Pittsburgh Pirates Hidden Heroes: Camera Operator Terry Kissel

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The Pittsburgh Pirates Have Many Hidden Heroes.

There are the men who play on the field every night, whose jerseys we wear, whose names we chant, whose triumphs we celebrate, whose losses we mourn. They are a special kind of hero – the ones on the baseball cards – they are members of an elite brotherhood just 750 strong who every year captivate our minds and our hearts playing a child’s game on a very grown-up stage. But for every Major League Baseball team that takes the field each night, there is another team working behind the scenes to make sure every game goes off without a hitch – for the players and the fans. They are the Hidden Heroes of baseball – and these are their stories.

For Camera Operator Terry Kissel, a Good Eye, a Lot of Experience and a Little Bit of Luck Get the Job Done

In the photography and videography world, it is said that babies and animals are the hardest subjects to shoot. On this particular evening in June, Terry Kissel, freelance RF Camera Operator for Root Sports Pittsburgh, is filming both.

It’s Pup Night at PNC Park and one of Kissel’s many duties is to capture the four-legged beasties enjoying the game with their humans from the Miller Lite Rooftop. That might sound easy enough – until you try navigating the area carrying a large camera on your shoulder, wearing headphones and an ear plug, trying not to trip on leashes or step on the tiny pups all while being swarmed by owners interested in getting their pooches their 15-minures of fame. Kissel somehow makes it look effortless and does it with a smile on his face and pets on furry heads all around. His shots provide Root TV Broadcasters Greg Brown and Bob Walk with fodder to fill in the uncomfortable silence of the Pirates’ bats during the 15-4 loss to the San Francisco Giants.

Root Sport Camera Operator Terry Kissel films dogs on the Miller Lite Rooftop at PNC Park as part of the Root Sports Pittsburgh broadcast of the June 21, 2016 Pittsburgh Pirates game.
Root Sport Camera Operator Terry Kissel films dogs on the Miller Lite Rooftop at PNC Park as part of the Root Sports Pittsburgh broadcast of the June 21, 2016 Pittsburgh Pirates game.

If you watch the Pirates on Root Sports, Kissel is an invaluable part of your viewing experience. He connects people watching at home to hosts prior to the game, broadcasters throughout the game and players before, during and after the game. His work helps set the tone for the broadcast and brings the overall atmosphere of the ballpark into homes across the region, and thanks to MLB Network – the world, every night. And while each game follows a certain “script,” every single one is different and it’s Kissel’s mission to show viewers how.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”#000000″ class=”” size=””]“I do a lot of the same things every night. But I try to vary the shots I get to give the viewers something different,” he said.[/perfectpullquote]

For a typical 7 p.m. game at PNC, Kissel’s day begins around 2:30 p.m. At 3:15, all of the camera operators do a “fax” which is dress rehearsal of sorts where they check their positions and equipment to ensure it’s ready for broadcast. Kissel faxes his RF camera as well as the two cameras at the Root Sports set in section 103. At about 4:30 he grabs lunch in the press room at PNC Park then leaves to film B-roll – or “filler footage” – for use in the pre-game show and throughout the broadcast. For this he might walk the outside perimeter of PNC for some shots of people waiting in line or even take a stroll across the Clemente Bridge to get film of the ballpark from another perspective.

“They give me a lot of freedom to shoot what I want,” he said. “That comes from knowing most of the people on this crew for a very long time and them trusting my experience.”

Kissel has been a part of filming the Pirates and sporting events in Pittsburgh since 1986 when a friend of his brother’s – who was the team videographer at the time – asked him to fill in for him at a game one night. “He knew I’d been taking some photography classes and asked if I could fill in for him,” Kissel said. “That first day I worked here I shot batters and pitchers and it was the coolest thing I ever did.”

And even though he didn’t work another game for the rest of that season, in that one game he made friends and contacts he still has to this day. “When I started here in 1986, I met a lot of people who are still here. The guys on this crew all know each other – we’ve worked together a lot,” he said. “I think the reason we’re all still here is because we all really like what we do.”

In 1988, he was called in to interview for a job as a utility for the Pirates Jumbotron camera operators, “which basically means I carried wires around for other people for about eight years,” he said. “I had to work my way up. That’s why when I got to film players for that day in 1986 it was so cool.” He got occasional opportunities to film while working as a utility by the camera operators, who would sometimes leave him with their cameras for an inning or two. “I got the camera a few times by accident,” he laughed, “and then it got it in my blood.”

He started filming for the Pirates in 1995, a role he held until the end of the season in 2001 when he and the Pirates parted ways, as he put it. “I worked the day this park opened,” he said. And it shows – he knows every corner, nook, crevice, camera angle and secret passage.

A favorite shot of Kissel's and the crew, the Clemente bridge through the beams of PNC Park. "I don't get this shot every night, " he said. "But when I do, they always use it."
A favorite shot of Kissel’s and the crew, the Clemente bridge through the beams of PNC Park. “I don’t get this shot every night, ” he said. “But when I do, they always use it.”

He formed a special bond with legendary Pirates, Steelers and Pitt photographer Les Banos while working for the team and remained close to Banos until his death in 2012. “Les was a very good friend of mine. We would go out to lunch a lot and we were so close we could finish each other’s sentences,” he said. “It was an honor to know the man. He was a great mentor to me.”

By the time Kissel left the team, he was well-known as a go-to-guy for sports event filming in Pittsburgh and had no trouble establishing himself as a freelance videographer. He maintains that status now – some 15 years later. As a freelancer, he works for Root Sports Pittsburgh covering all of the Pirates home games, as well as Penguins hockey games, Steelers pre-season and sideline action at some nationally-broadcast games and Pittsburgh-area high school football. He also filmed Games 1, 2 and 5 of the 2016 Stanley Cup Finals.

“At hockey games, I work the camera behind the opposing goalie,” he said. “Sometimes people from Pirates games see me at Penguins games and they all the time ask me why I’m not filming them in the crowd or putting them on camera.”

Kissel worked the “hard cameras” as they are called – those that are pinned to a fixed location with set shots – at PNC and pretty much all of the filming positions. Doing hand-held was more difficult in years past, when the camera used to be connected to a cable that trailed behind him. But then six years ago, Root got an RF – or Radio Frequency – system, and he’s been on that gig ever since.

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After he shoots the B-roll, he up-loads it in the truck, then heads back into the park to film Robby Incmikoski or Dan Potash in the dug-out talking about some aspect of the game for the broadcast. “I always say, when they build a statue for me at PNC, I want it to be right here,” Kissel said pointing to one specific spot in the dug-out. “Although, I guess I would get in the way a little,” he laughed.

Once that’s also sent to the truck, he heads out to the field to capture shots of players getting ready to play, lining up for the anthem and anything else that viewers might want to see. He does the “field cam” a few games a week, in which he runs out on to the field and walks the pitcher or another player back to the dug-out. “We try to pick people who are having an interesting story for the night or just in general,” he said. “And I always try to get different angles to keep it interesting.” For the series against the Giants, they focused on Pittsburgh native Derek Law, who pitched in his hometown for the first time as a major leaguer as a Giant on Wednesday.

Each night he does early field cam duties, which on this night included walking Wilfredo Boscan out to the mound for what would be his first Major League start and John Jaso to the plate as the Pirates’ lead-off man. He then begins a six-inning stroll through the stands to get reaction shots from the crowd.

As part of his early "Field Cam" duties, Kissel films Pirates pitcher Wifredo Boscan's walk out to the mound for his first major league start.
As part of his early “Field Cam” duties, Kissel films Pirates pitcher Wifredo Boscan’s walk out to the mound for his first major league start.

