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“First Take” From A Yacht: An Inside Look With Director Meg Drobniak

Inspired to use an available yacht to commemorate Stephen A. Smith's return from vacation, the show's production team tackled a long list of logistical questions to make Monday's show smooth sailing on the East River. Here's how

On Monday, Stephen A. Smith made his return to First Take, alongside Michael Irvin and host Molly Qerim, but it wasn’t inside the Seaport Studio. To mark the exciting day, the team brought the live, two-hour show to a yacht on the East River in New York City.

What was sure to be a memorable episode for fans meant a long list of logistical questions for those who had to make sure the scenic backdrop made it to air. That included First Take’s lead director Meg Drobniak who played a major role in its success.

How did the idea for this unique show come together?
Our VP, Production, Antoine Lewis, told us a yacht was available for First Take to use and that it would be a fun way to welcome Stephen A. back from vacation. I think everyone had the same simultaneous reaction of, ‘Wow, what a cool idea,’ and, ‘Wait, is this even possible?’

Fortunately, we have some great technical and creative minds on our team, and after many, many meetings, we started to feel like this was doable.

What were some of the logistical challenges?
The biggest was how were we going to broadcast the show. Normally our cameras go through a production truck or studio, but with a boat actively sailing around the East River, our cameras couldn’t physically be connected, and the signal would be constantly changing.

A few weeks ago, Carlton Young, Director, Remote Production Operations, and a small crew sailed around the East River, testing the strength of the TVU signal. They identified a few locations to avoid, but the test made everyone confident that we would be stable enough to do the bulk of the show from the boat. As a precaution, we planned to have an additional host and two debaters in Seaport should we have any issues.

Was there anything unique about the boat itself?
We actually used three boats during the show: the yacht with talent (where I was, along with Remote Operations producer Rand Joseph and Remote Operations specialist Gabriel Arias), a follow boat for our drone operators and Remote Operations specialists Ryan Bastek and Ryan Humble, and an emergency boat if we had to get anyone back to Seaport quickly. Our captain Brian and Carrie (our coordinator with the boating company) helped elevate the shots by strategically sailing to get New York icons in the background. We had significant portions of the show with The Empire State Building, The Freedom Tower, and The Statue of Liberty.

Antoine Lewis Hails Meg Drobniak's Navigation

Meg Drobniak, First Take’s lead director (Meg Drobniak/ESPN)
Vice President, Production, Antoine Lewis: “Meg took an idea and turned it into a successful reality, like she has done for so many editions of First Take behind the scenes. She worked closely with [ESPN] Remote Operations and many other teams to navigate and overcome the countless production concerns of moving a live show from a studio to a moving boat for two full hours. This was a great way to mark Stephen A. return and the start of some very exciting shows over the next few months.

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