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NNPS-TV shoots Engineering Design Challenge video atop Griffon

Griffon shoot
The NNPS-TV production team video-records Busch Gardens Vice President of Engineering Larry Giles atop the dive coaster Griffon. See more photos
Tami Byron photo

The NNPS-TV production team goes to great lengths -- and sometimes great heights -- to get the right shot for their videos. In mid-October, their assignment took them all the way to the top of Busch Gardens' Griffon, the super-popular 205-foot high roller coaster that opened in 2007.

They also shot portions of the video at four other rides: Loch Ness Monster (the oldest roller coaster in the park), Apollo’s Chariot, Verbolten, and Tempesto (the newest).

The team was working on a new Elementary Engineering Design Challenge introduction video. The video gives background information and introduces a challenge, which selected teams of elementary students then try to accomplish. NNPS-TV has created intro videos for two other challenges: one centered on Jamestown’s Powhatan Indian Village (sponsored by the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation), and one focused on the Old Point Comfort lighthouse at Fort Monroe (sponsored by the U.S. Coast Guard). This one was sponsored by Busch Gardens and, as you may have guessed, had to do with the physics of roller coasters.

Station Manager Jim Anklam, Producer Nik Long, and Video Production Tech Aaron Moore make up the award-winning TV production team. They work closely with the Newport News Public Schools STEM team and the sponsors of the Design Challenges to create intro videos that are professional, accurate, age-appropriate and entertaining.

on top of Griffon
You can see NNPS-TV Producer Nik Long at the top left of this photo, shooting video from the top of Griffon.
James Anklam photo

The team may have outdone themselves with this one, which includes shots from coasters high above the amusement park and lots of roller-coaster action footage provided by Busch Gardens. Interspersed throughout the video are quick interviews with elementary school kids describing how it feels to ride the various roller coasters. At the end, one of the spokespersons from Busch Gardens delivers her lines strapped into a ride as if she has just come to a stop, with her hair all messy and wind-blown.

Tami Byron, NNPS EIR/STEM Specialist for PK-12, who organized this EDC, developed the original script after meeting with Anklam and Long. They then had a conference call with Kevin Crossett from the Public Relations and Communications team at Busch Gardens, to share their ideas and see what was actually doable, including the opportunity to record inside Verbolten and on top of Griffon. 

After the meeting, Long edited the script to add the scientific background sections to be read about each of the four roller coasters. To make sure everything was accurate, the script was then sent to Busch Gardens for approval.

For the interviews with children about the rides, Long called a number of schools to arrange it with the principals. The production team went to four schools to shoot the interviews.

"We did overshoot," said Moore, who edited the piece. "We had lots of footage to sort through and choose from," he said, adding, "sometimes it's almost better to have a smaller amount so there's a limitation!"

During editing, Moore included audio of roller coaster noise and the screams of riders, video clips of Tempesto being built, and the interviews with the schoolchildren, fitting the extras around the script read by the spokespeople for the sponsor.

Two Busch Gardens engineering professionals are the featured spokespeople in the video: Vice President of Engineering Larry Giles and Engineering Director Suzy Cheely. Cheely was video-recorded in a dark maintenance area "deep in the bowels" of Verbolten, and Giles stood on top of Griffon for his portion of the video.

Getting to the top of Griffon was new and different for the team. The park was closed on weekdays, and they, along with Byron and the Busch Gardens talent and PR people, took the "Griffon elevator" to the top. It is a cable-powered open-air people-mover with about 10 seats. It is used for maintenance and for Busch Gardens' "behind-the-scenes" tours.

The ride up provided breath-taking views of the park.

"It was windy that day," said Moore, "but it's probably always windy up there." He was relieved that the structure was completely stable and did not sway the way some bridges and buildings do.

The crew set up their camera equipment behind the "Do Not Cross or You Will Die" blue line to video-record Giles at that enormous altitude. They used their Panasonic HPX-170 camera, a boom mic, and light reflector to get the shot. They also used a wireless lavalier microphone (lapel mic) as a backup.  "On high-profile shoots, and windy situations, we like to mic our talent in more than one way to ensure we get good-sounding audio," said Long.

The team had a tight turnaround scheduled for this video, since the Elementary Engineering Design Challenge was held October 23. Despite all the elements and extra footage to include, Moore edited the video in record time and had it ready for the event held at Newsome Park Elementary.

Which just proves the team goes not only as high as the Griffon, but also as fast.

Busch Gardens Engineering Design Challenge video:
(Photos by NNPS & NNPS-TV staff)