The call to work the Sochi Olympics came last summer, and this past February Morten Forland (Production – M.F.A. ’15) was on an airplane headed for a three-week gig as an EVS operator at what was perhaps one of the more controversial Olympic games. Before moving to the U.S. to attend graduate school, the Norwegian native was working on live events such as Tour de France and European Soccer. LogLines recently spoke to Forland about his time in Russia.
Okay, we have got to get this off our chest…dogs. Talk to us about the dogs. Were the authorities really killing all the dogs? My colleague who arrived in Sochi about five days before me told me the place was swarming with dogs when he got there. There were dogs everywhere, running around and begging for food. Then suddenly, once I arrived, there were like two dogs left. We don’t know what happened. We can only imagine, but all of a sudden there weren’t any dogs.
There were a lot of rumors about uninhabitable hotel rooms, and dangerous conditions such as polluted water and sewage. What was the condition of your room when you arrived? I was pretty lucky. My room was freshly painted and the bathroom worked. I had a shower. I had a bed. I even had internet sometimes. Many of my colleagues didn’t have internet, which was unfortunate, and some of their rooms weren’t finished. One of my friends who was over there working for the Olympic Broadcast Service had some guy come into her room at 5:00 a.m. and start changing light bulbs above her bed. She was like, “What’s happening?” Some of my friends said they had had hot water running in their toilets the entire time, and some had brown water in their hotels. It wasn’t exactly finished when we all got there, but we adjusted and got by. Within a week or so, everything was okay.
Tell us about what you were doing at the Olympics? I was an EVS operator for TV-2 Norway, the largest commercial TV channel in the country. The EVS machine would record about six video feeds simultaneously, and I would edit the feeds and supply images to our show. In order to facilitate our storytelling, I would take out the best and most relevant images from slow-motion feeds, images of athletes warming up, beauty shots of the arena from about an hours worth of footage. We would put the clips into a certain order to tell our story and create the focus we wanted. Essentially live TV is not always live and we cheat a lot to make things look good. In a way I was “chief liar.” I worked out of a container at the Alpine Arena with two other colleagues: the director, and the sound and camera control. We were one of the smallest crews for the amount of the content we provided; in total there were nine of us. NBC had like three TV busses, so your set-up all depends on the size of your operation.
How long was a typical workday? We would leave the hotel at 7:00 a.m. and were done by 3:00 p.m. There was some prep and planning at night, but I even got a few days off.
What was one of your biggest challenges? One would think that at an international event like the Olympics you should be able to get around speaking English, but in Russia this was not the case. Walking through the security checkpoints we encountered stone-faced security guards who wanted to check our bags. It was pretty obvious that we were foreigners, but every single day they would mumble at us in Russian, I assume about checking our bags, but who knows? The upside of the language barrier however was the joy of finding someone who actually spoke a little English. The volunteer that was stationed at one of the bus stops we would use daily always greeted us and asked us about how the competition had gone. This guy worked eight hours every day, standing by the bus stop, checking credentials. For that he got free lodging and one meal. Wow! We thought. He has to be really passionate about the Olympics for doing that, so I asked him why he had volunteered. That’s when I learned about the concept of volunteering in Russia. This guy was a student in Moscow, and his university had told him, “You just volunteered to go to Sochi for a month, off with you!” And there he was, checking people in to buses as part of his Bachelor’s in Business.
What was one of the most memorable experiences you had at the Winter Olympics? It was definitely exciting when Norway won the gold medal in Super-G. The winner Kjetil Jansrud was in the hospital having surgery last year, so it was kind of a cool story to be part of. And I also got to see the cross-country sprints live, and as a Norwegian that was pretty cool. We won two gold medals.
Was this your first time doing this type of event coverage? I have done the Tour de France, Euro Soccer, several seasons of the Premier League and Norwegian Soccer League. I also worked on the 2012 Norway Amazing Race. I love that show, and when I heard they were making a Norwegian version I went to their office and convinced the executives to hire me as a sound guy. I was part of the first half of the crew where we followed the teams through South Africa, Namibia and Chile. It was pretty exciting. When the teams go one way, you just have to curse and run after them. If we know they are headed into a dangerous area, that’s the only time we would tell contestants anything, but as long as there is no danger to the crew or the contestants, we just followed them.
What’s next? For me I have always been interested in feature film and now TV shows with the way it is developing. That’s why I came to the U.S. I had a career building in the Norwegian TV industry, but it wasn’t quite what I was looking for. I wanted to get deeper into feature film and directing, but I definitely love the challenge of doing stuff live. Your heart starts racing, and you know you have to perform on the spot. I like that, but it’s hard to compare it to film work, since this is all live and you just have to react and do things on the fly. As far as storytelling goes, it’s kind of the same thing, you always want to tell a story. That’s what it all comes down to.