Monday, November 26, 2007

NASCAR Images Caught In The "HD Crunch"

Back on November 13th, we talked about the on-going problems this season with several TV series being produced by NASCAR Images.

This company is the official TV production arm of NASCAR, and produces a wide range of shows from Survival of the Fastest on SPEED to Chasing Glory on ESPN2. They also produce the NASCAR programming from the SPEED Stage, including NASCAR RaceDay.

The column, which is linked here, summed-up the issues raised by the NASCAR fans who could not believe that "officially produced" programs from NASCAR were not exactly being truthful when it came to what viewers were seeing.

At issue were not the live shows, or the high-profile projects like the movie "Dale." Fans were angry about what is called "quick turn-a-round" shows. These series are shot on location, and then assembled into programs back at the NASCAR Images headquarters in Charlotte.

This type of series is called "post-produced," and the pressure is on the editors and producers to meet network deadlines for delivery of these episodes. Therein lies the problem.

Even before this company was called NASCAR Images, it specialized in producing weekly shows about the sport. Some older fans may recognize the name Sunbelt Video when Inside Winston Cup Racing was the big weekly show hosted by Ned Jarrett. Alongside of Ned was his young field reporter. His name was Bill Weber.

When The Daly Planet approached those connected with both Chasing Glory and Survival of the Fastest, it was clear that some "issues" had already been discovered by the NASCAR Images management team.

Basically, several editors and producers faced a couple of situations, and made the wrong decision. Both of these series have their new footage shot with film, but require a lot of older footage edited into the programs from other sources. Add in the fact that the TV networks require programs to be in High Definition, and problems pop-up pretty quickly. The bottom line is, the pieces don't fit.

You can't take older video and "make it" into HD. As the transition to this new TV format comes around, lots of producers find themselves having a tough time with the lack of older HD footage. What this means for NASCAR Images is that they have the current footage and sound all ready to go, but still have one little problem.

They need to "fill-in" the parts of the show that are not completely current with what is called "B-roll." That is the older footage used for reference in a show. The problem NASCAR Images ran into is that most of it is not in HD, and the networks will not accept it. That leaves only two choices.

First, shoot new footage to try and bridge the gaps. Second, take some old footage that is in HD and use it, hoping no one will know it is not "exactly" the right thing. Needless to say, the reason we are writing this story is because NASCAR Images made the wrong choice.

What they chose to do was take footage of the same team, or the same driver, or the same track and pretend that is was the day or week that they needed it to be for their story. They purposefully "mis-labeled" NASCAR footage.

In the year of the COT, it seems only fitting that the NASCAR Images producers were also handcuffed by the same thing making the teams crazy. With all the COT testing going on at "non-NASCAR" tracks, the availability of the drivers was at an all time low. Add in "The Chase" format, and the fact that no driver wanted cameras following him as he rose or fell in the ten race stretch.

The NASCAR Images mess only gets bigger when you consider they are waiting on their new offices and production facility to be built as a part of the NASCAR Hall of Fame complex in Charlotte. In the meantime, over one hundred production folks are jammed into a rented office and production facilities next to the highway that was originally intended for about forty.

Needless to say, they run the editing suites and the facilities three shifts a day to turn-out the volume of TV programs, corporate videos, and pre-production for the SPEED shows that has to be done each week. If you are a regular reader of The Daly Planet, you are familiar with the "ten pounds of TV in a five pound bag" theory. This certainly fits that bill.

Unfortunately, even with all this chaos going-on there is no excuse for trying to deceive NASCAR fans with announcer audio and added graphics put over top of footage that was months or even years old. Company policy at NASCAR Images should be put in place to end this practice by individual producers right now.

This issue has upset fans, teams, and even some drivers. Not a good idea to be shown on national TV with a "girlfriend" you no longer have happily having fun at the pool. It certainly is true that these types of production decisions in any TV setting can have consequences much further reaching than any editor or producer could imagine at the time.

NASCAR Images told The Daly Planet enough to let us know they are dealing with the staff members involved. ESPN and SPEED both had no comment. As usual, the mainstream NASCAR media was to busy with other "urgent issues" to even recognize this problem existed. I really don't think too many of them watch the NASCAR TV programs anyway.

Hopefully, our discussion of this topic in a public forum can push things along for next season. Several of the key NASCAR Images folks came to that company from NFL Films, as you can tell by the style of program they produce. Somehow, I just can't believe that Steve Sabol and company would have allowed even one second of mis-labeled footage to walk out of the door and onto the air.

With many TV viewers now questioning the integrity of NASCAR Images as a result of these incidents, the management team in Charlotte needs to use 2008 to re-build the company's relationship with the NASCAR fans.

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