BEST OF 2013, Chris Odom
Pensacola, FL
Project: Pitch and documentation of Key West Race Week Live, including a real-time photo stream from the race course three miles offshore, 2 to 30 minutes of daily video for on-site entertainment and daily, 2–3 minute, highly stylized video highlights for distribution to media and sharing on social media channels.

© Chris Odom

© Chris Odom

In 2009, Chris Odom pitched a simple yet ambitious concept to long-term corporate sailing clients. What they first considered too costly became a reality in 2012. Key West Race Week Live incorporates live photos, video and social-media interactions streamed from an offshore racecourse, allowing land-bound viewers to keep up with the action on-screen.

“We hit some new frontiers and did it in a live environment where we shot, edited and color-graded on location, which was integrated into daily on-site broadcasts,” Odom says. “By leveraging 4G-bonded cellular technology and several existing distribution platforms, we provided a level of service that was previously unavailable.”

ASMP: How long have you been in business?

Chris Odom: I’ve been in business since 2000.

ASMP: How long have you been an ASMP member?

CO: I joined ASMP in 2008.

ASMP: What are your photographic specialties?

CO: I specialize in marine and yachting photography, as well as location-based portraiture for editorial and advertising clients.

ASMP: What do you consider your most valuable tool or piece of equipment?

CO: While in preproduction, my most valuable asset is my computer. On the water, my LowePro DryZone bag and ThinkTank rain covers.

ASMP: What is unique about your approach, or what sets you and your work apart from other photographers?

CO: My background in sailing and racing gives me a unique perspective on the racecourse. Knowing the rules — where to be and, more importantly, where not to be — helps me understand how to get definitive images. If you’re not prepared and in the right spot at the right time, the coverage will ultimately suffer.

ASMP: What first sparked your idea for Key West Race Week Live?

CO: I’ve always been fascinated with technology and how it can be leveraged to improve workflows and develop new products. As I was researching how to upload images to a remote desktop via WiFi for an advertising shoot, I fell into one of the numerous Internet rabbit holes and somehow found my way to the then-startup Livestream. As I read more about their service and streaming live content to the Internet in general, I came up with the initial concept for Key West Race Week Live.

ASMP: Your client’s initial response was “too expensive.” What transpired between the time you first proposed the project and the client reconsidering? What were the final tipping points that got final client approval?

CO: Essentially I kept pursuing the client, making slight tweaks to the pitch. I’m not exactly sure what changed, but in November 2012 I received a call asking if we could revisit the concept. From there, we worked together with the title sponsor (Quantum Sails) to come up with the final version.

ASMP: Please describe the types of assignments you’ve shot for this client in the past. Had you shot video projects for them before?

CO: I’ve been the videographer for Key West Race Week for the past ten years. During this time, I’ve continually tried to raise the production level and introduce new concepts. The benefit to having a long-term client is that it establishes a certain amount of trust, which opens the door to trying out new concepts, pushing limits and maximizing opportunities.

ASMP: How long have you been working in video and multimedia? Please talk about your learning curve and ongoing investigations into this medium. What are your go-to resources for information and updates in this realm?

CO: I’ve always been intrigued by the moving image and secretly wanted to be in the film school at Florida State. Luckily I had two roommates with whom I was able to have lengthy discussions about the art of editing and cinematography. That was the point at which I started to watch films from a different point of view and understand how the editing and cinematography worked together. Building on that foundation, I started my foray into video, mostly for existing still imagery clients. The digital video revolution was in full swing by then, and every month seemed to bring a new, groundbreaking technology within my reach. Apple’s FireWire and Final Cut Pro running on a PowerBook G4 allowed me to get out of the office and offer editing on location. Back then, the biggest hurdles were always technological, mostly stability and hardware issues. Today however, the tech is so seamless that most have no idea how complicated it was back then. Now my focus has shifted more towards cinematography. I really am in love with the narrative quality of individual frames and I craft my video shots with the same approach as my still work. Two books that really shaped my approach to image making are Sculpting In Time by Andrey Tarkovsky and Visual Thinking by Rudolf Arnheim.

ASMP: Please describe the elements of your pitch for this project and the documents generated in this process. How much time was spent in research, development and determining costs for this project?

CO: The original pitch documents consisted of a one-page summation, dashboard artwork mockups and suggested uses of screen real estate for advertisers and sponsors, followed up by a live demonstration for proof of concept. It took me about two weeks to generate the documents and translate my ideas to paper. When I finally turned my attention to determining costs, I drew on past projects and separate elements from each, combing them into one.

ASMP: You began preproduction for Key West Race Week Live two months prior to the final go-ahead. What was involved in preproduction? How did you balance the time spent in preproduction with your other assignments?

CO: There were three main issues to resolve in preproduction:

  1. Determine the look and feel of the final product from shot list to motion graphics to music choices;
  2. Write the code to house the dashboard and visual elements;
  3. Assemble the production crew and determine roles for each team member.

Luckily this all took place just before the holidays, which is traditionally a slow time of year, so the only juggling I had to do was between family obligations.

