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Get on Camera at the Game

Sunday, November 21, 2004; Page M03

Extreme football fans who earn TV airtime during a game may look crazy, but they've beaten the odds: Camera pros estimate that during a typical three-hour football broadcast, spectators are shown only about 20 times; about half those screen grabs are crowd shots, meaning individuals remain indistinguishable. So, unless you're a parent of the star running back or resemble Pamela Anderson (who was "discovered" by a cameraman at a 1989 football game in Canada), you'll need these game-stopping tips to make your prime-time debut.

SHOW ME A SIGN. A handmade sign is the quintessential method for grabbing coveted camera time. "It's about being smart and clever," says Ed Placey, 41, coordinating producer of college football for ESPN. When the New York Rangers won the National Hockey League's Stanley Cup championship in 1994, a fan raised a sign that read, "Now I can die in peace!" "That's a classic," Placey says. And after the game that sent his favorite team to the playoffs, one creative college student displayed: "Mom, send money. Not for books, for playoff tickets." Placey also reminds fans that "a sign up that says 'Coming Up Next: SportsCenter' has a pretty good chance of getting on." (Odds improve, he adds, if it also includes "with Linda Cohn and John Anderson.") Mike Arnold, 47, lead director of NFL games for CBS, agrees with this strategy: "If you knew that it was Phil Simms's birthday and you had a sign that said 'Happy Birthday, Phil Simms,' you've got a pretty good shot of getting on." (FYI: Joe Gibbs's birthday is Nov. 25.) Creating slogans based on a network's name is another popular option -- "Can't Beat 'Skins," for example. But Arnold insists on originality. "I never show a sign just because the letters are CBS," he says. Finally, Jim Bell, 37, coordinating producer of NBC's football broadcasts, notes one key must: "spelling everything right."


Think "painters" are crazy? Well, cameramen seem to love them. (And the flat abs don't hurt.) (Stewart Cohen -- Getty Images)

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PLAY DRESS-UP. Imaginative costumes do attract cameras. But, as with signs, the more an outfit fits the moment, the better. Arnold says, "For Halloween, you might be looking for somebody who's coming in costume . . . Santa Claus around Christmas, [and later], those New Year's Eve glasses that say 2005." Other outfits are spotlighted because of the story they tell. "There's a guy wearing a Redskins jersey and a woman wearing a Denver jersey," says Arnold. "I wonder what the car ride home is going to be like." Arnold also likes the visual of a lone spectator surrounded by opposing fans. "Will this guy make it out of the stadium alive?" he wonders.

BE THE EARLY BIRD. "An hour before the game, the cameramen are looking in the stands for anything interesting," Arnold says. You probably won't be taped then, but a cameraman who learns your location might use it during the game -- when he'll have three seconds to find, frame and focus a spectator.

TAKE A SEAT. Location can be the deciding factor when it comes to airtime. "You want to be in a position where the cameras can find you," Arnold says. Crews most often shoot football games from each of the 30-yard lines and the 50-yard line, on the press-box side of the stadium. At the Redskins' FedEx Field, that's the south side, which means you should be on the north side. "It's an advantage being opposite the camera. . . . There's more cameras that can see" you, Placey says.

DON'T BE STUPID. Of course, not all outrageous behavior is welcome. "There's a line between enthusiasm and just hideousness," Bell says. Crews won't air anything sexually explicit or politically incorrect. Placey says, "We've seen blowup dolls in these stands. . . . That's stuff we kind of leave alone." Adds Arnold: "I'm never going to take a shot of . . . 'Bush stinks and so do the Broncos.' I'm not trying to do that." In addition, fans shouldn't beg for the camera. Arnold avoids "people who lean over and have their index [finger] pointing, [saying], 'We're number one.' " Placey's least favorite shots? "The ones where they're screaming into the camera." And though you've seen them a million times, Arnold warns against foolish stunts. "I don't like to take shots of guys who take off their shirts in zero-degree weather. . . . That's encouraging people to do stupid things that aren't healthy." So be smart and be seen. And, if you're lucky, discovered. Mike Peed

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