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Tales from the Set

Volume 2—FIND THE MAGIC

As I think back on all of the projects we’ve done over the years, it’s hard to pick a favorite.  Each project takes on it’s own life. Cast and crew become family.  A shorthand develops, relationships form and break, nicknames are given, and then one day, the project is done and the process starts anew.  Still, the creating the first (and, as bad luck would have it, only) season of More than Entertainment stands out as one of the highlights of my career.

We had 6 weeks and a pretty tight budget to create 13 half-hour episodes of a magazine style show.  At that time, it was the largest professional challenge I had ever faced.  The series was aimed at teens and young adults and was a behind the scenes look at the entertainment industry from a career perspective.  Each episode focused on one area of the industry, like “Radio” or “The Theater” and would have three segments, each driven by interview(s) with people working in a different part of that industry.  Our team developed a creative where we would have multiple cameras rolling at all times so we could capture both the principal footage and, at the same time we could show viewers HOW we created what they were watching.  We didn’t just break the fourth wall, we eliminated it.

   

 

When shooting started, we had about 60% of the interviews locked.   Each day, we would shoot two segments—one before lunch and one after.  The team back at the office would be scheduling interviews, clearing locations and creating call sheets for the next day while I was out with cast and crew directing the days’ activities.  It was both exhausting and exhilarating work, and every day brought new challenges and new revelations.  By the third week, we had worked through most of the interviews that were easy to obtain, and were struggling to fill each day’s shooting schedule. Still--thanks to the great team we had in place, every day got filled and the show was taking shape.

The only thing missing was the content for Episode 12.  We knew that this episode was going to be “Unsung Heroes” in the industry, but nobody had really stopped to identify who these people were and what we would do.  After all—there are a LOT of thankless jobs in this business, and we’ve all had one or more of them.  Still—it was hard to imagine how we could make this episode stand up to some of the sexier topics in the series.  Whoever we chose would have to compete with NFL players, actual Hollywood stars, and internationally known recording artists for the eyes and heart of the viewer.  After a quick lunch and a couple of cups of coffee, I was standing outside of our office looking in at the crew dining in our glass conference room, and I found myself completely transfixed by the way Holt Manchester, our newly hired production assistant, interacted with the crew.  His facial expressions, body language, and demeanor had the crew in rolling on the floor.  Just then, one of our interns, Geordie Lynch burst out through the door carrying a roll of quarters and ran from parking meter to parking meter making sure none of the cast and crew vehicles were ticketed during lunch.

    

Though I had a lot on my mind, the light bulb appeared above my head and clicked on.  I connected those two events and realized that I had two thirds of the episode figured out.  We could do their interviews on any day that we had no other interviews scheduled and “fill in” the time with the crew.  Even better, we had literally hours of footage of them working on the set to add in to their interviews.  When the series was done, this became the most talked about episode of the 13.  Holt became a minor celebrity around town.  And, though we did use many of the celebrity appearances on the show to promote it, I found that we almost always showed his segment as an indicator of the style and energy we could create around almost any subject.

So what is the takeaway from this? Regardless of how focused you may get, or how well-planned your production may be, you should always be looking for that human moment, the Magic that could be the difference between good and great.