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|| News Item: Posted 2006-03-30

NCAA Tourney Diary: The Final Four
Sports Illustrated assistant Shawn Cullen reports from Indianapolis.

By Shawn Cullen

Photo by Nils Nilsen

Photo by Nils Nilsen

Andrew Loehman makes some finishing touches on the east side strobe units attached to the basket of one of the 80 foot lifts before the Final Four at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis.
The Final Four is the biggest event each year for Sports Illustrated. The budget is huge, the pressure is intense, and only five photo assistants are responsible for setting up everything from lighting equipment and Flash Wizards to the majority of the remote cameras. Photo assistants Dave Heritsch, Nils Nilsen, Andrew Loehman and myself are lead by assistant Greg Nelson for six days before the games begin.

Day 1, Mar. 27th
For me this is my first day in Indianapolis. Three other assistants arrived yesterday to start picking up equipment shipped in by FedEx to the RCA Dome or by air cargo. After getting my rental car and picking up another photo assistant, I head over to the dome to start working. Sports Illustrated shipped in 28 Speedo SX packs and 28 Speedo 2 cable 105 heads. Myself and assistant Dave Heritsch head over to the Fieldhouse to pull out SI's lighting equipment installed there. We pull out eight more packs and heads, bringing the total to 36 Speedo packs and 36 heads.

After getting to the dome we start putting all the strobe heads, flash tubes, and reflectors together. We are using 20" reflectors on all the strobe heads. This dome does not have catwalks so the lighting is very difficult. On one side of the arena the lights are mounted on the lower railing of the upper deck, which sits right above the lower deck. Yes, right in front of some fans, but there really is nowhere else to mount them. We use Lowell poles to drop them down from the railing so the strobe heads do not block the fans view of the court. The packs are suspended by nets that fit around the packs, and are secured to the railing using two safety cables.

Click here to see more images of the set up at the Final Four:

Photo by Nils Nilsen

Photo by Nils Nilsen

Greg Nelson programs a plethora of Flash Wizard II units before the Final Four at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis.
Two assistants start mounting six strobes and packs in each corner on this side of the arena. On the other side of the arena, three other assistants including myself begin to mount the strobes and packs onto one lift in each corner. Each lift will extend to 80' high and will be positioned over the crowed sitting in the temporary seats. There will be 9 strobes and packs mounted in each lift. All these strobes and packs will make up three different sets of light for Sports Illustrated, the NCAA, and a pool set. To connect all these lights together we will use most of the 112 spools of zip sent to us in three different colors so we can separate the different set using the different colors. We get most of the strobes mounted today but there is still a lot more to do. It has been close to a 10 hour day.

Day 2, Mar. 28th
We get an early start to the day at around 8am. We finish mounting the strobes and packs in all locations and finish running all the zip line necessary. We will be using a diode box to control some of the strobes because the lights are positioned so low to the court you will get flare from the lights in the opposite corners. This diode box will not fire the light in the opposite corners so this flare will not happen. It requires a lot more zip to be run around the arena. To connect all the zip together SI sent in other 100 male plugs and add-a-taps, as well as 20 rolls of gaffers tape to help secure everything.

By the end of the day we start powering up all the packs. To power the packs in the lifts we use 18 100' extension cords. After getting some preliminary light meter readings we begin to mount 4'x8' sheets of black foam core to block the down court light for the SI set of lights. When this is done we run into our first problem. One of the lifts breaks down and we will have to wait until tomorrow before someone can fix it. The first two days are usually spent on getting all the lighting done so we can concentrate on setting up remote cameras and the Flash Wizard system for the next few days. The lift breaking down has put a little wrinkle in our plans.

Photo by Nils Nilsen

Photo by Nils Nilsen

The east side lift. Three sets of lights are hoisted over 70 feet in the air before the Final Four at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis.
Day 3, Mar. 29th
The day gets off to a good start. The lift is fixed and the assistants start setting up the remote cameras. After gathering all the Flash Wizards from Bob Rosato, John McDonough, and John Biever, Greg starts to reprogram them for the Final Four set up. We start out with 28 Flash Wizards, but we will find out tomorrow how many remotes get set up to see how many we use. As we set up the remote cameras there are two computer techs, Brett Hansbauer and Brian Jennings, Running Cat-5, and Cat-6 cable throughout the arena to all of the remote camera positions. They will run approximately 6000' for Cat-5 cable and roughly 2000' of Cat-6 cable. These cables will be attached to a laptop computer that will be connected to both remote and hand-held cameras. The magazine has shipped in more than 40 computers and 4 Isilon servers that can hold up to 8tb. There will be two editors, Porter Binks and Managing Photo editor Steve Fine, to go through thousands of images for each game. The magazine also has another five people to take care of all the technology.

We finish the day setting up almost all the remote cameras. So far we have 14 remotes set up, with a few more for Bob Rosato and John Biever to set up tomorrow. So far I have only seen AP saving spots for remotes and I am sure we will see more wire services and the Sporting News in there tomorrow set up all their remote cameras and Pocket Wizards.

(Shawn Cullen is currently a Sports Illustrated lighting technician. Cullen is a frequent contributor to the Sports Shooter Newsletter. He can be reached through his member page:

Related Links:
Special gallery from Final Four
NCAA Tourney Diary: First and second rounds
NCAA Tourney Diary: Sweet 16 and Elite 8
NCAA Tourney Diary: The Final Four Part II
NCAA Tourney Diary: The Final Four Part III

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