It was a humdinger of a finish to the New York Giants-Cincinnati Bengals football game last fall, particularly at the two-minute warning.
In the 30-odd seconds between the commercial break and the snap of the ball to the Giants were eight different camera shots to set the scene.
What you would not have seen is the that brought the scene to your TV. Back in a windowless production trailer making it happen was CBS crew director Bob “Fish” Fishman, snapping his fingers at each command. It takes eight “ready shot,” “take shot” orders from Fishman just to pull it off.
Television crews live completely inside the worlds they broadcast, and directors are the leaders of those worlds. What sets Fishman apart, and what has won him 11 Emmys, are two things:
- He anticipates what will happen because he understands his subject deeply.
- He remains calm because he trusts his team to do its job.
That’s why Fishman’s own people revere him and praise him behind his back.
“He appreciates what you bring to the job," says one. “Suppose a defensive back makes an interception. At some point, I know, they are going to want to come back to a close-up of him. So when I know they are on another shot, I’ll use those seconds to start panning up and down the sidelines, looking for him. Fish knows what I’m doing. Another director might say, ‘We don’t need that now,’ and they wouldn’t say it nice, either.”
“He never gets excited,” says another, “and he has this ability to see everything. If you have a good shot, he not only notices it, he uses it. Other directors might say, ‘Wow, that’s really nice,’ and never work it into the broadcast. Fish pulls the trigger.”
Lessons: First, know your work inside and out. Second, have people in place you can trust to do their jobs right, just as they can trust you to guide them.
— Adapted from “The Hardest Job in Football,” Mark Bowden, The Atlantic.