A ‘processor’ at the Australian Open
As the pictures processor in the team covering the Australian Open tennis tournament, it is my job to help picture editor Petar Kujundzic and our team of photographers - Tim Wimborne, Darren Whiteside, Mick Tsikas, Steve Holland and Stuart Milligan, get their pictures to the Singapore desk quickly with accurate captions. That sounds easy on paper – right?
Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking that the job is either easy or for that matter glamorous. They say Melbourne is lovely in summer; however acquaintance with the city is limited to a brief glimpse on the day before the tournament starts as the schedule rapidly become so hectic that there is no time for anything but tennis pictures. I collect my accreditation and make for the Rod Laver arena with the team – all people who have covered the Australian Open in the past. Our makeshift office is a glorified shipping container underneath the stands at centre court, with a bit of grey carpet on the floor and fluorescent strip lighting to make it feel more homely. A TV in the corner will help us monitor action on several courts and keep us updated with scores and results. This is where we live and breathe tennis for 15 days.
My job requires me to do several things: caption and ftp pictures to the Singapore global desk as the editor sends them to me, run disks for photographers scattered over a gazillion courts, and sometimes shoot a little too. Sounds easy enough, but the first week is really tough. The work is gruelling, with days lasting up to 18 hours on minimal sleep.
Our days usually start with a team breakfast at a café by the Yarra River. We talk about pictures and the day’s plan, chit chat with each other and have a look through the day’s newspapers – keeping an eye out for our own pictures, which had the distinction of beating local photographers to the front pages on more than one occasion. Coffee is crucial – cups of coffee were sent back if they weren’t good enough, and we even switched cafes on the strength and quality of the coffee on offer. After several strong cups, we walk together towards our office at the stadium. It’s a nice walk along the river, and in about 15 minutes we arrive and settle in for the day. Laptops are booted up, gear is unpacked and prepared, testers are sent to the Singapore desk. Anyone shooting outside applies plenty of sunscreen to try and prevent sunburn – after 15 days the healthy tan that everyone developed was quite noticeable.
With so many matches on at the same time I find myself moving upwards of 200 pictures a day, running to far-flung courts and back to grab disks and running to the outer courts to shoot pictures. Things are complicated by the fact that to get anywhere, I have to negotiate a rabbit warren of corridors and alleys in the bowels of the tennis centre. Despite Pedja giving me a guided tour of the venue on day one, it takes me nearly 4 days and countless wrong turns to understand where all the courts are and how to get to them. The mini-map provided on the back of the accreditation pass is near useless and not to scale, so I take to making my own marks on it to get around. I can’t enter a court whenever I want; photographers are only allowed to move in and out of courts during breaks in between certain games. As a runner, it means if I don’t bolt to a court fast enough I miss the “window” and get stuck for another 2 games, wasting crucial time and worse still, annoying Pedja and photographers who have been sitting on court for hours, slowly dehydrating in the sun. You wouldn’t believe the number of times I narrowly missed a window, only to be stuck outside a court on which tennis players insist on returning from advantage to deuce enough times to have me turning my hair prematurely grey. By the time I wait for a break to grab a disk, lose my way again and return to the “bunker”, Pedja has already queued up a bunch of pictures for me to caption and move to Singapore.
Come 5 pm, people from the media centre bring two cases of beer and stack them into mini-fridges. Soon after that, two trays of food arrive – they vary from day to day – sandwiches, wraps, chicken nuggets, little mini pies and sausage rolls. Photographers descend on the offerings like vultures and the food disappears in a matter of minutes. Pedja and I eat what we can quickly and try to nab a few extra pieces for the guys who are still on court. We then collect and store bottles of beer to be had later – a daily ritual most of us couldn’t survive the Open without.
Things start to settle down in week two, but even though there are fewer matches, our picture flow hasn’t decreased since we can now put more than one photographer on each match to cover multiple angles. Come the quarter-finals, semi-finals and finals, everyone is starting to tire of the relentless long days, but our focus remains on producing the best pictures from the Open and this keep us working pretty hard despite the fatigue.
Things start getting easier as I get more familiar with the venue and more used to the rhythms of tennis. Tim and Pedja come up with a game plan: who shoots from where, when disks are going to be run and by whom. Steve becomes our expert on the roof of centre court; Tim and Darren have positions opposite the umpire; Stuart shoots from the concourse level for a little while before moving down to the umpire’s side, replacing Pedja who heads back to the bunker to edit everyone’s take.
By the finals, I’m able to manage all my tasks without feeling completely stressed – go up to the councourse level to shoot the first 5 games from a different angle; run down to pick up disks from Tim and Darren after the 7th game; make my way back to the bunker shortly after, where Pedja has also returned from shooting and grabbing Stuart’s disks on his way out. Steve starts dropping his pictures to us from a laptop he’s taken with him to the roof. We load everything up and settle into editing and processing, and still have time to go back out for the final 3 or so games of the match to ensure match point is covered from multiple angles. After match point, Pedja returns to the bunker with more disks from himself, Stuart and Darren. I run from the concourse level down to the courtside. Tim has left his disks for me in a bag and moved to another position to shoot trophy pictures. I join Pedja in the bunker and for the next hour, our heads our buried in our screens as we try to move the key pictures as fast as possible.
So, a word of warning to processors traveling to sports events: They’re tough work. There’s a lot to do, a lot of legwork, and you have to do it all very quickly. But it’s a lot of fun when you’re with a great team and the adrenalin will help you through. Oh, and leave your gps at home and bring a notebook and pencil instead, you’ll need it when you get lost underneath the stadium!