Being a super inexperienced tv talk show host, I was eager to learn from those who were willing to teach. During my ten weeks at the tv station, there were five people who taught me about the tv business, but so much more. Here are my thoughts on how to be mentored.
Don’t be shy to ask for more help
One of my favorite things about working for FTV was my elocution lessons. Bosnian elocution lessons… The instructor, Jasminka, is a grand dame who had been a famous news anchorwoman in her day. (Apparently BBC journalists who worked with her during the war in the early 1990s gave her the nickname “the dead queen”– she is still so regal, but truly a force to be reckoned back in the day.) I tried to emulate her beautiful diction and posture, making some improvement. We also talked a bit about what it means to be a tv show host. At the pilot season was coming to an end, she suggested that she could coach me on hosting and interviewing–I kicked myself for not asking for her help earlier! I had desperately needed help from an experienced tv show host, but it would never have occurred to me to ask if she might have time to coach me. Had I done so, my time at FTV might have been totally different.
Anyone creative can be a mentor
Aziz taught me a lot about video editing. Somehow he always knew how to add music, cut a few seconds here and there, and turn raw footage into something entertaining. I watched him while he edited and asked him for tips on how to improve the videos I was editing. Good editing is magic.
Make it a priority to follow up with past mentors
Dzanko helped me a lot during the filming of “Readers’ Club”. He was always encouraging and sympathetic. He invited me to do a short interview for one of his documentary shorts and then he wrote the voiceover, giving me advice and coaching me all along the way. When I asked for advice, he always told me that I was capable and smart and would be able to figure it out on my own. Even when I felt like a flop, he always told me that he saw how hard I was trying; he was also the only one who was concerned that I wasn’t getting paid.
I talked with Djuro and Dzanko occasionally after leaving the tv station. I was mostly occupied with trying to find a job and stay afloat financially. Later I heard Dzanko was sick and I didn’t want to bother him… Still, I had “Call Dzanko” on my to-do list for months. I was waiting for the perfect moment. I ran into Elma during a work event (I was filming the opening of an environmental center that my organization was opening and she was the FTV journalist covering the same event)– we reminisced and talked about Dzanko; she mentioned that she was planning on visiting him in the hospital. The next time I saw Elma, a short time later, was at Dzanko’s funeral.
He was known as a versatile journalist, able to speak with the mayor of Sarajevo or a man with a fighting rooster with equal composure, intelligence and respect. He was a geography teacher turned tv star, very well known and universally beloved.
He always wore a flannel jacket.
There are lots of times when it’s really worth it to work for free. Although it might not seem like it at the time.
I was promised a job on a tv show, with an apartment and a great salary. I got the job on the tv show. Just not a salary. Or the apartment.
On the show, I taught a Chinese lesson, danced with Bosnian rock stars, tried to hypnotize a chicken, acted the part of a reality show contestant, blew out candles on a birthday cake in a shower of confetti. I wore crazy outfits and had very big hair. I loved taking the run-down Sarajevo trams up to the huge brown building of the Federal Television Station, nodding to the security guard, paying 50 cents for a sugary coffee from the vending machine, sitting down at the computer to google Bosnian celebrities I’d never heard of, recording my voiceovers a million times, taking Bosnian elocution lessons, editing documentary shorts, overcoming stage fright and just generally joking around.
I had no money. The tv station cafeteria lady was my new best friend. My friend Elma freelanced for a pittance, getting paid by the news segment for her reporting. Dzanko said it was like working in a bakery and churning out buns.
If I had known in advance that they wouldn’t pay me, I wouldn’t have done it. But I’m so glad I did.
Ironically, two years later, they actually did send the payments that they had originally promised. There’s a two-year backlog. At the time it seemed like so much money; now I earn that amount every 2 weeks. Wealth is so relative.
But I still believe in unpaid work, in some form, as essential to creative development. That’s why I write this blog.
