Fast Cinema

Lately, I have become fascinated with the idea of shooting a movie. I’m not talking about some Jerry Bruckheimer explode-o-rama, but a little movie. A little movie done very cheaply and very quickly.

It’s a concept best explained by the folks at the 48 Hour Film Project.

The premise? Filmmaking teams have just one weekend to make a short film. All creativity-writing, shooting, editing and adding a musical soundtrack-must occur in a 48 hour window beginning Friday evening at 7 and ending Sunday at 7. The following week, the completed films are screened to an eager audience.

The 48 Hour Film Project and other similar groups like Cinemasports&#185 seem to attract a crowd of eager filmmakers. Interestingly enough, most of the small teams involved contain at least a few professionals – people who know their way around a camera and editing software. They look at these (mostly) 5-10 minute movies as intellectual challenges.

As it turns out, while I was in the midst of thinking about this while at work, in walked Ray Flynn. At one time Ray was our floor director, but he has gone on to own his own production house. He was interested – and he said he had a friend who would also be interested. This was good.

I called my friend Harold. He was in TV until a few weeks ago. His amazing skill is his attention to detail and organization – two concepts normally foreign to me. Harold was also interested.

Now we have to find a competition to get involved in. There’s one in Boston in about a month but it’s not a good day for Ray. So, we’ll wait until later in the season and hope for something else we can all get behind.

I have read comments from people saying how difficult these 2-day projects are. It doesn’t seem it should be that bad. In TV we often shoot, write and edit 1:30-2:00 packages in a few hours.

I’m probably just naive.

&#185 – I’m looking for more information on other similar events. If you know of one, would you drop me a line, please?

Timing Is Everything

It is said, “In comedy, timing is everything.” That might be the reason why great comics make great actors. On the other hand, great actors are usually lousy comics.

Often, good timing is rehearsed and perfected. At other times, the timing is right because the person delivering the line is sharp, quick and a little lucky.

That’s what happened on-the-air, a few nights ago during the weather. I didn’t deliver the line – nor do I deserve any credit. This demonstration of perfection in timing belongs totally to Mary Ellen Buschman, our floor director.

You can play the video by clicking here.

Seven Thousand Three Hundred Five Days

Seven thousand three hundred five days ago, Connecticut still had toll booths on I-95 and the Merritt Parkway. There was no state income tax. Our governor, William O’Neill, was a tavern owner.

Back then, WTNH was a middle aged television station, owned by Capitol Cities Communications – before it bought ABC. It was second place in what was, for all intents and purposes, a 2 station market. A station with an identity crisis, not knowing whether to be Connecticut’s station or just concentrate on New Haven. It was making money hand-over-fist, which tended to minimize their concern.

On May 21, 1984, One thousand forty three weeks and four days ago, I walked into Channel 8 as an employee. If you would have told me twenty years ago that I’d still be there today, I’d have called you a fool. In my 11 years in radio, I had worked all over the country. No job had ever run more than 3 or 4 years – and most were much shorter.

Al Terzi (WFSB), Gerri Harris (who knows) and Diane Smith (WTIC radio, CPTV), were our main anchors. Bob Picozzi (ESPN radio, UConn Women’s basketball play-byplay) was our sports director. Our news director, the guy who hired me, was Mike Sechrist (General Manager WKRN – Nashville). His assistant, Wendie Feinberg (Executive Producer Nightly Business Report – PBS). In the control room, Tom O’Brien (General Manager KXAS – Dallas) and Jeff Winn (Fox Sports “Best Damned Sports…”).

Of all the on-air and management personnel at the station that day, only I am left. I have survived 4 different owners, 4 general managers, 10 news directors and countless dozens of assistants, producers, reporters and anchors.

Still, I often ask myself, where have I gone wrong?

That’s not to say my professional life hasn’t been good. In fact, it’s been great. This is a very rewarding job and the people who watch have been generous in their support, while my bosses have been… well, they’ve been generous too. I just wonder, what if?

Have I missed the bright lights of the big city? Would I have been able to compete at that level?

Today, if I were looking for work elsewhere, would I be taken seriously? A few years longevity is a good thing, but twenty years in New Haven makes it seem like I’ve been unable to escape.

Since I have been at WTNH, only four of the on-air people hired were older than I was at the time – and three of those came within my first year. This is a business of the young… and I say that even though this station isn’t anywhere near as youth obsessed as some others.

I remember early in my radio career, seeing people who’d been in one place too long, who were now just going through the motions. I promised myself that would never be me. I’ve kept my word.

It is still important to me, after all this time, to know whether I’ve entertained or not. There are no gimmes. A bad Friday night 11:00 weathercast can ruin my weekend… ask my wife.

Even tonight, I brought home a snippet of tape because a few seconds of well timed on-air chatter with the floor director seemed memorable. Every show counts. I am never unhappy to go to work. I have never taken, or needed, a ‘mental health’ day.

