Monday, May 19, 2008

Freed to Freelance

I've been working for a real estate developer at a time when that business has basically fallen off a cliff, especially here in Florida. Our company has had numerous rounds of layoffs and has continued to hemorrhage cash. After a recent round of layoffs, I was in a company-paid computer class at a local community college. Among the students were two people who had just lost their jobs. (The company had already paid for the class so it let them attend anyway.) When one of them mentioned the severance package he got, I thought, 'I'd take that deal!'

In the epitome of "be careful what you wish for," I got that severance deal last week.

I’m a little nervous but I’ve been too occupied with freelance work to digest the news fully. I haven’t even read the paperwork that the HR guy went over with me when it happened Thursday morning. That afternoon I spent contacting people I’ve done freelance work for to let them know of my increased availability. Friday I transcribed tapes for a story I’m producing for a show that airs on the local PBS affiliate. Saturday I had to go into the station to supervise editing of another story for the same show. After that I wasted an hour shooting crappy photos at a local botanical garden then went to visit my parents. They asked what I had done that day.

"I had to edit a story for WEDU. Can you believe that? Unemployed and I still have to work. What’s up with that?"

Speaking of WEDU, the station has posted the April edition of A Gulf Coast Journal on the web. This includes the story I produced about Venice's song-and-dance man Eric Watters. It's the second story in the show roughly 8-9 minutes in. That's early for one of my pieces. So accustomed was I for stories I produce to appear near the end of the show that when this one first aired I missed it because I had tuned in too late!

The episodes debut the last Thursday of the month then re-air the following Sunday afternoon. I caught the Sunday re-run. Through the magic of the Internets, you can watch it below.

It was last December that I got an e-mail asking if I could cover this story. Eric was about to go through his now annual rite of playing Scrooge in the Venice Little Theatre's production of Dickens' A Christmas Carol. The story, to air in the spring, wasn't to be about that performance, I was told, but it was important for us to shoot it and -- I presumed -- include it in the story.

I apparently presumed wrong. Not one frame of video from the play appeared in the final cut of the story. Unfortunately, a stray soundbite from the play's director did survive and I'm afraid it confuses more than it illuminates. Out of nowhere someone pops up unannounced and un-introduced, says something very flattering about Eric, then disappears with no explanation of what qualifies him to comment.

Stories will almost always face cuts for time reasons. A segment producer's job is to fall in love with the story until he or she thinks a viewer cannot possibly see too much of it. The overall show producer's job is to judge the reality of how much a viewer wants to see. Here is an instance in which I wish they had cut about 8-10 seconds more.

The story I produced for the May episode should air in a form I recognize. I got to supervise the editing of a story about an adaptive golf program now nationally headquartered in Sarasota. Prior stories had edited during the week when I was occupied by full-time employment. This time the regular editor was on vacation and Drew Duncan, the freelancer filling in, was willing to work on a weekend.

The good thing about watching the editing process as that I can see when something that looked good in the script doesn't come across as well on the screen. I can have the editor chop down a soundbite or cut it out altogether to improve the pace of the story. When we finished, I also made sure to leave a second version that came in under four minutes. If a cut-down version was to air, I wanted to be the one wielding the hatchet.

You will not be any more surprised than I was to learn that the senior producer chose the shorter version of the story. That's the one I would have gone with too.

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