I started my short stint as a tv talk show host with a problem– I didn’t recognize many Bosnian celebrities. It’s that cultural mindbender– even when you go to England, where they speak the same language and we share so many cultural references, they have ‘celebrities’ that we’ve never heard of. (As AD memorably said–”He can’t be that famous if I’ve never heard of him”.)
My job was to interview our well-known-to-a-Bosnian-audience guests. I resorted to Google to find out why they were famous. What I hadn’t expected is that the show could make ME (almost) famous as well.
Without further ado– lessons I learned by being almost famous.
Manage fame, or it manages you.
My first interview, with tabloid Dnevni Avaz, was a breeze. I joked around and soaked up the attention. But when the article came out, I was horrified. I was portrayed as a man-hungry wannabe starlet with a taste for famous guys, with the joke of the article being “although she’s not always sure who the famous guys are”. Later when conducting an interview with an applicant as a Princeton alumna, the applicant mentioned that he had googled me and found that same article. So here’s the link to that one.
For my next interview I was much more circumspect and the journalist fortunately had a more intellectual bent, including asking which Bosnian cities I would like to visit and about my taste in music. I was amused to see later that he invented a quote where I compared a Bosnian musician to Kurt Cobain. (I think I have never mentioned Kurt Cobain in my entire life…) For my third interview, I insisted on written questions and answers.
Know your audience; ignore everyone else.
The other funny thing was being “recognized”, after the show started being broadcast. A little old lady at a tiny restaurant in the middle of nowhere, when I happened to stop during a road trip, wanted a photo of us together on her cell phone. When my colleague mentioned “his American co-worker” to his cousin, living in a small town in northern Bosnia, the cousin immediately said my full name and surname, which is an impossibility for many of the Bosnian people who actually know me in person. I loved that small town people were watching the show– it was meant to be funny and silly, something to cheer people up. Although the show had many flaws, the most criticism came from people who didn’t watch it. Haters gonna hate. One friend, a talented poet, who had joyfully ripped the show to threads, including reporting gleefully that I was listed in stately Sarajevo daily Oslobodjenje’s “week’s biggest losers” feature, was thrilled when, due to a celebrity cancellation, I asked him to be a guest on the show. In studio A, the biggest television studio in Bosnia. “So when are we taping?” Yeahhhh.
I have to say I did learn to recognize many more Bosnian celebrities after 10 weeks of the show. But the people I liked the most were the ones who were on the other side of the camera; later I’ll tell you about some of them, who became my mentors.
P.S. TV shows are expensive so you usually don’t get to choose your audience. An interesting thing about blogging is that you can curate your readership…
Recently, a group of women farmers from a large village invited us to a discussion about increasing their impact in their community. We shared some tips about networking and organizational management. The women’s eagerness to make a difference really inspired me; their lives aren’t easy but they don’t give up. We ate delicious homemade halva and drank black coffee. “I only serve black coffee– I don’t have a cow!” she said. Sometimes I really love my job.
If you came across a pocket watch in the middle of a field, would it make you think of the watchmaker?
I love the precise work of the watchmaker in this little shop in the old town of Sarajevo. He has some lovely old watch faces, little gold ones, that I am daydreaming of wearing… He takes old watches and fixes them up, recovering their true value. (They don’t make watches like that anymore!) Kind of like a metaphor for something.
Some photos from behind the scenes the filming of Dejten (“Rendezvous”). Previously I shared some stills from the trailer of Djuro’s next movie, Hiljadarka– I love the idea of seeing photos from the set as another type of visual insight into a film. Thanks for sharing the photos with us Eldin! Next time we’ll post the link to the film.
Director/writer/producer: Eldin Smille
Producer: Daniel Lundsten
Production assistant: Annelie Widholm
Cinematographer: Morgan Gustafsson
Cinematographer’s assistant/Editor: Ante Juneholm
Music: Niklas Jensen
Adam: Oskar Nilsson
Tilda: Thea Nilsson
London post #3. I stopped by the Tate Modern as well. My favorite piece was a poetic work, Active Poetry, by Polish artist Ewa Partum.