Deep inside the sprawling, faux-Mediterranean labyrinth that is the Palazzo East apartment complex in Los Angeles, a dedicated group gathers with just one focus to their days and nights: Filipino fighting sensation Manny Pacquiao and his fight with Ricky Hatton.
The fighter himself is at the Palazzo, huddled up with his much-celebrated entourage. But the group I'm referring to is found a few floors away from Team Pacquiao, working in equally close quarters and possessed of the same single-minded concentration. This is the crew of HBO's 24/7, a team that over the past few weeks has grown as entrenched in Pacquiao's routine as his closest advisers and friends.
When 24/7 debuted prior to the Oscar De La Hoya/Floyd Mayweather mega-fight in May of 2007, it became an instant phenomenon. Two years later, HBO is deep in its fifth run of 24/7, and the series retains all of its trademark style - a hybrid of documentary and reality television delivered in as near to real time as humanly possible. Consider for a moment that big-budget reality shows of the Survivor ilk generally have a three- to six-month turnaround. Now ask yourself... How does the 24/7 team manage to shoot, edit and air each episode all in the space of a single week?
Rick Bernstein, who along with Ross Greenburg is co-executive producer of 24/7, has a simple answer to that question: "You know how they do it? They work their asses off." Such was the evidence I saw on the faces of the crew in L.A. following Pacquiao. At the close of their third week following the boxer's every move -- to the Philippines, to San Francisco, to the hills of Griffith Park for his early-morning runs -- their eyes bore the unmistakable stamp of constant work and fleeting rest. This gig is called "24/7" for a reason.
"With other shows," Johnson McKelvy told me, "your work gets in the way of your life. But with 24/7, there's none of that. The show is your life."
A veteran television producer, McKelvy is the head of the six-person crew filming Pacquiao's training camp, which forms one half of 24/7's Pacquiao team. The other half is in New York, a crew that basically lives in an edit suite, screening and cutting the footage that McKelvy sends them on overnight flights, whittling down those hours of video into the four Pacquiao-focused segments for that week's half-hour episode.
Similarly, a crew in Las Vegas shoots Hatton and feeds footage to their own editing group in New York. And that is the unforgiving math of 24/7 - four crews, two teams, one show... hour after hour for four exhausting weeks.
"The crews for 24/7," Bernstein says, "start working on pre-production six, seven weeks out. But when they get to those four weeks of the show itself? They work 28 consecutive days. They don't have a break."
The day I spent with McKelvy's crew was far from their most challenging. Pacquiao's trainer, Freddie Roach, was in Puerto Rico to work Gerry Penalosa's corner during his fight with Juan Manuel Lopez. With Roach absent from his famed Wild Card Gym, the atmosphere was loose. Giddy even. Pacquiao's assistant trainer (and best friend), Buboy Fernandez, wore the mitts for the fighter's pad workout, and they had trouble finding their rhythm. Roach is brilliant with the mitts, and when he and Pacquiao go at it together, it's like two dancers performing choreographed savagery. Today, though, the Baryshnikov of the company had himself an unfamiliar partner, and the result was a lot of good-natured frustration.
Still, it was fascinating material in its way, the world's best pound-for-pound fighter on cruise control, keeping active at a stage of his camp when the biggest concern is that he not over-train.
I wondered, though - with the glitz and glamour of fight week ahead, was anything happening on this relatively mellow day essential enough to make the show?
"You always see with these shows," Bernstein says, "whoever works with a particular fighter, they are convinced that fighter's going to win."
According to Dave Harmon, such questions are the lifeblood of the 24/7 production process. Harmon is the coordinating producer of the show, and along with Bernstein and Greenburg, he oversees the work coming out of each of the edit rooms as it is woven into the final product.
"Think about all of the hours that we've shot in a given week," he says. "We have an infinite number of things that could go into our four segments for each fighter. We're constantly asking ourselves, 'What advances the stories? What's the best thing to show our viewers in that limited amount of time?'"
Along with the sheer volume of footage, these questions are complicated by the fact that producers' predictions don't always pan out. They're never sure what's going to happen in a given camp and often have to turn their focus on a dime. Factor in the unpredictability of certain fighters' lifestyles -- namely that of one Floyd Mayweather Jr. - and it's not hard to be thrown from the horse.
"Floyd is a nocturnal creature," Harmon told me. "He wakes up in the afternoon, trains in the middle of the night, and then has fun with his friends at 5 a.m. And we learned on our end that some people have the ability to work like that and some people don't. We have to interview for the positions in Floyd's camp very differently than, say, Ricky Hatton's camp, which is very regimented as to when they train."
Even with the relatively dependable schedules of Hatton and Pacquiao, the end of the week still brings harrowing sessions as the pressure mounts to make the air on Saturday. Generally, Liev Schreiber does the show's voiceover late Friday night. Early the next morning, Schreiber's voice is added to the picture, and the rest of the day is a race to perfect the technical issues of color, resolution and sound before the show is fibered out to the network. At that point, it's usually about two hours to air-time.
"We're under the gun like no other show I've ever worked on except for some years on 'Inside the NFL,'" Harmon says.
And once the episode is out the door, it's not like there's any rest for the weary. "On Saturday," Bernstein says, "the producers finish that night's show, and then at 6 p.m. we're all on a conference call talking about the next one. They don't have a chance to catch their breath."
Until this Friday night, that is, when the final show for Pacquiao/Hatton airs in advance of Saturday's bout. And for the members of the 24/7 crew - who've experienced these fighters' lives through a lens for a solid month - the final outcome at the MGM Grand isn't exactly up for debate. "You always see with these shows," Bernstein says, "whoever works with a particular fighter, they are convinced that fighter's going to win." McKelvy and his team can't say they disagree.
Consider for a moment that big-budget reality shows of the Survivor ilk generally have a three- to six-month turnaround. Now ask yourself... How does the 24/7 team manage to shoot, edit and air each episode all in the space of a single week?
Posted 12:00 AM | Apr 29, 2009
HBO PPV - May 2, 2009
Tell us what you think about HBO GO. Sign up now to participate in the HBO GO Advisory Panel to share your opinions and for a chance to be entered into HBO sweepstakes and contests.