8:30 am, October 2. The video production booth hidden in the depths of the Kohl Center, the air thick with quiet trepidation, the calm before the storm.
Almost a mile away, the University of Wisconsin Badgers football team will soon take the field against Big 10 rival Michigan. The 60,000 people in the stadium will watch introductions and replays and tributes to former coach and recently retired athletic director Barry Alvarez, all of which Justin Helm will administer from here.
Once the pre-game festivities begin, the room erupts into organized chaos.
“That’s where really the adrenaline starts,” said Helm, the live production coordinator for the University of Wisconsin-Madison Big 10 Network and the video director for UW football, men’s hockey, and men’s basketball.
As a producer Helm is responsible for directing the various editorial elements for the events he produces such as women’s hockey. As the video director, Helm manges the video board; he dictates what the viewer sees and when they see it.
Helm not only has control over what the people see on the video board, he also controls how people see. As an all-seeing eye, Helm can shape the narrative of the gameplay at his own discretion.
“[A few weeks ago], a UW player got an unsportsmanlike hit from the other team and I noticed that it looked like a dirty play, and so we replayed it, and I could hear the crowd just reacting when we showed this replay,” Helm said. “I showed it again and again because I really wanted them to react and play ended up getting reviewed by the officials as we were showing it so much because of the reaction. I should state Wisconsin ended up challenging that play because they saw the reaction that it was getting. So some of the things we do can actually have an impact on the game.”
Helm said the hit was deemed unfair and the call on the field was overturned.
Helm noted that his passion for broadcast was influenced by the myriad of journalistic media he consumed in his youth.
“My whole life, I’ve really been an avid viewer of the weather channel because I love meteorology and that really created my passion for television at a young age, like watching the weather channel of all things.”
Helm began his video directing and producing career in high school, helping cover and produce his school’s various sporting events. However, it wasn’t until he entered college did Helm find his true passion: live production.
“In college, I was working with a production company that was based in my hometown of Racine, Wisconsin, and then [a] person at that production company was able to manage to get me a job at my alma mater UW-Parkside while I was doing video stuff there,” Helm said. “I was the video producer for campus as a student while I was at UW Parkside….We would do all sorts of events, we would go shoot things, I would do a lot of editing, but I always loved the live aspect. So we developed what I call the vocal production center, which is a video switcher that was on a cart, and we developed this video switcher, to be able to help us do live streamed coverage of events like our commencement university that I went to. And really, that was a game changer. I mean, being able to do this type of coverage, it really just fueled my passion for doing these sorts of things.
“While I was in college, I had an internship for the College of Arts and Humanities, I was doing video stuff for this internship and I met someone who worked in the office of the College of Arts and Humanities, and she said, ‘I can’t help but notice that you’re doing video stuff, would you ever have interest in interning for the Milwaukee Brewers?’, which of course, yes,” Helm continued. “So in 2014. I got this internship with the Brewers, and that internship really changed everything for me. I always regard it as what I know about video before then and then what I know about video after the fact.”
And the rest is history.
He is still the video editor for the Brewers, a position he has had for nearly a decade. When it comes to the video coverage for the Brewers, “every pitch is important,” Helm said.
“In baseball, a pitch is an opportunity in the game for someone to get a hit or a home run and score a run or something like that,” Helm explained. “So you have to show every pitch. If you miss a pitch, nothing may have happened on the pitch, but something could have happened on the pitch, and the television audience is going to completely miss that because they’re relying on you to show them that.”
Beyond his work behind the stadium video board, Helm also works as a coordinator for UW-Madison program entitled StudentU, in which he helps students learn how to do broadcast-type coverage for sporting events.
“I love being able to help the students learn new skills,” Helm said. “It’s particularly a passion of mine, when someone wants to learn how to direct because I know all the elements of the control room but when someone wants to direct, I take passion in that, because that’s something that I like to do. And so teaching people new skills and helping them learn things and identify what they want to do, I mean, it’s a priceless feeling.
“[While working with a student], I asked him if he would be able to cue up some clips in a different way and he said, ‘it’ll be a challenge, but that’s why I’m here,’ and I love that attitude because that’s how I like to approach things as well,” Helm added. “I’ve had the privilege of working with and helping train him and now he’s up to speed and he’s working in these professional environments and that’s what we want. To see something like that, it’s the most rewarding thing to see a student go from just being green and coming in with a bunch of questions, now, they’re working on professional broadcasts, he’s just a junior in college.”