ESPN usually takes its “Monday Night Countdown” show on the road during the NFL season, but this year was different. With limitations on travel making the conventional workflow difficult, ESPN decided to shift production to a temporary studio atop Pier 17 along New York City’s South Seaport.
Pier 17 is already home to several other ESPN productions, but this brand-new rooftop structure — built by Filmwerks using a Modtruss system — allowed for creation of a socially distant set with a fresh look and stunning views of the Brooklyn Bridge, the East River, and the downtown Manhattan skyline.
We joined the project along with Lighting Design Group (LDG), Jack Morton Worldwide and Mystic Scenic Studios, all frequent partners of ours. Our task was to build and install a daylight control solution that would allow ESPN to make the most of its remarkable views while preserving interior detail in the shot. Though the studio was north-facing, the brightness of the rooftop environment made daylight control a must.
We had just four weeks to create a motorized shading system for a series of large windows, inset at an incline to reduce reflections, that served as a backdrop for the studio. For each window, measuring about 15 feet across and 10 feet high, we used a motorized system with a 4 f-stop gel, a 2 f-stop gel, and a 2 f-stop scrim. This shading system gave ESPN the flexibility to shoot with confidence at any time of day, under any type of lighting conditions.
While we’ve done numerous projects of this sort, the design of the temporary studio made it necessary to create a system that would pull up from the bottom rather than the top. This unusual model presented several challenges in terms of system design.
First, we needed two rollers rather than one to guide the fabric and lift cords. The short time frame made it impossible to source the specialized motors often used for this kind of installation. So, we created a new system using motors we could source on short notice.
A second critical challenge was maintaining tension on the gel and scrim fabrics. We needed to accommodate the increasing circumference of the fabric roll as it rolled up, as well as the changing speed resulting from the expanding or shrinking roll circumference.
In practical terms, this meant preventing deflection (sagging) that would compromise the quality of the camera shot through the windows. Any sag would be unacceptable. We solved the problem by developing a new hem bar for this system which allowed us to keep the material wonderfully flat. In the end, it looked stupendous.
We worked long hours to make this project a success, and we were all pleased with the result. To see the studio for yourself, and learn more about the project, see the NewscastStudio article at https://www.newscaststudio.com/2020/09/14/espn-nfl-countdown-new-york-studio/.