Saturday, June 6, 2015

Television or YouTube?

My television career started early.  In 1973 I wrote and starred in a series about American Furniture for CBS.  This consisted of 10 different 30 minute shows which began with Pilgrim furniture and ended with the Arts and Crafts period.  It was called "Welcome to the Past...The History of American Furniture.

My director was pregnant during the production and was not able to direct the last 4 episodes so I guess I can also claim credit for behind the camera work as I was asked to fill in for her while I was "acting" in front of the camera.

We taped two episodes back to back every two weeks.  I was responsible for setting up the set, positioning the furniture, marking out the blocking shots and generating the "B" rolls.  There were three cameras, each the size of a Volkswagen, on rolling stands.  I had to memorize the script and end exactly at 28 minutes and 30 seconds, as the taping was live.  There were no edits.

I opened each show sitting on one of the pieces of furniture in the set and discussed the topic for a few minutes, setting the historical context.  Then I would have the director switch the feed to the "B" roll which was a series of images that lasted a few minutes.  During the "B" roll I would continue the audio, talking about each of the images, while at the same time I was moving all the furniture off the set and then placing the next few pieces in place.  From time to time you can hear me grunting and breathing heavily as I dragged something heavy by myself.

When the camera returned to the set, I was sitting comfortably in the next chair or standing behind the next table in the show.  It was a little fun and a lot of work.

After taping a show, the crew would take a half hour break.  I would change clothes and reset the set for the second show.  That meant new "B" rolls, new furniture and a completely new script.

By the way, in 1973 I had shoulder length hair, paisley shirts with high collars, and bell bottom pants...with a 30" waist.  So much has changed since then.

I was fortunate to do a lot of television over the years.  In fact I was involved with two shows which were each nominated for an emmy.  The first was under an NEA grant, working with the Timken Museum in San Diego and called "The Age Of Elegance.  France in the 18th Century."  The second was when the Mingei Museum created an exhibition comparing Japanese potters of the 19th century and their approach to their work and the Shakers during the same time.  It was called "Kindred Spirits."  I was the Shaker woodworker and talked about my relation to my tools and the process of simple perfection.

I also had the pleasure to work with Roy Underhill during one episode of the Woodwright's Shop.  That was  easily the most fun two guys can have in front of a camera.  It was a real honor to share time with an American legend and icon.

The last few years I have worked with Patrice Lejeune here at work, making short videos for YouTube.  We have a channel, 3815Utah, which is simply names after the address of the shop.  Patrice is my "French Director" and we have a lot of fun.

Usually it goes like this:  I am working, as usual.  He walks by and says casually, "that would make a great video."  I say, "Don't bother me, I am working."  Then my wife, Kristen, comes out of her office and says, "You need to document that!"

End of discussion.

Then I have to stop and "set up" the stuff for the video.  Patrice needs to set up his camera and we agree on blocking and some basic text.  Then I have to "act."

As you can see, I am never enthusiastic about my involvement.  I have perhaps the least exciting or interesting personality on screen, after all these years.  When I think I am done I am ready to go on to something else.  That is when I hear Patrice say, "Can't we do better?  Let's do it again!"

At least he includes the bloopers at the end.

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