“Basically I walk back and forth until the ninth inning,” he said. That’s true – but there’s a little more to his job than that.

Through his headphones he hears not only his director setting up shots for himself and the seven other camera-operators in the park, but also the Root Broadcasters calling the game for TV. “So tonight, it’s Greg [Brown] and Bob [Walk],” he said. “I can hear their comments, and if they talk about something in particular, I shoot it.” At one point in the night, as the pair tried to fill the time during a particularly long inning, they talked about candy. And Kissel set about scanning the stands for someone eating candy. He settled for a woman ordering Rita’s Ice on the Riverwalk.

He stays constantly aware of who is batting and who makes plays throughout – with his camera seemingly always near a person in the crowd wearing that player’s jersey or holding up a sign about them.

“I’m very lucky because sometimes I seem to be right where these things happen at the perfect time,” he said. Sheepishness aside, it’s less about luck for him than it is instinct.

With Andrew McCutchen at bat, Kissel zeroes in on a fan wearing a Cutch jersey in the stands, hoping for a hit from the centerfielder and a big reaction from the fan.
With Andrew McCutchen at bat, Kissel zeroes in on a fan wearing a Cutch jersey in the stands, hoping for a hit from the centerfielder and a big reaction from the fan.

“I have been doing this for 30 years, and along the way you just start to get a feel for what people want to see and shots certain people like and where to be standing when certain things happen,” he said. “I guess I’m pretty good at knowing those things.”

He’s a popular man in the stands at PNC, Terry Kissel. Everywhere he goes he’s welcomed with choruses of “Hey, Root guy, put me on TV!”

“It’s hard sometimes – I can’t put everyone on TV. Even if it is your birthday. You just can’t shoot everybody,” he laughed.

So what does it take to get in one of his shots?

Costumes are almost always a sure way to get on camera. “Star Wars Night is always an easy night to shoot,” he said. “Any time people are all dressed up makes for good TV.”

One thing you discover about Kissel quickly is his ability to get people to do just about anything he wants when the camera is in his hands. “I guess you have to be personable,” he said humbly. “I don’t know if I’m that, but people tell me all the time that I’m the perfect guy for this job.”

He knows all of the regular fans at the games, and takes a few seconds to greet those he sees with a smile, hug or handshake, always asking about their kids, friends or spouses. The same is true with the Pirates employees who work in the sections he roams. He knows everyone by name, and takes care of the older ushers, bringing them cold bottled water during hot games. It’s just in his nature to try to connect with people at the park.

Terry Kissel with Pirates usher, Shirley, whom he affectionately refers to as his "adopted mom."
Terry Kissel with Pirates usher, Shirley, whom he affectionately refers to as his “adopted mom.”

In the course of a game, just the amount of walking he does in the stands between the second and eighth innings is the equivalent of about five miles, with a 23-pound camera on his shoulder. “10 days of it in a row can put a strain on my shoulder,” he said. “The older I get you’d think it would get harder, but luckily for me, that’s not the case. I push myself because I want to please as many people as I can.”

At the end of every game, Kissel goes out on the field to film the celebration – no matter which team is doing the celebrating. Root sometimes shares footage from their broadcast with stations in the cities of the opposing team, so while the Pittsburgh station might not want images of the Giants celebrating a crushing win over the Pirates, those folks in San Francisco sure do. On nights the Pirates win, he films the field celebrations and then runs into the clubhouse to get “jubees,” or players walking in, high-fiving each other and the starting pitcher greeting them.

Once those shots are finished, he packs up his camera and heads home for the night, happy for the chance to sit for the first time in about five hours and ready to re-energize to head back to the park and do it all over again the next day.

What keeps him coming back day-after-day, game-after-game for 30 years?

“It kind of gets in your blood, this job,” he said. “I get to see things other people would love to see. I’ve never thought about what I’d be doing if I did anything else because I love what I do and I have fun doing it.”

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