ASMP: How many still shooters and videographers did you engage for this project in addition to your team of five (DP/director, editor, colorist, photo desk editor, data wrangler)?

CO: The team I assembled had one thing in common: Each of the team members were primarily a shooter, either still or motion, followed by a secondary production role. The only way to ensure we stayed on budget and delivered a quality product was to have a multi-talented team whose members could fill any role should the need arise.

ASMP: You shot and broadcast from one of the race boats. What kind of negotiation did it take to arrange for your team to work on the boat?

CO: We had one boat that was dedicated to our use exclusively and was part of the original budget. However, I did arrange to have a shooter aboard a different race boat each day during the week. This was coordinated with the client, who suggested possible candidates and made the introductions. The tricky part was always from a weight perspective. I had to ensure that the shooter assigned to the boat was not only weight appropriate for the wind conditions that day but also knew how to stay out of the way, not present a safety issue, and come back with stellar imagery.

ASMP: Please tell us a little about the set-up: How much space did you occupy on the boat and which of your team members were present? Where was the photo desk editor located? How did you manage to shoot, broadcast and stay out of the way of the sailing crew?

CO: I always had a minimum of three shooters on the water each day: one dedicated to shooting video for nightly entertainment, one still shooter, one stationed aboard one of the competing yachts and one floater or multipurpose shooter. I used a load-balancing 4G wireless router to transmit the images back the photo editor who was stationed at the photo desk on shore. As the images came in, the editor would tag, sort, update metadata and perform basic image retouching before pushing them into the live photo stream. All of this took place within 30 seconds of shooting an image on the course. The shooter stationed on the racing yacht only captured video, which was downloaded and edited back at the edit suite.

ASMP: Did you have the same setup all six days?

CO: The basic set up remained throughout the entire week. The only thing that really changed was the boat that the on-board shooter was on.

ASMP: Your coverage of the race also included aerial shots. What part of the race was covered by air? Did you have one team member dedicated to this vantage point?

CO: The original preproduction plan called for aerials to be covered by me with a custom-built unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) each day. However, due to the complexities of my responsibilities and flying the UAV’s over open water, I had to rethink that strategy. In the end, one member of the team captured aerial footage during the start of a few races.

ASMP: In addition to all the preproduction preparations, what other steps did you take to ensure that the project went as smooth as possible? Were there any glitches?

CO: The biggest challenge during production was managing the large amount of data the team was generating on a daily basis. Data management was my single biggest concern outside of shooting. To ensure there were no data issues, we had two workstations and three separate copies of the data, two in the edit suite and one in the media center in a separate location. Fortunately the only glitch we encountered was with the images transmitting from the water taking longer than normal. Thankfully, it only took a phone call to two of the data providers to solve the issue.

ASMP: Did any weather issues arise during the course of the race?

CO: Luckily the weather in Key West cooperated this year. I haven’t always been so lucky in years’ past. Unfortunately, you can’t call it a day if the wind and seas are up. If they are racing, we are out there with them. Period.

ASMP: What role did social media play in the production and broadcast? Did you have a any one team member dedicated to this aspect of the production, or were social media responsibilities shared?

CO: Social media was at the heart of the concept for Key West Race Week Live. By design, anyone who was logged onto the site could interact with the staff, make comments, requests, like, share, tweet and so on. The bulk of the social media management fell to the photo desk during production, but we had a core team of reporters and writers who were also contributing during the week.

ASMP: What gear did you shoot with? How did you protect gear from the salt water? Given your lengthy experience in shooting marine subjects, do you have any tips for safeguarding (or saving) gear from catastrophe on the water?

CO: The workhorses of the camera pool were definitely the video cameras on this production, a Sony FS700U and a Sony NX70U, due to it’s remarkable performance in a compact water and dust proof frame, and several GoPro Hero3s. To protect the FS700 we used a Porta Brace rain cover. In a marine environment, the best way to protect your gear is to use your eyes, ears and sense of balance while shooting. Most situations where your camera would be at risk are preceded by a sharp change in the pitch of the boat or a warning from the driver. Should your camera take a soaking, turn it off and remove the battery immediately and deal with it back on shore. Hopefully, you’ll have a backup handy to continue shooting.

ASMP: Why did you choose slow motion for certain shots? You mention shooting at 240fps — with what camera(s)?

CO: I used the FS700 to film at 240fps. To emphasize the athletic skill and sheer beauty of these high-performance racing yachts, nothing beats filming at 240 frames-per-second.

ASMP: Please talk about your postproduction workflows for this project. What kinds of software were used? Do you have any tips for maximum efficiency in editing and broadcasting content?

CO: The postproduction workflow and software used on this project varied by footage and task. For motion content, the first step was to ingest the footage and start the archive process. Next, DaVinci Resolve for color matching and correcting, followed by the editing process in Adobe Premiere Pro. Once the edit is finished, it’s followed by motion graphics in Adobe AfterEffects, then back to Resolve for color grading and final output of the master to RAID storage and DVD for on-site playback later that evening. Still images follow a much simpler workflow, with most data management and postproduction tasks taking place in Adobe Lightroom.

