This is the first in a series of articles where we will explore the different positions in a typical High School broadcast production control room.
The goal in this series is to give some tips on how to teach the skills needed to pull off a successful student run production. The job descriptions will generally apply to remote broadcasts as well as studio productions. I will do my best to pass on some of the techniques that have worked for me and get some tips from those who have been on the commercial side of broadcast productions.
First, what is a producer and what is a director? Tim Fanguy, Director of Video Production for the New Orleans Hornets, has a good analogy, “The best way to describe the job of a producer is to use a football reference. The producer is like the head coach and the director is like the quarterback. The producer comes up with the game plan, calls the plays, and the director executes the plan.”
The producer is the “boss” of the program. They will get a lot of the credit if the program goes well and also a lot of the blame if the program has some “foam the runway” moments.
So what does it take to be the “head coach” of a video production team at the High School level? The producer MUST be organized. It is the producer’s job to get everyone on the same page before the production starts. Fanguy says this is their most important job, along with keeping them on track during the production.
So how do you teach this to students who may be new to the world of video production? Can you teach someone to be organized? I’m not sure, but you can arm them with the tools to make the production successful. If it’s a studio production, such as a news broadcast or talk show, come up with a written show rundown and give EVERYONE on the crew a copy. Even if it’s a sporting event, you should also have a rundown. The live event rundown may not be as detailed as the news show, but it should have a plan on how to handle pre-game, going to breaks, half-time and the end of the game. All of this information needs to be shared with the entire crew.
The producer should also have an understanding of all production jobs. They don’t have to be experts, they just need to have a working knowledge of the different positions so they can understand the capabilities and limitations of their crew. Ideally, they would have worked their way through the different jobs.
The producer should also know how to keep their cool under pressure. Live TV is by its nature very stressful, especially if the crew is inexperienced or ill prepared.
So what about the “quarterback” of the production? If your crew is large enough you should have a director and technical director. In student productions this is many times the same person.
Fanguy describes the job of the director this way, “The director is the person who calls all of the camera shots and gives direction to the technical director as well as the cameras. The really good directors listen to their talent and follow what they are talking about and relay that message to the camera operators instead of just cutting a show the way the director wants too. TV is all about collaboration.”
When describing the job of the technical director, Fanguy, who specializes in live sports coverage, says, “The most important duty of a director is cutting a clean show. Too many times, directors want to get super fancy and they wind up missing parts of the game, or a sponsored element, or a replay. The key for any director is being able to walk away from the stadium or arena at the end of the game and know that they cut a clean show.”
If the producer, director and technical director have done their preproduction homework chances are good that the show will be clean. So how does a director call a clean show and the technical director punch it? Practice, practice and more practice and also know the capabilities of your crew and equipment.
I start off the new school year with our football coach’s show. It’s a 30 minute taped studio show and we start the second or third week of school! It’s safe to say, the crew is pretty green. Fortunately all of my students have had a beginning broadcast course and have some knowledge of the production process. Students, armed with this knowledge, always give me “we got this” and “we don’t need to practice.” I say, OK, “I’m the coach.” I walk into the studio, sit down in the chair, clip on a mic and say let’s go I’m ready.
I know before we start, the pretend show is doomed. So what, it’s just practice and a good way to let them fail before the real Coach sets foot in our studio. It’s then we will go over the show rundown and describe in detail the job of each person on the crew. Then we practice, at least 10-15 times before our first real show.
Personally, I feel the beginning and the ending of the show has to be clean and usually causes the most problems, so we practice it over and over. I suggest getting a routine that everyone on the crew understands and can execute like second nature. We also switch positions every week, so this can be a little challenging. So guess what, we practice every week again before the coach arrives.
So how do you teach the skills of a director or technical director? Practice, then sit down with the entire crew and critique the tape. Then do it again. Of all of the jobs, the director and the technical director need the most practice. The director needs to give good, clear commands and the technical director and camera operators need to, almost instantly, follow that command. That comes with … you guessed it … practice. We critique our show every week, and that’s where the students see, maybe it wasn’t as clean as we thought.
To break it down, the producer is the boss or “head coach.” They keep time on the show, alert the director when it’s time for a break, talk to the talent through IFB, and keep everyone on task. The director is calling the camera shots, giving the crew direction and staying in constant communication with the producer. The technical director is punching the buttons. The ONLY people who should be talking on the intercom are the producer and the director. If a member of the crew needs to say something over the intercom, they say it and then immediately turn off their mic.
Students can sometimes be apprehensive about trying new video production jobs, especially producer and director. That’s why I feel that practice until they are comfortable is so important along with giving the students constructive feedback. Toward the end of the season, after everyone has had a chance to try all of the production jobs, I let them “gravitate” to the jobs they like best. That’s when the producer and director types step up to the challenge and I tend to step back and watch them shine. But I am always on standby, ready to “foam the runway” for any rough landings.
Students can really get some valuable experience in High School productions getting them ready for college, broadcast jobs or the freelance market. Fanguy says, “The best piece of advice I got was when I was in High School and considering a career in TV. A mentor simply stated “be a sponge” What that means is that learn everything you can about the business regardless if you want to be, on camera talent, a producer, director, camera operator, etc. You never know what the future holds and it’s best to be well rounded in case your intended career path doesn’t work out. I took that advice and ran with it. When I first started in the business, I thought I wanted to be on air talent, but still learned all of the behind the scenes positions, and quickly realized that being behind the scenes was much more natural and more exciting and fun for me. If I wasn’t a sponge early on, who knows where I would be right now.”
Next month: We continue with Audio Engineer and Video Engineer
Albert Dupont has been the Advanced TV Broadcasting Facilitator (Teacher) at the Satellite Center in Luling, Louisiana since its opening in 2005. The Satellite Center is a “satellite” facility of Hahnville and Destrehan High Schools. The schools are a part of the St. Charles Parish Public School System located near New Orleans.
Before becoming a teacher, Mr. Dupont was a news and sports videographer for WVUE-TV in New Orleans for twelve years and news producer at WAFB in Baton Rouge and KATC in Lafayette for five years. As a sports photographer, Mr. Dupont was a field videographer at the New Orleans Saints games from 1994 to 2009. He also was a videographer at two Superbowls and numerous college national championship games in a variety of sports. He is an Avid Certified Instructor in Media Composer 6.