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Charles Fribbens

Giving Up The Day Job: EVS Operator Charles Fribbens

Wonder how they show you all those replays during World Cup games (and every other sporting event?) EVS operator Charles Fribbens explains.

Published on 17 June 2014

Words by Ben Falk

So what exactly is an EVS operator?

EVS started as a replay tool about 15 years ago. It’s one of those jobs that people see go on when they’re watching live television, but they don’t realise someone’s physically doing it. It’s almost like Sky+. We have the ability to rewind and play back at variable speeds channels that are fed into our machine. We have the ability to play back 8, 10, or 12 channels. We can then manipulate them instantaneously.

When did you decide to become one?

I decided before I went to university when I was about 18. At a family party, my uncle – who’s an ex-VT operator for ITV – told me I’ve got to look into this thing, it’s really taking off. It seemed like there were so many opportunities. For me, it was the live sport he mentioned that captured my interest. I’ve always loved Formula 1. So the chance to work on that one day was huge.

I went on to study a two-year fast track course in production at Ravensbourne. But the whole time I was there, EVS was in the back of my mind. Towards the end of my second year, my uncle got me into ITV’s London studios and got me shadowing the guys who were working on the live entertainment and live sports.

Once I left university, I went and got a running job at Prime Focus. It wasn’t what I wanted to do, but it was a job that paid the bills. I spent any spare time I had over at ITV studios.

How long did it take between deciding to become an EVS operator and actually achieving it?

After about six months at Prime Focus, I went to a company called SIS, they do quite a lot of outside broadcast. They cover horse racing that goes to all the betting shops. I got a six-month multi-skilled operator job there and one of the jobs that was included was EVS, which was the only reason I went for the job!

I spent six months tapping away, trying to make it natural. Once you can touch type on it and look at the screens rather than the buttons, you’re a step ahead of everybody.

At the end of that contract, I got in contact with some of the people I’d been shadowing and told them I wanted to go freelance. Luckily, Sky Sports were looking for new operators to put into the small games and I was put in contact with them. I went and shadowed at Fulham one evening towards the end of the season and I was put on for the second half. It was pretty terrifying, but luckily it went okay. I was somewhere between 21 and 22, one of the youngest at Sky. So it took me about three years.

What skills do you need to be a good EVS operator?

I’ve found it’s quite similar to computer games. I played a lot of computer games when I was young. And an EVS is about manipulating a controller and a screen, so it’s quite similar in a way.

You’ve got to have a creative spark. You’ve got to try and be a step ahead of the director and commentators. Outside of replays, we’re building packages as well. Doing a little tease of the game leading into the breaks. Or the closer, which plays in the last bit of the show with music. Some of those have got to be built in minutes, or even seconds.

And now you're working on the World Cup?

Yeah, for the host broadcaster. Even to be in Brazil when the World Cup’s going on will be pretty amazing. We’re there for 26 days. I’ve had an unbelievable amount of shots.

When I looked at the sheet and saw I was doing the England v Italy game, I was like, ‘that’s huge.’ I’ve watched World Cups all my life and it’s a big deal, so to be working on England’s first game…

Were there times when you thought it wouldn't work out?

Yeah, definitely. When I first decided to go freelance, I sat down and worked it all out. Luckily, EVS does pay quite well. I worked out I needed to do five games a month. When you’re completely new, that’s quite a lot. That first summer, there wasn’t football for about two months and a couple of times, I thought this is a bad idea. But I’ve learned since then to not take any work for granted.

Would you have done anything differently to get where you are?

I don’t think so. The point where I am now is far more than where I wanted to be. If someone had told me two years ago I’d be working on the World Cup, I’d have laughed in their face.

The World Cup is on…everywhere.