Friday, January 28, 2005


Between Monday to Wednesday I've managed to get some work on Kojak, the new TV show being shot starring Ving Rhames. My job being a playback operator. What is a playback operator? What is playback?

When you're watching TV and the character on the show uses the computer or watches television chances are the email program or hacking software or tv show the character is watching is all something that was premade or recorded before the film camera starts shooting.

Computer playback comprises of computer animation that is premade by an artist (known as a playback artist or motion graphics designer). TV playback is usually footage shot earlier or taped and then played back.

So my job, a playback operator, does the following...
1. install monitors, computers and/or video playback gear.
2. getting animation or footage
3. playing back footage while filming (and coordinating with the camera department to make sure the displays work witht the 24 frame cameras)
4. dismantling wiring.

Wiring up the monitors usually means running cables (both video and sometimes power) over long lengths of the set. A playback operator is usually off set somewhere with the playback gear to mainly be out of people's way on set, and because of noise from most of the gear is located away from set to make the sound guy happy. Usually the farther away the playback gear is located the happier the sound guy is.

For Kojak, I ran on average 150 feet of cable per monitor to a central hub, our control room. Because wires get in the way and look messy about half the cables had to be run up the sides of the set (about 15 feet or so), across a grid of set support pipes (see above picture) and back down to the control room.

Wiring is like being a kid on monkey bars, only you're higher up, you're dragging cable, and if you fall you'll destroy an expensive set while injuring yourself. There usually is a lot of faith going up on those pipes and hoping they all hold. The thing that goes my mind is "Did I eat a lot today?". Some sets have secured planks that you can walk around on. It makes cabling faster but probably costs the production more money to have them so maybe that's why they don't use them. Scissor lifts can also be available to help wiring, although I have never used one, also a money related thing I guess. Also depending on the set you may not be able to get a scissor lift in and around easily.

In the picture above you'll notice ceiling tiles under my feet. If I were to use a scissor lift I'd have to remove the tiles and put them back all the way along the set that the cables run.

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