Many diverse elements enter into the production of a video program. First of these is the matter of budget. How much money do you, as producer, have to spend? How much of the budget is for entertainment, how much for the “commercial”?
With the budgetary details settled, comes the question of program “idea” (or vice versa). Shall the program be of the dramatic type? If so, shall it be mystery, comedy, or just straight drama? Or shall it be “variety” or quiz type?
If it’s to be a musical program – shall it be grand opera, light opera, musical comedy, Gilbert and Sullivan, or just soloists and instrumentalists? Or should it be a newscast, fashion show, educational feature, documentary, “how-to-make-it” or hobby type program, travelogue? Or shall it be a sports show – wrestling, boxing, or a six-day bicycle race?
Factors in Program Selection
In a television station, the question of programming is usually the concern of the program director who, at present, has almost unrestricted control of the station’s programming. When the contemplated program expenditure is considerably more than established budgets provide, the program director may require the approval of the station manager. In network station decisions, pertaining to program selection often may rest with a program committee.
With agencies carrying on experimental television, selection of program material is usually left to the agency’s television director. In some instances an agency committee may decide on program ideas. If an advertiser is paying the bills, the final decision may rest with him. Very often the agency will be given complete discretion in choice of material, leaving it pretty much to the agency’s television director.
In selecting a program idea, the television producer-director will be governed by the following:
- Size of budget – which will determine size of cast, type of talent, and overall production costs.
- Need for selecting a program in keeping with the product advertised.
- Availability of program “packages” from independent producers, or availability of performers required for the program “idea”
- Avoidance of a program idea, which is identical or similar to a program already being televised by the station, you are using, especially if done on the same night. Thus, if the station is already telecasting a variety type program, you had better consider something else.
- Suitability of the station’s facilities for the type of show you have in mind. If you are planning grand opera or ballet, can the studio accommodate the many performers needed? Are there sufficient dressing rooms? Is there space for change of sets?
Assuming you decide to try a dramatic series and the first play on your schedule is “Petrified Forest,” there is the matter of clearing the “rights”. This is not always a simple matter. After checking with the publishers of the play, you may find that the motion picture rights, which include television, are owned by a Hollywood company. After calling the New York headquarters and being referred to the Burbank office, you may learn that the performance fee, for one performance, on a non-commercial program, for experimental purposes, and not exceeding 30 minutes in length, is $100.
In the meantime, in order to play safe, you will have probably checked with Samuel French, Inc., and have gone over their list of plays (for which the royalties are $15 for one-acters, and $25 to $50 if used on commercial shows).
The shooting Script
With the rights cleared, you go to work immediately to prepare a shooting script, cutting down the original script from three acts to one act. The script is then mimeographed or “dittoed” and copies are distributed to everyone associated with the production, including the art director (for title cards, studio sets and drawings of miniature “table-top” sets for outdoor scenes); the casting director, who immediately issues calls for talent and starts auditions; the special effects or technical director; the persons in charge of wardrobe and make-up. Copies of the script, together with a cue sheet, are also sent to the program director of the television station, who then distributes copies to the station manager, stage manager, and to the studio technicians concerned with this particular program.
To the television production manager (or assistant director) then goes the job of coordinating the various elements of production, namely:
- Arranging dates, time and places for rehearsals.
- Construction of sets, painting of drops, building of miniatures.
- Preparation of title cards.
- Selection of costumes
- Obtaining props, stage furniture
After the show is cast, the performers get their scripts and are coached by the director in the differences of television over stage, radio and motion picture techniques. These television “orientation” talks should continue throughout the rehearsals so performers will acquire a professional understanding of television before they get to the studio.
Rehearsals Without Cameras
In order to make best use of the time allotted for rehearsals with cameras in the studio, the director schedules preliminary “line and business” rehearsals (without cameras” for a period which should equal the total amount of rehearsal time with cameras in the studio. When the director gets to the studio with his cast, he can concentrate on camera angles, and perfect synchronization of sound and special effects, music, lighting, color and settings.
Immediately following the first studio camera rehearsal, the director calls the players together to point out the weaknesses and faults he noted and takes steps to correct them. Players are coached in more effective camera techniques, are cautioned against movements which are too quick for the camera to follow, or positions on stage which cause them to go “out of frame”. Players are also told of cuts in the script, changes in “business”, etc. Changes are made in costumes which did not show up well. Sets which failed to register effectively are touched up or re-done.
During the second camera rehearsal, all elements of the production – music, sound effects, visual effects, film, title cards – are carefully checked for timing and split-second integration.
Last-minute changes in script, costumes, settings, and music are made before the “dress” and last rehearsal. Players get final coaching, “business” is perfected, best camera angles are worked out in fine detail.
When the “dress” rehearsal is held, it is done under simulated “on the air” conditions.
The next step is the actual telecasting of the program, bringing weeks of activity to a close – and a sigh of relief to you