The Graduation Gateway premieres on Wednesday, April 18 at 7:30 PM/ ET.
This Wednesday, WFSU-TV’s latest documentary premieres: The Graduation Gateway. It’s a show about education and careers, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to inaugurate our new documentary blog with a look at the job I know best- Public Broadcasting producer. How this show was produced offers an insight into how radically the job is changing.
Almost five years ago, I was editing Florida War Diaries: WWII Remembered, with producer Suzanne Smith. Suzanne also produced The Graduation Gateway. Back then I was primarily an editor. The program had been shot by our three videographers, and I had three bright young edit assistants to help me with specific tasks like making a credits bed, typing out name graphics, and searching the music library. It was our big show for the year, and we attacked it like (proportional to our resources at the time) it was our D-Day. It won a first place Silver Telly for Best Documentary and was generally well received. It was the last time we ever approached a show that way.
Videographer Tony Bentulan consults with producer Suzanne Smith.
Nearly five years later and Suzanne is editing her own show. In fact, all of our producers now edit their own work. Some of our producers, including Suzanne, have had to learn the skill set from scratch. The skills include graphic design, file conversion for online distribution, and DVD creation. We got to this point as budgets started shrinking and our staff got smaller every year. Right after Florida War Diaries, I started producing documentaries for WFSU-TV, segments for our magazine show Dimensions, client videos, and I manage our ecology video blog (In the Grass, On the Reef). I moved into producing from my edit suite, and the other producers started filling the stations around me as we gained computers and lost editors. We went from three full time videographers to one, with everyone from students to our technical director Paul Dam to myself pitching in. This kind of thing is typical for smaller TV stations and production companies- everyone pulls double duty. At least double duty. And we’re doing this at a time when the technology of video productions is always changing.
I think of this as a fun time to work in television production. In the last five years, we have transitioned our field production operation to a tapeless high definition workflow. And our studio will transition soon. We have expanded our online presence, offering more ways than ever for people to connect with our work. Every new advance means homework for everyone, on top of the research we do for our projects. When I was struggling to learn the WordPress blog platform with no background in web design whatsoever, I was also studying up on how blue crabs rule the salt marsh, and how oysters clean the water.
Producer Rob Diaz de Villegas at sunrise, filming birds at the Saint Marks National Wildlife Refuge.
You also have to be flexible about the kinds of shows you work on. As Suzanne was finishing her documentary, she still hosted and produced Issues in Education with FSU President Eric Barron, and produced our Dimensions program three times a month. In the last month, I produced and directed our coverage of Mozart’s Cosi fan tutti (performed by FSU Opera), directed a webcast in Sarasota on the Ringling Museum’s Rubens tapestries, and I produced two outdoor ecology segments on Aucilla Sinks and the St. Marks Wildlife Refuge. Even those multicamera remotes at Ringling and FSU have gotten smaller. Where we used to take multiple camera operators, most of our cameras on these productions are now operated robotically by a single operator.
My advice to anyone looking to get into TV is to be versatile. Learn as much as you can about every aspect of production, because it helps to know a lot. And be passionate about it. If you don’t love it, it’ll seem like more work than it’s worth.