we get competition footage, cutting a big preview show, cutting all those new late-breaking pieces I mentioned earlier, cutting dozens of sponsorship enhancements* (branded content that act as in-broadcast highlight reels while also serving as ad time), all sorts of jazz.
Right now I’m cutting a special Meet Team USA piece that’s going to air directly before the USA walks into the Opening Ceremony! (No pressure at all, right?)
[*An example of sponsorship enhancements would be if Creative COW sponsors the Games and buys 12 sponsorship enhancements with a focus on “teamwork.” So as the Games go on, we’ll have to deliver 12 mini highlight reels with an emphasis on the best team moments – teammates picking each other up, passing the baton during a relay, celebrating together, etc. People often dog the Olympics for being too ad-heavy, but the fact is without sponsors like Coca-Cola (who is not paying me to say this), we wouldn’t be able to broadcast the Games across the world. It’s also how they manage to keep the courses, fields, and rinks clear of any advertising.]
What have you learned is important to bring with you when you work on location in a foreign country?
Copies of your passport are crucial because it can take a really long time to replace a lost passport. Scan it, email it to yourself, and email it to someone else. Prepare a list of emergency contacts in your phone and also keep a physical copy on you. If you wear contacts – bring extras! It sounds obvious but I’ve gotten burned a few times when a lens popped out or ripped at the beginning of my trip and I had no backups.
It should go without saying but you also need to bring a respectful attitude and be mindful that you are, in fact, representing your entire country abroad. *This is especially important for younger people.* Sometimes you’re excited to travel abroad and let loose, but you have to understand that the image you’re putting out there is representative of (in our case) the United States and the NBC network. This isn’t your home. It’s someone else’s. You can get plastered and be loud on the LIRR [Long Island Rail Road] and get a few stares but do that in another country while wearing your company logo and that’s the image people will associate with the United States. It’s not a very good look.
How do you prepare emotionally for such a high intensity job that lasts for so long?
Finding a good rhythm and taking care of yourself is essential on these long hauls. The Olympics is definitely a grind; we’re pulling 12-hr days 7 days a week for a month straight. If you’re staying up late all the time or not eating properly and not getting enough rest it’ll catch up to you, your body will shut down, and you won’t be productive.
Psychologically, you really need to focus in on the task at hand, forget about social media or any other distractions. and operate on a Left-to-Right mentality. (That’s a reference to putting things down on a timeline from left to right, getting ideas onto a sequence rather than wondering IF an idea is going to work.) Just try it and then adjust – after all, something is going to have to air. This is an approach I take to any project, no matter the pressure. Then go back and make it pretty when you have the time. This is not to say there isn’t time to think and be creative, but you need to be efficient and focused.
What are you doing in your downtime?
(What is this “downtime” you speak of?!) I try to relax after work, get a good meal in and alternate between doing nothing and doing…something. And it almost always involves food (naturally). In Rio I did a lot of wandering around the Olympic Park checking out different events, and a bunch of days were spent exploring nearby towns. Here in PyeongChang, I happen to be at a hotel smack dab in the Mountain Cluster where nordic combined, ski jumping, and snowboarding is going down.
I have eaten my weight in Korean fried chicken, barbecue, kimchi, and all sorts of fun treats. We’re also pretty close to the slide centre so I definitely want to catch some bobsled and luge. We’re also pretty close to the high speed train that takes us to the Coastal Cluster where hockey, speed skating (!!), figure skating, and a host of other events are happening. We got an unexpected day off on Friday and took the train to Seoul, which was pretty amazing. Once we really get into the thick of it, I’m sure there will be days where I don’t want to do anything but eat dinner and relax. It’s a delicate balance of exploring while being mindful of how much rest you’re getting.
[Editor’s Note: Mike also got a scary warning text this weekend. It turned out to be warning of the impending cold wave. Which is also scary, but not in the way he was probably imagining.]