James Livingston, features producer at Sunset+Vine, reveals the work that went on behind the scenes at the Mercedes-Benz UCI Mountain Bike World Cup
With the COVID-19 pandemic adversely impacting all aspects of production in 2020, we knew we had our work cut out for us ahead of the Mercedes-Benz UCI Mountain Bike World Cup for its broadcast partner, Red Bull TV.
International travel, in particular, has been a significant challenge, and with the first event of the revised 2020 series getting underway in September in the Czech Republic town of Nové Město na Moravě, COVID-19 testing was set to play a very large part of our pre-production and onsite planning. Before we could leave the UK we each had to have two tests; the first to check we were ok to work and were not carriers of the virus, and the second, within 48 hours of arriving at the airport, to check we were fit to fly.
Restrictions onsite forced us to reduce the size of our travelling team significantly, our usual team of twenty-one trimmed down significantly to a core team of six. Led by series producer Jamie Aitchison, I was joined by field reporter Lauren Smith, production manager Sarah Bucknall, digital producer Dane Avery and media manager/editor Michele Alessi. Our features and recap edit teams remained at our London HQ along with our executive producer, Sarah Greene.
Over the course of the next few weeks, we all found our roles evolving as we adapted to our new normal and realized that, more than ever, a nimble approach would be needed across many areas. With great support and open communication throughout the year from Red Bull Media House production manager, Poppy Ross and executive producer, Christoph Tritscher, our flexible and multi-skilled team was able to react swiftly to an ever-changing landscape.
One thing we didn’t really stop to consider too deeply was how much harder the job would be over the production period. With COVID-19 decimating the original UCI World Cup series calendar, the revised schedule (announced by the UCI on 15 May), resulted in a string of double-header events with twice the number of races and therefore twice as many openers and features to produce compared to single events last year.
We also had to remain in Europe for the full duration of the revised three-stop series – a long 5 weeks away from home in the middle of a global pandemic! Between events, our time was spent shooting content, editing b-roll for the live shows in our hotel rooms, and brainstorming ideas for the live show.
As you might imagine, health and safety became an ever more important factor as we worked our way through the series. On average we were tested for COVID-19 once a week – as we entered a new country and at the start of each event block. Onsite, precautions included social distancing, masks, visors, scrupulous cleaning of all our kits, new mic cubes for each interview and a lot of hand washing and sanitizing. It also meant adapting to the rules for each country in which we worked. All interviews were recorded outside in the fresh air (whatever the weather), and our travel was carefully coordinated.
Our COVID-safe bubble of six got to know each other very well over the five weeks as we drove from the Czech Republic to Maribor in Slovenia for the second stop before flying on to Lousa in Portugal – with temperature checks and varying sizes of nasal swabs a regular punctuation mark to our travels.
Onsite we were equipped with trackers, new rules and yet more hand-sanitizer to keep us safe and on our toes. Careful co-ordination of movement during events meant limited cross-over between areas such as the OB teams, local organizers and even the athletes. So different from previous series, but an understandable and well-thought through effort to keep everyone involved safe and well.
One positive effect of our efforts was the increased use of available technology and remote workflows. Communication with the wider team ran smoothly via Zoom and Slack as we talked regularly with the edits back in London and run through everything that had been shot that day or planned for the week ahead. We sent rushes back to London via Live-U, with a satellite feed back-up when needed, and we shared edits via Frame.io. The time-code and notes facilities within the latter platform were incredibly helpful in making revisions and getting sign-off on content across the whole production.
Producing the 2020 Mercedes-Benz UCI Mountain Bike World Cup series for Red Bull TV in the middle of a pandemic was fun, exhausting, and something that each of us will remember for the rest of our lives. Watch what we produced here.
James Livingston is a features producer at Sunset+Vine.