Norwin graduate views Penguins games through different lens
Eric Pensenstadler likes the view from the top, but the one from ice level is even better.
As the Penguins continue their run through the Stanley Cup playoffs, Pensenstadler hopes to be there to chronicle it. The 1993 Norwin graduate, who lives in Moon, works part-time as a camera operator at Penguins games and hoped to get called in to work the team's Eastern Conference Finals series against Boston.
“You keep hearing this from reporters, the announcers (and) commentators, but the atmosphere in those buildings is just phenomenal,” Pensenstadler said. “Especially in a Stanley Cup Finals series. It's just awesome to be a part of that.
“It's great to be there as a fan, sitting, relaxing, enjoying it and not worrying about anything, but as a camera operator, as someone who does that for a living, I'd rather be there operating a camera. You kind of get the best of both worlds. You get to be in that atmosphere, you get to experience it and everything, but at the same time you're working and doing what you do for a living. I think that's pretty cool.”
Pensenstadler's work shooting games began in 2008. His interest began a couple years prior to that, he said, when he attended a Penguins game and struck up a conversation with a camera operator. Pensenstadler, who owns his own video production company, Video Horizons, asked the camera operator how he could get involved.
The process involved joining the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 5, which provides camera operators for Penguins, Pirates and Steelers games when needed.
Pensenstadler said he typically hears from the union in the days leading up to games if camera operators are needed.
It doesn't happen for all games, but more staff is needed for bigger events — like the playoffs. Pensenstadler operated cameras during the Penguins' Stanley Cup Finals series against Detroit in 2008 and '09, during the 2011 Winter Classic at Heinz Field and in the final game at Mellon Arena, in 2010 against Montreal.
Pensenstadler has also worked Pirates and Steelers games.
“It's a perfect mix,” said Pensenstadler, 37. “I still get to focus on my company full-time, but then I still get to do some of those sporting events, usually when it's more interesting events.”
Pensenstadler said he worked during the Penguins' opening-round series against the New York Islanders but wasn't called in for the second round against Ottawa. He didn't expect to work the first game of the Eastern Conference Finals against Boston but said he was hoping to hear from the IBEW as the series continued.
The role of a camera operator changes game by game, Pensenstadler said. During this year's first round, he provided a wide-angle shot of the ice for the Islanders' broadcast team. The shot was used for instant replay or for use with telestration.
In some games, Pensenstadler works at ice level with a handheld camera on his shoulder. In others, he films interviews between periods and after the game.
Work involves hours of setup before games as well as cleanup after the games are over.
“When I have the opportunity at the Penguins to do a handheld camera, then I'll be right down against the glass right on ice level with a handheld camera,” he said. “I really enjoy that, because as a camera operator, it just feels good having that camera on your shoulder.”
Working for the Penguins has provided Pensenstadler with some memorable experiences. He remembered Game 6 of the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals, when the Penguins beat the Red Wings to set up Game 7 in Detroit, which the Penguins won.
He said he also shot the handshake line that followed the Penguins' loss to the Canadiens in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals in 2010 — the final game in Mellon Arena history. Because he stayed afterward to help pack up the gear, he said he was one of the final people to leave Mellon Arena.
“There might've been somebody else in there somewhere, which I'm sure there was, but nobody was working, all the fans were gone, all the teams were gone (and) the arena was dark,” he said.
“I walked across the ice as I was leaving, and as I did, I kind of looked back and (said), ‘Wow, this is the last time this building is going to be used for games.' I think I'll always remember that. That was pretty neat.”
Pensenstadler said he didn't plan originally on a career in video production. He majored in liberal arts with a minor in communications at St. Vincent.
The path began when he helped set up and tear down for an Alanis Morissette concert his junior year. He received an internship with the company that provided the staging and the lighting for the concert, which then led to a job with the same company.
That company also provided staging and lighting for the magician David Copperfield, and Pensenstadler eventually began touring with Copperfield.
He said he became friends with the person who edited Copperfield's commercials and TV specials and became interested in the same kind of work.
“I would be watching over his shoulder a lot,” Pensenstadler said. “Since I was kind of into that stuff when I was in college, the video production and camera work and editing, I was really interested in learning from him. And once I did that, I realized that there were some opportunities, career-wise, to doing video.”
Pensenstadler began Video Horizons (www.videohorizonsllc.com) in June 2002, shortly after he left Copperfield's tour. The company stayed a part-time venture as he toured with musical artists Lynyrd Skynyrd, Brooks & Dunn and Juanes, but he eventually stopped touring and made Video Horizons his full-time job.
With the company, Pensenstadler films weddings, music videos and marketing videos for local people and companies. He filmed golf legend Arnold Palmer for an Excela Health marketing video.
While Pensenstadler said his career wasn't planned, it has been a rewarding one for him.
“I don't feel like I've worked a day in my life, except for when I worked at Burger King in high school,” he said. “That's the only ‘job' I feel I've ever had.
“What I do now, I feel very blessed and fortunate. This is what I'd be doing if I wasn't getting paid for it.”