One tip that helps immensely on projects such as this is the importance of taking notes in the field about which takes or images are the best, have technical issues, or are not usable. Once back in the edit suite, these notes help speed up the process of finding the best footage when under a time crunch.

ASMP: Of the three terabytes of info (12,643 images and almost 30 hours of footage), how much was used over the six days of the race? What, if anything, did you do with the remaining media?

CO: I would say we used approximately 250 to 300 images and 30 to 45 minutes of video footage each day, with the remaining media being further sorted, edited and archived. Part of the client deliverables included images and video on an external hard drive for use in print and online media distribution.

ASMP: You mention receiving a tremendous response from the client and the sailing world. How did this project meet or exceed your client’s expectations?

CO: The response has been exceedingly positive from the client and the sailing community. Most of the feedback centers around people not able to be in attendance feeling like they were on the water in Key West. In the end, I think we exceeded everyone’s expectations, including my own, by bringing all this tech together seamlessly. I cannot stress enough the importance of a very focused preproduction.

ASMP: What did not meet your client’s expectations? Did they have any constructive criticism?

CO: As good as this version was, there is always room for improvement. I think we really listened to the client and met all of their expectations out of the gate. The biggest feature request has been, surprisingly, more content.

ASMP: In retrospect, what would you have done differently, and why? Will you be covering this, or other, similar races again?

CO: As you can imagine, I generated a ton of notes and ways to improve from a production point of view. One thing I would have done differently would be to add two production assistants to help with general tasks and logistical support. As it stands right now, the client is very interested in pursuing this coverage for 2014. As for similar regattas, I have been in talks with several other regatta organizers and plan to expand our coverage options in 2014.

ASMP: What kind of impact has this project had on your photography business and, on you, as an imagemaker?

CO: From a business perspective, this project had a huge impact on how I approach large scale projects with multiple personnel, and how valuable preproduction is to the overall success of any project. As an image maker, it reminded me never to lose sight of the narrative power of a still image. While moving images are compelling, even at 240 frames per second, the power of a still image is to freeze that moment in time. Stopping the raw power and emotion at the precise moment gives the viewer the luxury of pondering, lingering over the moment of capture, to explore. Unlike video which streams past us one image into the next, much like everyday life. The still image simply has a different hold on people. This project reminded me how powerful that hold can be.

ASMP: Your bio mentions that you survived a helicopter crash while on assignment. Please tell us about that.

CO: What a day that was. I was covering a power boat race at the time. I asked the pilot if we could perform a maneuver where we approached the boats coming around a turn, circle around them from behind and catch up to them while descending. After we performed the turn, we started to descend rapidly from 150 feet or so. And that’s when I heard a low RPM warning. I said to the pilot “Oh boy.” and he replied “Yeah. Hang on.” I knew from our rate of descent and altitude that we were going to hit the water so I grabbed the doorframe and prepared for the worse. Luckily the pilot didn’t panic and remembered his training. He did an auto rotation and set the helicopter down in the water. My guess is we impacted at a relatively low speed. Considering that we were chasing powerboats that run over 100 miles per hour, you can imagine how lucky we were, given the circumstances. Upon impact, the helicopter immediately flipped on its side and sank rapidly. I remember searching for my seat belt release while holding my breath and I happened to feel another hand searching as well. Apparently I had placed my hand on the pilot’s seat belt release. After lifting the handle, I knew exactly where mine should be, so I lifted that too. I felt the pilot swim by me on the way out of the helicopter and I followed, both of us exiting the machine about 50 feet below the surface.

ASMP: You studied Anthropology in college and have since done field research in several different countries. Have you combined your interest in anthropology with photography and multimedia storytelling in the past or do you plan to do so in the future?

CO: I’ve done several photo essays with the K’iche and Kaqchikal Maya in the western highlands of Guatemala. As part of that research, I created a photo archive of the Mayan regions in Guatemala and Mexico, which is housed at Florida State University. In addition, I have contributed photos to several museum exhibitions on the textile traditions of the highland Maya. At present, I do not have any plans to do a project in the region, although I would certainly entertain any assignments.

ASMP: What’s next for you and your business? Do you plan to further hone your skills with this type of coverage and make such live broadcast events a key part of your brand? How are you marketing this aspect of your work?

CO: I am still actively involved in stills production, but I have expanded my offerings and equipment to cover these types of assignments. My current endeavors also involve the use of UAVs as a tool for capturing stills and video. As for marketing, I am still working with my agent on how to best identify potential clients. For now, I am reaching out to existing clients and letting them know I have the skills, equipment and capability.

ASMP: Do you think this type of multimedia, live broadcast event is the wave of the future? How do you see this type of coverage evolving from here?

CO: Yes, I believe this type of coverage is here to stay. As more smartphones and tablets are being used and people untether themselves from the office and living room, this type of coverage will be necessary to keep viewers’ attention. As attention spans get shorter with each technological advancement, brands will have a more difficult time reaching and keeping their target audience’s attention. Their message has to be unified and accessible across multiple platforms, which presents a huge opportunity for professionally-produced content.