The MLB All-Star Game marks the halfway-point for another great season of baseball. It’s an annual exhibition game played between MLB’s two distinct leagues, the American League vs. National League. The players for the teams facing off are nominated by fans, managers and other players - it’s a tremendous honor for any player.
As one of the most highly-anticipated games of the year, the All-Star Game brings sold-out crowds of fans from all over the country to the host city (Miami, Florida this year), with millions more watching at home on TV. It’s such a big sporting event that Fox Sports always supplements the broadcast with a series of bumpers to and from commercial breaks featuring profiles of the players. For the past few years, Jonathan Belinski has been the Director of Photography for the filming of the speciality player portraits, working alongside Producer/Director Joel Santos.
“Fox Sports is a major network, so expectations are pretty high when it comes to production value,” explained Jonathan Belinski. “Joel Santos, the producer, wanted the theme this year to embrace the South Beach party vibe while simultaneously showcasing the top talent in the game. It gets viewers excited for what’s about to unfold while also setting the scene of the host city.”
Belinski is no stranger to high-profile shoots. A multiple Emmy award-winning Director of Photography and founder of Belinski Media, Jonathan Belinski’s work has been featured at the Super Bowl, Daytona 500, UFC, World Series, World Cup and many other major events. The mission is always the same: create high-end images that will capture the imagination of the viewers. But this time, they wanted to add a fun twist.
“I have worked with Joel for many years and can say he is one of the best in business at achieving this. He knows what we have to work with and then adapts his game plan to maximize what we can get out of any given situation. We are often put in difficult locations with extreme time constraints, but that never impacts the finished product. We always find a way to make it work and adjust to the situation we are faced with.”
Swinging for the Fences
Since the All-Star Game was held in Miami this year, the goal was to incorporate party and clubbing elements into the teasers. Producer Santos envisioned a vibrant nightlife scene complete with Samba dancers, a DJ, and sexy lighting. Luckily, Marlins Park has a scaled-down model of the famous Clevelander Night Club in the outfield, which provided the perfect setting to film all the players.
The biggest feature of The Clevelander is the famous indoor pool, which Santos decided to utilize for the shoot. Santos had a platform constructed above the pool and a red carpet strewn for players to walk across. One of the cameras would be shooting in the water, which meant the addition of an underwater camera operated by veteran editor/cameraman Brian Alexander.
To shoot the party-style MLB teasers for the game, Belinski and his team used 2 RED Epic Dragon 6K cinema cameras with Leica Summicron Prime lenses and Canon Zoom lenses. One RED Epic Dragon camera was mounted to a gimbal system to capture moving shots of players walking across the red carpet, while the other was mounted to a tripod for tighter detail shots.
On both systems, a Teradek Bolt 3000 transmitter was connected to the camera via SDI, sending instant HD feeds wirelessly to a Bolt receiver in their video village on the other side of the room. With one receiver going to the director’s monitor and the other to the 1st AC’s monitor, both Director Santos and the focus puller could see a live shot from a distance without needing to stand anywhere near the action.
“The first camera - equipped with a gimbal - was used for the wider shots. It moved along with the players as they walked towards the front of the club and in front of the pool,” Belinski explained. “Our second camera was on a longer lens and took closer shots of the players. We rarely rolled both at once in an effort to get the perfect shot each time for each camera. We also had a third camera shooting from inside the Clevelander pool, but without any wireless systems for obvious reasons.”
All Bases Covered
After several hours of filming at The Clevelander, Belinski and his team acquired all the footage they needed for the next day’s broadcast, largely thanks to having reliable wireless downlinks at their disposal. Being wireless allowed the Camera Ops to move freely without needing the Director or 1st AC to be married to the camera and monitor the shot without having to worry about maneuvering the set with cables.
But most importantly, the Bolts allowed them to save the most valuable asset for this production: time. Because both teams were at the stadium to practice and prepare for the game, as well as other media obligations, the production crew had very limited time to get the footage they wanted with these star players.
Real-time wireless monitoring allowed Belinski and his crew to make adjustments to their shots on-the-go and get what they needed with minimal reshoots. This meant that the extremely busy players could return to what they do best: play ball.
“In an environment where these guys are there to practice, prepare for the game, and take in the honor of this prestigious moment in their lives, time is very valuable. You do everything possible to avoid 2nd or 3rd takes,” said Belinski. “The Teradek Bolts helped us to be mobile on set and made it easy for everyone to monitor the shot which meant happier players who could get out quick and keep the experience fun for themselves, while also getting the footage we needed for our purposes. It’s a win-win. As always, Joel Santos and Brian Alexander crafted beautiful edits, and it was another successful year for all of us.”
Home Run Extra:
Belinski and his crew received some generous gifts from players at batting practice when well-hit home run balls came crashing through their blackout materials on set, barely missing crew and equipment! But don't worry - no cameras were hurt. Check out the hole made by a home run ball: