SVG-U Q&A: Eric Espinoza, Director of Video Operations, University of Southern California

Overseeing video operations for nearly 20 collegiate sports programs is no easy task, but overseeing those operations in the nation’s movie capital requires even more attention to detail. As the director of video operations at the University of Southern California, Eric Espinoza is not only the chief video coordinator for all coaches’ film — which includes every sport at USC except swimming and diving — but he is also in charge of buying equipment and managing a tight budget. SVG-U caught up with Espinoza to talk equipment, budgeting, and the challenges of producing quality game film in Hollywood.

SVG: With so many sports requiring so much video, how is the USC video department organized?

Espinoza: We have two separate branches at USC. We have a production branch that handles our Website content and any highlight material that needs to be done for banquets or awards or other occasions. Separately, I handle all coaches’ film — anything that the coaches watch, anything that’s housed on our XOS Sports Pro network, [which is] run out of my office. When I took the job two years ago, all video was housed under one roof, and it became too much for one person to handle.

With the exception of swimming and diving, which doesn’t do much video work, just about every sport at USC now does coaches’ film, filming practices and games in one way, shape, or form. We have people that handle coaches’ film for all the sports that do it, and I’m the reporting person for those people.

SVG: What are your day-to-day responsibilities?

Espinoza: When we’re doing the Pac-10 game-exchange system that Ken Norris has developed at UCLA, I’m the go-to person for all the sports that use it. When it comes to buying equipment, managing the budget, deciding on a new direction to go for an editing system, I oversee all of that as well.

For football, I handle day-to-day operations; I’m hands-on with every nook and cranny involved with football.

SVG: What about the production department?

Espinoza: The production side is housed with our production department, so, if a coach asks can we do this type of highlight, I’ll relay that information to the production guys, and they can knock it out for us. We also do DVDs for coaches and players if they need it, and I serve as the network manager for our XOS Sports Pro Network.

SVG: How large is your staff?

Espinoza: On my staff, there’s myself, one full-time assistant, and a staff of about 12 students. Those students also are available and do work for our production guys. I use the students for practices primarily. We shoot five cameras at football practice — two sideline cameras, two end-zone cameras, and a ground camera — so, in order to get it done in a very efficient manner, they’ll work practice. We have a tape runner that brings tape in after every drill, so, when the coaches come in, everything is finished with the exception of the last team drill.

For the stuff that’s being done on the Website plus the coaches’ film, there are five full-time people, including myself and my assistant, and then the 12-15 students.

SVG: What equipment do you use?

Espinoza: Currently, we’re using two Sony Beta SX cameras and two Sony Beta SP cameras to shoot practice. We also use some Panasonic DVX100s to shoot some ground stuff and some other more mobile things. The only reason we use Betacam is, some of our coaches are coming from the NFL, so, a lot of times, they’ll say can you get it to me on tape. We give them our master tape after we get it into our system and they want to watch something on the tape, watch a different angle, or want something longer than what we’ve edited.

We did a demo with some Panasonic P2 cameras, some 500s and a 200, for our bowl preparation this year, and that’s probably a direction we’re going to be moving in very shortly. To be able to bring it in quickly, upgrade in quality, and have the ability to grow to HD when and if we decide to do that, the workflow is a no-brainer.

SVG: What is your next big equipment purchase?

Espinoza: We’re fortunate in that we’ve got a licensing agreement with XOS. We’ve paid a fee over the last four years, and we have one more year in that licensing agreement and basically any upgrades that come out; anything new that is not hardware we get for free. We’ve been able to stay ahead of the curve that way.

The most we’ve had to spend is on laptops and a new server to expand our storage, but this year, the big thing will be cameras. Of the cameras that we use, the newest are five years old going on six. The others are nine years old going on 10, and we’ve gotten a ton out of them. If I go in and say let’s replace the two old ones, because we’ve pretty much gotten three years for free since I don’t expect them to last more than seven, then we’ll be more than justified in doing it.

SVG: Do you have any plans to move to HD?

Espinoza: It has to be something that all 10 schools and every school we play make that commitment to do as well. Otherwise, we’re doing double the work. I think we’re limited by what everybody else is doing or what everybody else’s resources are. There is an overall agreement that eventually we should, but, at this time, there hasn’t been a timetable set for it.

Our production guys have the capability to shoot in HD, and they’ve actually worked with the iMax theaters on producing a small segment that they’ve shot in HD. But because our Website doesn’t show anything in HD, they’re not shooting everything in HD. Basically, when everybody says we’re going HD, those production guys are ready to go.