The Viewser and Julia

January 19, 2011

A great benefit of being a field guy in a TV news operation is that you never know what your assignment is going to be or where you will wind up on any given day. A daily lotto drawing – courtesy of the assignment desk.

I have been in settings as diverse as interviewing a Presidential Candidate, the parents of a school-age victim of a drive-by shooting, and Playmates at a reunion at the Playboy Mansion, all in the same day. Individually, not all that remarkable.  But that mash-up of content was more the norm than the exception.

Regardless, over the years I have interviewed hundreds, maybe thousands of people – each presenting a unique challenge and opportunity. Heroes, villains, no social status, nothing but social status – the endless parade of the sound bites. So what did I learn through all this talk? What worked for me?

It helps if you can have fun…

Of course fun isn’t always possible.  But try.  Fun is usually infectious and you will always get a better result.

Like this encounter I had with Julia Child.

I was sent out to direct a TV Promo for a talk show that was being piloted for national syndication. It was to star Beverly Sills, the NYC Operatic Soprano – and the promos featured a series of West Coast Glitterati – including Julia Child.

The creators furnished me with a script.  And after following the supplied script exactly, and executing a number of perfectly energetic and engaging and sublimely usable (but boring) takes at the kitchen in her home in Santa Barbara, we went for the fun part.

A bit more on the mashup of stories on a particular day. The most interesting record of this lunatic juxtaposition – is one that largely no longer exists. As I supervised the editing of my stories, I loved to watch the the tails (ends) of the re-used field video tapes – or edit tapes when got into the edit room.  As one shoot or story ended, a random previous longer shoot or story continued, and when that ended, another was there.  It was amazing to see the volume and variety of things we did – by watching the tails of those tapes.

That record is quickly disappearing, as videotape gives way to flash or hard drive storage in news rooms.

OK – a few more of my handy tips in case you find yourself out on a shoot – and isn’t everyone these days – out on a shoot?

Recognize that all involved are people who are having good or bad days personally. So one needs to be patient. Keep your expectations high, but give everyone enough time and latitude to coalesce around the goals of the project. If you can’t get the video in the field, you certainly can’t get it when you are back in the edit room.

Remember that it is a team effort. That creative people have egos and need to be treated with respect regardless of their position on the crew, as the best ideas often come from places other than the script.

Be genuine. And, it helps to listen more and talk less.

Certainly there are grave situations where playfulness is NOT called for.

I have covered enough horrifying and horrible news stories to know that  honesty, respect and humility also work wonders in getting what you need from the person in front of the camera.

Regarding Julia -I know the pilot sold, because the Beverly Sills Show aired for several years on NBC.

And though I can not say whether this take made the pilot, or even whether Julia made the reel, I had so much fun that day with Julia I almost took a liking to French Cuisine.

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