Wreck Cam

I, along with many others, was incredibly impressed by this short video - a fantastically cool look at what was a decidedly undramatic event. I don't always know everything about how my co-workers do their job, so I asked...

The wrecking ball view of the end of the Spectrum was the idea of Inquirer staff photographer David Swanson, coming after everyone realized the former home of the 76ers and Flyers was going out not with a bang, but with a whimper.

Veterans Stadium - home to the Eagles and Phillies since 1971 - was cimematicallly imploded in 2004. When it came time for the Spectrum to be torn down, many expected it would go likewise. Not so. It would take five months to come down.

“Houston. We have a problem," Inquirer Assistant Managing Editor/Multimedia Hai Do said when told they would not be blowing up the Spectrum with dynamite. Geppert Brothers., the demolition contractor, figured it would it cost more to implode the Spectrum than conventional demolition. “This building didn’t really warrant implosion. It’s only a one-story structure," the project manager told reporters.

When Swanson and fellow staff photographer Lawrence Kesterson bounced ideas for covering a five month demolition off Director of Photography Michael Mercanti, they talked about time lapse photography, but putting a video camera on the wrecking ball was really the first thing David said he thought of.

They checked with Ike Richmond, VP of Public Relations at Comcast-Spectacor the building's owner who told them no problem. Same with Geppert Bros. Do told them to get whatever equipment needed to get it done.

David bought a intervalometer for his Canon 1D Mark II still camera, and was ready to sacrifice one of the small Canon HD20 camcorder the reporters use, but Larry said "We're gonna lose it." He had just been to Best Buy the day before and had seen a $150 HD flip video camera there marked down to $39.99. So Larry bought two of the Insignia 720p HD camcorders. The key he told me was they're compatible with all the other video they were shooting, and that it had an SD card in it, instead of a hard drive, because, he repeated: "we knew the camera would die."

This all happened the day before the demo began. "We we just did it on the fly. We didn't have time for a test run. We'd had the cameras for less than 24 hours," he told me.

At the Spectrum, Daily News staff photographer David Maialetti was shooting stills for both newpapers. On the media platform shooting the head-on video would be Dave Isaacs from philly.com.

The free public viewing block party / "Final Shot" wrecking ball ceremony, with former 76er Julius Erving and former Flyers' Bob Clarke and Bernie Parent, and dollar hot dogs and sodas was scheduled for noon, David and Larry and all their cameras met the demolition contractors at 10 a.m. They had to be done by 11:30 a.m. (Comcast-Spectacor planned to begin selling authentic bricks from the Spectrum for $39.95 plus tax as soon as they were available).

The demo guys "thought it was the funniest thing ever," Larry said. He and David figured they'd mount the camera on the 4-ton wrecking ball, so you could see both the ball and the building, but the contractors said it wouldn't make it. They suggested putting it right on the ball. So that's what they did. That's Larry, taping it on using "serious, 'military grade' duct tape."

The crew all wanted to pose for pictures and one of them asked where he could see the finished product. Told it would be online at philly.com, he said: "I eat dirt for a living. I don't ON line."

The Insignia 720p HD is pretty basic, just a point and shoot. It has no focus, just mountain and flower symbols. "We put it on mountain," Larry told me. David put the second one on the crane, and he put one of the Canon HD20's on a small tripod inside the Spectrum, aimed toward the window.

Before leaving the wrecking ball, they just turned on the camcorders. They had no idea how it would work. Would they stop recording on the first impact, or even shut down after five minutes because of some power-saving feature? The point and shoots each had four-hour SD cards, but the Canon HD20 had just 63 minutes on its MiniDV tape.

David had set up his Canon 1D Mark II still camera was on top of the Wells Fargo Center doing the time-lapse, and he shot wide angle from the ground with a Canon XH A1S HD camcorder. Larry also shot video of the impact from the ground with his Canon 7D and a 300mm lens with a 1.4 converter.  David (on the left, with Larry, below) also shot with his iPhone.

The ceremonial swings started a little late. They were over by 12:45 p.m. The photographers were able to get to the cameras almost immediately. The Insignia did indeed "die."

But the SD card survived intact. When they viewed it back at the office with philly.com video editor Andy Ritchie, it was 55 minutes of nothing. Then at 58 minutes, "the best footage. Then, thunk, then you see the ground. And that was when the camera died."

David said the ball was spinning, so the camera was not facing the wall on every impact.

The inside camera ran out of tape minutes after the ball crashed through the glass.

The audio also came from the point and shoot's SD card. All the background noise and crashes on the video, which was edited by Ritchie, was natural sound from the cameras.

Oh...this is the photo philly.com used in July 2008 when the closing was first announced. Besides the 76ers and Flyers, the Spectrum hosted circuses, monster trucks and arena concerts.