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What I learned from TV production

September 18, 2013

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I haven’t had a TV in years. I live in a country with no access to Hulu or Netflix, and my internet connection is so slow that downloading an episode of Downton Abbey from itunes takes hours.

Ironically, in these years without TV, I coordinated production of a local youth TV show for a nonprofit media center; joined an Italian-government sponsored video production start-up project which collapsed, but first they fired me because I started working for a local tv station as a video editor; quit the local tv station video editor job because I wasn’t paid (my work: a video about a bronze Bruce Lee statue); was hired as a TV talk show host on a national TV station; the national TV station didn’t pay me and then cancelled the show after the pilot season; finally, I started a paid internship to make promotional videos for an international organization.

Looking back, a few things stand out.

Small beginnings are precious
Although on one level the experience was a series of failures, as I was constantly getting fired and / or not paid, I had a total evolution in confidence and skill level, going from being a timid assistant to the main camerawoman to the video coordinator at a nonprofit media center, to working for a local and then national TV station, and finally producing videos for an international organization— interviewing, filming, editing, and subtitling all on my own.
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Because you’ll start small anyway
No one appreciates how much work it takes to make even an amateurish half-hour TV show, while all your flaws are there on the screen for everyone to see and then tell you about over coffee. You need to find a current topic on time, determine relevant interlocutors, find out all their phone numbers, call them and set up meeting times, coordinate with the journalist and cameraman for prep, filming and editing, keep the editor in the loop and ask for permission to do this and that… Made more difficult when you have no car, no phone, no budget and are carrying heavy tripods across town through the rain. Oh, and neither relevant public officials nor local citizens want to give interviews. (One of the videos I was most proud of was when two local officials gave me the run-around and I spliced a video together of Y saying “Talk to X”, and X saying “Talk to Y”. Gotcha.) Also, once I realized, at the end of an interview, that I had forgotten to turn on the microphone…

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Speak at all times, with words when necessary.
Video is visual storytelling. At the same time, it’s not a photo; you need movement and sound. In training myself to do this, I often had to start with the question- “what can we cover that will have a visual element?”- and then work backwards to make sure the topic and questions were meaty enough. There is no point in producing great content that should have been presented in a written article if you’re trying to produce a TV show.

In TV, you can’t just discuss the topic abstractly, because you need the camera shot! You have to actually go to the scene, find the people, talk to them, convince them to confide in you. It can be rewarding. We were so chuffed when the local TV staff told us, after we submitted our episode on evictions in the Roma squatter community for broadcasting: “you cover topics that no one else touches.” But then one of the squatters we interviewed threatened us because we hadn’t given him more airtime in the final edit. Heh.

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Be a voice, even if you’re an amateur
Garance Dore, on becoming an artist: “A lot of artists get lost in technique, but what’s important is the message you send to the world.”

You don’t have to be a pro to make a difference. We were all amateurs and volunteer workers. We had to come up with a vision of what we hoped to see, not just the problems we found in the community. When we interviewed young people working under tough conditions, we found a union to provide additional information. When we spoke with young people who took in strays, we had to find someone who could talk about the latest animal shelter legislation. When we covered emerging urban subcultures, we emphasized the need for dedicated public spaces.

Although I was a volunteer, at the end of the project when I was really struggling financially, AbrasMedia paid me for the episodes I had worked on, even with their limited budget. It meant so much to me. When I thanked them, with tears in my eyes, they said, “oh we just wish it were more.” I think it’s safe to say I learned more than television production through this project.

In those days, I had a dream that I would start a video production house… maybe someday.

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Some of our favorite episodes:
Youth (un)employment
Tito’s secret cold war bunker
Youth Subcultures
Eviction of Roma families
Fascism and anti-Fa in Mostar

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. September 18, 2013 5:20 pm

    I love this! So fascinating to hear your experiences including the precious small beginnings. It’s a good reminder that everyone starts small (trying to remember that with our startup…). I love the idea of “be your own voice”. I’ve been thinking about this with my paintings, in terms of process and style–reminding myself that I don’t need to paint like other artists, even if I love their work. Wow, totally inspired by your story!

    • September 19, 2013 6:09 pm

      ahhhh so glad that you were inspired! I always appreciate reminders about small beginnings. Hey we can see our blogs as our small beginnings too 😀 ps- I love seeing your “voice” in your paintings…

  2. September 18, 2013 6:22 pm

    Wow, Katie! You’ve had so many amazing experiences! I love reading all about what you’ve done/gone through! It really is fascinating!

  3. Julie permalink
    September 19, 2013 1:33 am

    This is my new favorite post of yours! You are the best 🙂

    • September 19, 2013 6:07 pm

      awww! ❤ I spent a long time trying to figure out what I wanted to say about this… so glad you liked it!

  4. Anonymous permalink
    September 21, 2013 12:19 am

    Really glad I stumbled on this through Facebook. You write beautifully! Love, mom

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