SVG Sit-Down: Program Productions’ Robert Carzoli and Scott West

Program Productions is one of sports production’s largest providers of live-production support and labor-management services, responsible for delivering crew on thousands of event days each year for such clients as Fox Sports, Mobile TV Group, AXS TV, the USGA, NBC Sports, NEP, Big Ten Network, and Turner Broadcasting. In 2012, Program Productions launched ProCrewz, the first national, standardized data-management system designed specifically for managing the labor component of live event coverage.

SVG sat down with Program Productions President/CEO Robert Carzoli and VP, National Accounts, Scott West to discuss the evolution of ProCrewz, the importance of education and training, and the company’s role in last week’s NFL Draft, which took place just a few miles from company headquarters in Lombard, IL.

Robert Carzoli

Robert Carzoli

How has the ProCrewz data-management system for crew bookings evolved since Program Productions launched it in 2012?
Robert Carzoli:
In 2012, we looked at a wide variety of options and opportunities, both inside the broadcast community and outside of it, some enterprise-resource–management systems, some accounting systems. Really, nobody had anything. So we made the decision that we needed to build this thing from the ground up, and we engaged a company called Highland Solutions in Chicago, a very large programming company. We decided it was important on a couple of levels. One, we needed to build something that used an open-source platform, something that ultimately we could integrate with anybody’s back office. We also recognized that, [because] so many things are being pushed out to the tablet and to the handheld, we needed to make sure that whatever we built had applications in the field [and could be accessed] on the handheld. [That] is why we use PHP as our primary programming language.

Scott West

Scott West

We’ve seen productivity gains of 70%-90%. Our production manager has said it used to take two weeks to build the entire home baseball season for a team that we work with and now it’s done in two hours. That is pretty powerful. That was the first aha moment that we had as an organization. It is doing what we had hoped it would do; actually, it’s doing it even better.

Our versions 2.0 and 3.0 have really been about engaging our clients. We opened up client portals so they can log in and can see their crew complements, see who has been assigned, the estimate of what the job is going to cost, and, if there’s a travel estimate, what those individual components are. And, when the job’s over, they can go in and access their invoice. When we built the client portal, we [decided to] build something that has applications not only to the production people we deal with but to the organizations in total: what do HR, accounting, and finance need to see?

It has allowed us to grow and expand our business without having to layer on a new production person with every 500 new events. More important, it has allowed us to bring our customers into the information flow so that they have access to everything that we have access to and they can see what’s happening in real time. Instead of becoming a vendor to our customers, [we] become production partners. At the end of the day, we try to be part of our client’s organization. We like to look at ourselves as the labor-management people for Mobile TV Group, for NEP, for Fox, for our biggest customers. We don’t look at ourselves as a separate entity. I think it has made for great relationships with those people. It allows us to address issues early on, help control cost, and meet whatever needs and individual demands they have.

How important is education to your business and making sure that the individuals you are delivering to your clients are well-trained and well-informed?
RC:
We have taken a very active role in providing training. Whether through relationships with manufacturers, state-funded options, union-funded options, we’re able to bring guys in and get them up to speed on the newest replay machine, the updated graphics, graphics capabilities.

We also make a significant investment to identify good, young, quality people, whether that’s through a relationship through a local school or whether that’s a relationship we have personally. When we find the right people, we will put the investment in to train them. We will put people on jobs so that they have the opportunity to be there when the red light goes on and see how things happen. One of the things that we’ve tried to do, one of the advantages that we have with so many events we’re responsible for, is that the people that work for us tend to be a little bit more open to training the younger generation. Simply because there’s so much work here, I think a lot of people don’t necessarily look at it as I’m training my replacement. So I think we get a little bit more cooperation out of the guys in the field.

We also have tried to do a really good job in terms of relationships with the VERs and the Bexels of the world and the large production-truck companies to be able to see what’s coming down the pipeline, what are the things that our people need to be able to do. That’s one of the reasons we brought on [former Corplex President Scott West]. Scott brings us a knowledge and expertise in mobile production that would be hard to find anywhere else.

We are also working with SVG’s [Veterans in Production] initiative and seeing a lot of success in that area. There’s more and more production that needs to be done. At the end of the day, people are going to want technicians out on a job that can handle the work, and the only way you get that experience is by being on the job.

How important is communication with your customers in the field, especially the mobile-unit providers, to ensuring a high-quality service?
Scott West:
Number one in this business is, it’s all about relationships. But you have to ask the questions and stay on top of the programming and on top of the schedule so that you know what’s going on and you can anticipate. When you’ve developed a relationship and you’ve worked on shows together, you know what to look for. You know where the landmines are, and you try to stay in good constant contact. And putting together people that have good relationships and good working capabilities and good communication skills, I think, is key: to be able to plan and be proactive and find solutions to problems before they happen.

My work with [Carzoli] has extended more than 10 years on multiple projects small to large. I think that’s why it works so well: we’ve come together and broadened our experience over the years by working together — in different components of the business but together. We can look at the packages and the things that we do from many different angles to anticipate problems.

RC: We are different from the mobile-production provider and equipment provider in that we deal with human beings. I think sometimes what gets lost on the network side is that a cameraman is really Joe Jones: a father, a husband, a son, and other things that can pull people in different directions and that you don’t have any control over. We need to respect that in our people. But [customers] have to have a level of trust in us that we will be able to find a solution to their problem. We believe we have that.

What role did Program Productions play in the production of the NFL Draft last week, especially considering it’s a local event?
RC:
The Draft is clearly unique in that it combines the three facets of what we do: on some level, it’s a sporting event; on some level, it’s an entertainment event; and on some level, it’s a corporate show. We’ve had to blend in every one of those situations. Every one of those types of events has its own special, unique issues. For us, it has been a matter of being able to juggle [those issues] on one event. My brother Joey handles all of our production and crewing here in the Chicagoland area, and he has been the point person for the NFL. I’m not sure there are many people in this entire country that could have pulled this off: the production people, the relationship with the stagehands, and the projectionists, credentialing for hundreds of people, the constant ebb and flow [in staffing level]. As an organization, we’re very lucky that he spearheaded [the Draft production], and I think working with the people that he did at the NFL and NFL Network has been a testament to him and to the fact that his background wasn’t just sports but sports and entertainment and corporate. I’m not sure that we’ve had an event in our company’s 27-year history that has been that diverse.

SW: In all, we had more than 150 people at the Draft. And don’t forget that, at the same time, we were juggling baseball, NHL playoffs, NBA playoffs, corporate shows.