I still have my fantasy jobs – things I’d like to do and sometimes even dream about. I’d like to do a game show. I’d like to do a sit down fun chat show. I’d like to fill-in again on Good Morning America. Who knows?

I worry about losing a little off the fastball – about someone up-and-coming who might want my job. I worry about a new owner or manager who might not care that I’ve put twenty years in. After all, in the 21st century, company loyalty is something employees have toward companies… not the other way around.

About 15 years ago, my agent said there would come a time when I’d want to shave ten years off my age. I think I could actually pass with that lie. Until recently, I’d regularly get viewer mail telling me to stop coloring my hair… even though it’s never been colored. But, I won’t lie about my age because I’m proud to have the experience and knowledge that only comes with being 53.

I am not sorry that I’ve made it to 20 years. I am not disappointed in what I’ve accomplished. I have a wonderful life. I only wonder where the other paths led.

Quizzzzzzz-master

I was speaking to someone tonight about game show hosts. I’ll let you in on a poorly kept secret – I’ve always wanted to be a game show host.

I remember the classic Mary Tyler Moore Show episode when Ted is asked to host a game show. Lou, trying to stop him from making the move says, “Ted… is that what you want to be… a quizzzzzz-master?” The “z” in quiz prolonged, to make the point.

That night I yelled at my TV – “YES! I do.”

I’m not sure when or why the job started to appeal to me. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that as host you always knew the answer to questions, even when the contestants didn’t. Maybe it’s because, as a kid growing up in New York City, most of my local TV heroes also hosted game shows.

Back, sometime in the early sixties, I actually went to a live broadcast at 30 Rock. I don’t remember the show, or who the host was. I remember Wayne Howell, the announcer.

Wayne warmed up the audience. Considering my age at the time, it was probably my first experience seeing standup. He was very funny. The jokes were very corny. There is one joke Wayne did that day that I have stolen as my own.

The floor director counted down the time to air, saying “one minute,” “30 seconds,” and finally “10 seconds to go.” At which time without missing a beat, Wayne Howell said, “If you have to.”

The audience screamed, and we were on our way. Forty years later that cheap, little joke still has significance to me. He pulled it off so well.

There have been some excellent hosts. Looking back at the old tapes on Game Show Network, I can see why I loved Match Game’s Gene Rayburn. He was so fast on his feet and always listening, making him topically funny.

Even when he used a contestant’s flub as the butt of his joke, he never came off as anything but nice. It’s easy to make a joke at someone else’s expense and look mean. He was masterful in avoiding that trap.

Bill Cullen was another great host, but in a different way. He was more of a bright everyman. I don’t remember him throwing one liners, but as with Rayburn, he was always listening and responding.

The most important on-air quality for a host to possess is his/her ability to make the audience believe he’s rooting for the contestant. Watch Pat Sajack spin the wheel in the final round – always finding big money. It’s no accident. I think viewers sense Pat is consciously doing that, and subconsciously they like it and him.

Bert Convey was that way too. Though he did a number of shows, I think his best work was on Tattletales. Tattletales was a show where celebrity husbands and their (now divorced or deceased) wives would be quizzed on what they knew about each other. It was similar to, but less low brow, smarmy or sexual than the Newlywed Game. Convery was everyone’s friend, always helping.

I’d like to throw Chuck Barris into this mix for his work on the Gong Show, but I suspect I was watching one very stoned individual who would be incapable to duplicating his performance while straight. I really don’t know that, but it’s my assumption.

And there’s Chuck Woolery, Allen Ludden, Bob Barker, Tom Bergeron, Ken Ober, Regis, and a host of others who’d be offended if they ever came across this site and saw I left out their name. That’s life – get over it.

Without game shows I wouldn’t know about the Michael C. Fina Company or Spiegel – Chicago 60601 or that it was McCormick in the east and Schilling in the west (or was it the other way around) or remember Kathy Lee Gifford as Kathy Lee Johnson, when she was adorable and sang 5 seconds at a time on Name That Tune..

As is often the case in the performing arts, it’s not just the game ,or just the host, but a plethora of interlocking imponderables that make for a success or failure. Chuck Woolery never had the success with Wheel that Pat Sajack does. A number of different hosts tried doing syndicated, nighttime versions of the Price is Right – without success.

I’ve seen Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, from Singapore, hosted by The Flying Dutchman (a morning disk jockey there). Same set, same music, same game. It needed Regis.

Who knows if I’ll ever get the chance? I’d move heaven and Earth. It’s a crap shoot, I suppose. Whether I’m talented or not, being the weatherman in New Haven is probably not a huge selling point. Though I’m immature for my age, it might be said that I’m too old.

I hope I’d be good at it. It would be fun to find out. I think I already know how to play the game.