It’s hard enough to drive a boat that’s full of people crowding the cockpit and scattering around the deck. It’s even harder to film a live tv show while managing that crowd.
Last week, the ESPN show “First Take” with sports personality Stephen A. Smith filmed a live episode on the Hudson River in New York City while aboard a Formula 500 SSC.
Smith, along with co-hosts Michael Irvin and Molly Qerim, paired up with Formula Boats customer experience manager and boat captain Brian Shore to film the show live while underway.
In an article from ESPN Front Row, the lead director of First Take, Meg Drobniak, discussed how they were able to manage the feat.
According to Drobniak, “Our VP, Production, Antoine Lewis, told us a yacht was available for First Take to use and that it would be a fun way to welcome Stephen A. back from vacation. I think everyone had the same simultaneous reaction of, ‘Wow, what a cool idea,’ and, ‘Wait, is this even possible?’”
The Formula 500 SSC, if you’re unfamiliar, is an ultra-impressive high performance luxury yacht that is equal parts power and prestige. It boasts a massive 2400 horsepower when outfitted with quad Mercury outboards, and incorporates Formula’s iconic FAS3 TECH® multi-step hull that’s been an industry figurehead for decades.
Naturally, the deck of a luxury boat is not the ideal environment for a camera crew, which typically operates inside a studio with flat floors, track lighting, and a pre-fab stage. The deck of a 500 SSC, although a boater’s dream and a marvel of engineering, presents some unique challenges for film production.
To overcome the obstacle, Drobiak told ESPN, “the biggest (challenge) was how were we going to broadcast the show. Normally our cameras go through a production truck or studio, but with a boat actively sailing around the East River, our cameras couldn’t physically be connected, and the signal would be constantly changing.”
In order to send the tv signal remotely across the East River from the deck of the boat to their equipment onshore, Drobniak and the ESPN crew devised a 3-boat filming system.
“We actually used three boats during the show: the yacht with talent (where I was, along with Remote Operations producer Rand Joseph and Remote Operations specialist Gabriel Arias), a follow boat for our drone operators and Remote Operations specialists Ryan Bastek and Ryan Humble, and an emergency boat if we had to get anyone back to Seaport quickly. Our captain Brian (Shore, Formula Boats) and Carrie (our coordinator with the boating company) helped elevate the shots by strategically sailing to get New York icons in the background. We had significant portions of the show with The Empire State Building, The Freedom Tower, and The Statue of Liberty.”
In a Facebook post about the adventure, Shore said the 500 SSC was loaded up with over 2000 lbs of equipment and 15 passengers, but still performed flawlessly. The power on the transom, led by quad Mercury 600 HP Verado outboards, was also quiet enough not to distract the crew while filming.
The episode was to commemorate Stephen A. Smith’s return from vacation, which incidentally made it appear that Smith and the ESPN crew were still enjoying some R&R.
You can check out a behind-the-scenes look at the ‘yacht episode’ in the video below: