How to Get Thee on TV

Several years ago I read an article in Art Calendar about an artist who produced her own television series featuring local artists. I thought the idea was wonderful! I am, after all, a visual artist. And of course I wanted to be on television with my artwork.

So I e-mailed her a few questions and she gave me lots of pointers on how to get started on a show of my own. And that’s just where I stopped! It seemed like so much work. It was so scary. At that point, I had just quit my day job to do my art full time, and I was not willing to add anything else to my plate.

Like some of my paintings, I let the idea gestate for years. One day I was at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon. The guest speaker was Suzanne St. John, the executive director of our local public access station. Her presentation was compelling and inspiring. She motivated me to take the next orientation class at the station.

At the orientation, instructor Kelly Abbott was also enthusiastic about creating shows and she inspired me to get going on a show of my own right away. She explained you could do pretty much any type of show as long it was non-commercial. For example, I could not have a call to action. Examples of calls to action are: «Pick up the phone and order a painting.» or «Come on down to the studio/website and buy my wonderful paintings!» However, I am allowed to direct them to my site/contact information to get further information on the show.

GETTING STARTED

It’s not hard to create a show. It simply requires a lot of planning, flexibility and a huge dose of gumption. Here’s how I got started:

First, I enrolled in every seminar the station offered. Why do you need to take seminars? First, it helps to know at least the basic aspects of a production in order to plan the logistics of the show. Second, volunteers staff your production. You don’t pay your crew in money. (However I should mention that I do supply dinner for the crew each time I shoot an episode.) You also give back by working on other people’s shows. Initially, when I worried about the time it might take to volunteer for shoots, I realized I could either be watching the television or making it! So I quit worrying and simply showed up!

Producer’s Seminar

This seminar was all about planning and managing the logistics of the production. The questions you need to ask yourself when developing your show are:

1) What do you want to accomplish? That was easy. I wanted to inspire people to create, get my work before a larger audience, and make a ton of money!

2) What genre are you going to utilize? I decided to create a «How To» painting show as I was comfortable doing demos and I wanted to show what really happens during a painting session. My show is filmed live-to-tape with no editing.

3) Who is your target audience? People who liked to watch painting shows? I wasn’t sure. I never did get this one totally figured out but I didn’t let it stop me from doing the show.

4) How long do you want your show to be? Public access television allows you to choose any length of time you wish. I chose an hour as I thought I could best accomplish my goals during that time frame.

5) What format are you shooting it in? I chose to shoot to SVHS tape and get also dubs in DVD. However, I am going to switch soon to Mini DV format, as the quality is better. I’ll still get dubs in DVD.

6) How many people do you need for your Crew? I need a minimum of 6 people each time I shoot but I prefer 8. (Director, Technical Director, Audio, Character Generator, Roll in Tape Operator, Lighting, 3 Camera People, Floor Director.) Some crew people can perform dual duties. The Director can also handle the Technical Director position. The Character Generator can also double as a Roll in Tape Operator. One of the Camera persons could also double as a Floor Director. And worst case, you could only have two camera people and have one camera «locked down» on the palette. I usually have my audio person also handle the lighting as these duties are performed at separate times.

7) What are your cast considerations? For the first two episodes, I had a cast. The cast consisted of an emcee, a live musician and me. By the third episode I pared it down to just me. The emcee retired after two shows and I decided to write my own music so I no longer needed the live musician. Keeping it simple is important. This cast reduction made my coordination a lot easier. Now all I had to worry about was the crew (If you do use cast members, please make sure you get them to sign talent release forms before they appear on your show.)

8) Who’s going to edit? What editing? My two reasons for shooting live to tape were: 1) The «freshness» of the episode and 2) One less thing for me to do at the end of each shoot. Editing would cut in to my painting time! My episode is ready to air as soon as the show is over.

9) What kind of music are you going to use? I used a great software program called Soundtrack. The software contains royalty-free loops that you can use to create your own soundtrack. If you are going to use other people’s music you must obtain permission from the copyright holder. (For more information and some copyright clearances visit BMI. or visit the U.S. copyright office at copyright.gov)

10) Are you going to shoot on location or in the studio? I chose to shoot in the studio because so many variables are controlled there. In the studio you have a multitude of lighting options, and power sources. The cameras are on dollies and are easier to maneuver than field cameras. Since the studio is soundproof, I don’t have to contend with my neighbor firing up his lawnmower, or the dog that just won’t stop barking.

Field Production

The Field Production class was centered around how to use the field gear and shooting on location.

Studio Production

The Studio Production class was daunting. It focused on all aspects of studio equipment. Hey, I had never even operated a camcorder and my visual of fire wire was a cartoon version of a dynamite fuse. Still, I got through the class in one piece.

Editing

In the Linear and Digital Editing classes I learned how to polish a show. So though I don’t edit my show, I could. Additionally, I created a roll-in tape for the opening of each show using the digital editing software.

ON WITH THE SHOW!

I took my orientation class in April. By August I had completed my seminars and had my first show in the can. I didn’t know if I was ready but if I waited till I was perfect, I’d still be planning the show. A fellow orientation class member visited me during my Open Studio. Along with my body of paintings were 11 television episodes on the shelf. She stared at the shelf and noted that we started at the same time. She was still thinking about how she was going to do her show and I had 11 in the can. She said that helped her to get motivated. I know I’m not perfect. Month after month show I strive to beat my last performance and improve other aspects of the show’s production.

The biggest push as far as time and energy occurred before I got the first show in the can. Now I focus on the month-to-month production aspects. I spend 10-16 hours per episode on pre-production duties.

