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banner Tuesday, 6 February, 2001, 21:30 GMT
Capturing the Wembley buzz
Dougier Donnelly
Presenter Dougie Donnelly gets wired for sound
BBC Sport Online's Mark Barden goes behind the scenes with the TV team covering the Benson and Hedges Masters at Wembley.

In the same way snooker players are not necessarily seen as athletes, so broadcasters covering the sport are deemed to have it easy.

After all, surely it is just a case of pointing a couple of cameras at two men taking it in turns to pot balls - what could be simpler?

There is actually a lot more to it than that, as executive producer Graham Fry, currently being kept busy at the Benson and Hedges Masters, will testify.


I think everybody involved in covering the tournament gets a buzz from the atmosphere
  Dougie Donnelly
Fry works for Trans World International, the independent sports production company to which the BBC sub-contracts its snooker commitments.

He is in charge of a 40-strong team working out of a collection of mobile offices and editing suites next to Wembley Conference Centre, home of the B&H Masters.

Inside the centre itself is the studio from which Dougie Donnelly is presenting around 50 hours of live and recorded Masters coverage.

Skill and precision

Down on the floor of the auditorium, seven cameras focus on every shot of every frame in the 500,000 tournament.

The most obvious are the two large floor cameras which are guided around the table with unerring skill and precision.

"What people don't appreciate is those cameramen not only have to be aware of what shot is likely to be played next but where the two players are at all times. It's quite an art," Fry said.

Graham Fry, TWI
Fry: Personalities are key to snooker's success
The standard end-on shot of the table is from a locked-off master camera, while another camera operator concentrates on close-ups from the same position.

Cameras are also located in two of the six pockets, while the seventh is overhead in the lighting rig and operated remotely.

A match director selects the shots, liasing with the commentary team led by Clive Everton, while another director oversees the studio presentation and punditry.

Meanwhile, video tape editors assemble packages of action and other material, working from 8am to midnight and later as the eight-day event progresses.

Every frame is also meticulously logged so that any shot, break, foul or other incident can be traced for editing purposes.

Personalities

But gone are the days when that TV snooker coverage consisted almost entirely of green baize action.

"We're filming a lot more features than used to be the case, building up the players as personalities and building up to the matches they're involved in," Fry said.

Jimmy White
Jimmy White is a Masters crowd favourite
"People have this perception because the latest generation of players are young and good and practise hard that there's nothing else to them, but it's not true.

"It's up to us to bring out their personalities through the features we produce. There's definitely a greater thirst now for finding out what goes on behind the scenes."

With so many channels and so much sport now available to the viewing public, Fry believes diversity is essential.

"We've all got a lot of airtime to fill and, frankly, if we just showed wall-to-wall action it could become a little boring.

"Viewers want to root for somebody and if they don't know anything about either player. Who do they back?

"If we can build up all of the players in different ways then at least the public can make up their own minds. It certainly adds interest."

And the players, it seems are game to help flesh out their sport.

Trust

"I've worked in football, at Wimbledon and the other tennis grand slams, I've produced live golf, but snooker players are the most accommodating sportsmen," Fry said.

"I think they understand what we're trying to. They trust us , which is probably the most important thing, and they're pretty much up for anything we suggest."

Dougie Donnelly
Dougie prepares for his next stint on air
Dougie Donnelly, who covered his first Masters in 1993, agrees: "The co-operation of the players is tremendous.

"Snooker is unique in that everyone mixes - players, officials, the media, fans. There are stars but no-one has a star mentality.

"Half the players might be millionaires but you will still find them in jeans and a tee-shirt sitting in the media room having a sandwich."

Nowhere is that attitude more apparent than at Wembley, where the Masters has always had a reputation as a "people's tournament".

Prestige

"It's not a ranking event so you might assume the players don't attach a high priority to it, but it's just the opposite," Donnelly said.

"It has prestige because only the world's top 16 plus a couple of wildcards are invited to play. The list of past winners reads like a Who's Who of snooker, and it also has the magic of Wembley.

"It's the opposite of the Crucible in Sheffield, which is small and intimate - some might say even claustrophobic.

"Here you have a massive crowd, the players' seats are a long way from the table, but the atmosphere is very special in its own way.

"I think everybody involved in covering the tournament gets a buzz from that atmosphere.

"We all relish the electricity generated and I think it helps you lift your own 'game' as a broadcaster."

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