Pre-Production Duties

RECRUIT

I recruit crew members for each shoot. There is a pool of people who are certified and willing to work on episodes. Early on, when the show and the station were new, it was difficult to recruit. I really had to work at it. I emailed, emailed again, picked up the phone and called everyone on the list. Now I am getting people who ask ahead of time to work on my show. At present, recruiting is no longer an issue. I still have to do it each month but rarely do I have trouble getting enough people. I start out a month ahead of time and send out e-mails. Two weeks before the shoot I send out another plea. Two days before the shoot, I follow up with a reminder to all who have confirmed. Even so, there are times when not everyone arrives. The station has always been very supportive. More than once, staff members have pitched in when crew members failed to show up.

LESSON/SHOW PREP

I determine what I’m going to paint and prepare the surface(s). Sometimes, it’s a one shot deal and other times, I do extensive preparation and have 3 versions of the same painting in various stages of being. Toward the end of one episode, I could tell that I wasn’t anywhere near getting that painting completed so at the end of the segment, I announced that it was a two-parter!

Day of Shoot

Load Set and Equipment (You have to bring your own set and equipment, as they have no room for storage.) I use lightweight fabric show walls and an easel. This allows me to showcase a few paintings and creates a neutral backdrop. Also, I make sure I am able to lift everything by myself. Help is not always available.

Prepare Paperwork

I create a Rundown Sheet for the Director for each episode. It’s an outline of what I am doing and when. She needs to know at what point during the show to add graphics or music.

Speaking of graphics, the Character Generator needs a list of current crew members and other written titles to add to the credits. I complete this form ahead of time as well. I get as much done before I ever get to the studio. This makes the show run more smoothly.

I complete Dub Requests forms to expedite getting copies of my show. I get the initial copies from the station and do my own dubbing. It’s more cost effective.

Finally, I complete a submission form so my show can be aired.

Buy Crew Food

Sometimes, I make my own, sometimes I don’t. It depends on my schedule. I always do something special for them. I never lose sight that they are spending their time helping me create a show. Treat them like gold-they are!

Set Up the Set and Food

Unload the care, fine tune the set and coordinate last minute instructions to the crew.

Makeup/Clothes

Up until the last shoot, I didn’t wear makeup. However, every time they’d do a close up I ‘d cringe. I looked terrible. Finally I went out to a store that specializes in television makeup and had them do a makeover. The stuff is plastered on. You look plastic in person but much better on TV.

As for my clothes, I decided on black. I have a black background so I kind of fade in to the set. The camera really does add 10 pounds-ouch! I didn’t wait until I got skinny to get started on the show. I just began filming episodes and now I’m on the treadmill and dieting. Avoid small patterns as they become pixilated. Flashy colors hurt especially reds.

They are not camera friendly. Jewelry reflects so keep to a minimum.

Post Production

I am pumped and exhausted at the same time after each shoot. Then I have to load the van with all the gear. Finally, I head home, unpack and clean brushes. When I finally «make it» I will have roadies!

It takes about a week for me to get the dubs from the station. As soon as they arrive I forward them to the other stations. Next I get the information to my web person so she can update my site.

Refine Show

I’m uncomfortable watching myself on television. However I look at the show to see where I can improve and I rely on viewer feedback. I take what I like and leave the rest. I’ve had some great help from viewers.

Market Show

I’m doing a lot of things to market my show:

I market my show by hooking up with other Access Stations. Right now I’m in three stations but I’m attending a conference at the end of the month and hope to market my show to every station at the conference!

I’m working on treatments for PBS. I at least have one PBS station that is considering the tape.

I intend to market the tape to Book Clubs such as North Light.

Finally, I sell the episodes on my web site.

Costs

Each shoot costs a minimum of $113.33.

This breaks down to:

Dubs: $55.00,

Annual Dues: $100.00

Crew Food: 50.00

I get the initial dubs from the station (SVHS and DVD) and then I do my own. I also dub for each station that carries my show. The web order dubbing is completed on demand.

The station allows me to sell my tapes and does not require a royalty unless I get a mass distribution contract. At that point I would need to pay the station a 10% royalty.

Results

Am I meeting my goals? Yep! Each episode I go out there and give it everything I have. Sometimes the painting is less than stellar. I’ve even thrown away paintings on the air. The show is about what really happens to me during a painting session. When I do something that doesn’t work, I don’t sugar coat it. I explain what happened and how I might rectify it. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Either way my show is fresh. I talk about composition, color, form, space, losing fear. My main thread for each show is to inspire the audience to create. I want to get them off that couch and start doing something. My camerawoman said after filming one episode that I made it look like she could actually paint. Exactly! Then I have done my job.

As far as my financial goals, to paraphrase Jack White, exposure is nothing if it does not translate in to sales. This is the best sales year to date. Additionally, I’ve been able to raise my prices. My perceived value has risen as a direct result of being on television.

As for exposure, I’ve been on a magazine cover and 2 different front-page newspapers.

The show helped me at ArtExpo in New York as well. People who were ready to pass by my booth, saw the show on my DVD player and stopped to look at my work.

It has helped gain gallery representation and I’m going to continue to use to gain further representation.

Recognition. My pilot episode was a finalist in the Western Access Video Excellence Awards last year in the instructional category. Two of my episodes have been nominated in the same category this year. So I guess I really am meeting my instructional goal!

I’ve overcome a lot of fear and have become a much stronger person. Best of all I am having fun! So go out there and make an episode! What are you waiting for?

#Thee

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