Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Big, Bad Magnet and Basic Post-Production

To tell you the truth, the MRI wasn't that bad. And it's not like I've never had one before. Truthfully, I've had so many that I think I get "frequent tubing" miles for them and I'm a member of the "million miler" club, after the last eighteen years!
The strange thing about this one was the fact that it was in one of those traveling MRI trailer. The center I went to is under renovation and upgrading all their equipment. But to do so, they had to shut one machine down to take it out and until the new replacement comes in and is installed, they have to use this "portable" MRI. It had no sonic music system. So your only option is to take these two small, disposable ear plug and stick 'em in. Didn't make any difference. The noise was still about "first row at a KISS concert-right in front of the amplifiers" loudness. And, due to the fact that it was only my right knee, I was placed in the tube feet-first and only up to my waist. I'll see the doc tomorrow with the MRI images and get the verdict then. So be it.

Enough about me. Let's get back to the show. Today I finally had the chance to review and "edit" the agreement sent to me on the day before we were leaving for San Francisco, by company that is supposed to work with us to co-produce the "pitch video" and get the show sold to a major satellite/cable network. "What does that entail?" you ask. And I'll tell you.

We shot about 14 hours of video on two camera, plus a little more on a third, all in HD. The first thing that has to be done is called "logging" the video. On almost all video today, there are usually two "clocks;" the one you're used to when shooting the kids' birthday party with the time of day. The second clock, which you usually have to manually select on a consumer video camera, is called the "time code." This is a digital clock that has five places, beginning from the right would be:
Days:Hours:Minutes:Seconds: Frames

Every video that you shoot has a "begin" point and an "end" point; basically when you press the "RECORD" button to start shooting a scene and when you press it a second time to pause your shooting. So the production assistant has to review ALL the video and log the following:
1. Start Time Code
2. End Time Code
3. Scene Description
4. Audio Description
5. Any other pertinent information the producer requests.
Now imagine doing that for fourteen hours of video! It's probably a 2-day, 10 hours per day job. Hah! And you thought TV production was glamorous!

Once the logging is done, the producer(s) sits with the editor to review the log chart and to start out some of the scenes he/she wants to see for possible inclusion in the final product. Bear in mind that most of those 14 hours were recorded with just the "pitch video" in mind. Yes, we'll use a lot of it in the episode featuring the San Francisco Fire Department, too. But for now, we'll be picking out the best 3-5 minutes of video from all of those 14 hours. Sound like fun, yet?

Well, that's it for now. Need to go and get my leg elevated to alleviate the throbbing!

Be good to each other!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

"With a Turn of the Word - It Wasn't My Heart I Left in San Francisco!"

Thanks to a social networking site, I was able to re-establish contact with a very good friend from days gone by; very good days gone by. And in the passing nearly forty years, I knew that she had fulfilled one of her dreams, of becoming an actress. Though now she busies herself with her husband, grown kids, and many community theaters, back in the '70's you might have spotted her on a little TV show called, "Happy Days," or in a theatrical release, called "Grease." More about her good wishes in a moment.

So, as I was about to leave at the end of last week for this trip to San Francisco to shoot the pilot for a new TV show, she gave me the long-traditional showbiz wish for a successful journey and endeavor "Break a leg." My problem was that I apparently took her at her literal word.

We had a great flight to San Francisco aboard Virgin America Airlines. For the most part, I would have given them a 9 on the proverbial 1-10 travel scale. Staff was very friendly, the seats, even in regular economy, afford a wider birth, as well as a couple of inches of additional leg room. Their entertainment system, found at every single seat, though some aspects have yet to be activated, is pretty good. If you ever travel to a location serviced by both JetBlue AND Virgin America, give VA a shot. I think you'll like the experience.

After pickup up the car (another saga all by itself), and about a 1/2-hour drive, we arrived at our hotel, The Intercontinental-Mark Hopkins, One Nob Hill. By far, this was one of the nicest hotels I've stayed in and yes, we did receive a reduced rate based that we were a media group AND we were also shooting a piece from my partner Joel's other business, Travel TV News. Rooms can be had mid-week for around $144++, which is decent, especially if you know the area and realize you are right across the street from the Fairmont! Not that there were not a couple of surprises as well. For example, the average tip for a bellman or chauffeur (who valet parks your car) is $5.00. Overnight valet parking is $50....YUP, FIFTY BUCKS, per night. Now you might be thinking, "Heck, I'm not going to spend $50 parking my car, I'll find a place on the street!" And that, my friend, is where you will be making your first mistake...there IS NO parking on the street throughout most of the City of San Francisco, especially in a ritzy neighborhood like Nob Hill. Even the public garage was $40.00, and they don't even let you take your car in and out, as the Intercontinental does. Also on the list of surprises was chipping in $12.95++ per 24-hour period for the most basic Internet service at 256 kbs and no access to a VPN. Though the hotel finally agreed to comp it for us because of what we did for them (shot another piece for TTN), it was too little to late, at least for me, since they did so at checkout.

Sunday morning, after a nice breakfast at one of the multiple "Mel's Diners" in San Francisco, we met Division Chief 03, Tom Siragusa. Now in the last 10-12 years, visiting departments all over the country, I have not met a more personable, knowledgeable, or nicer guy than Chief Siragusa. What was the best part was that his vision of what we would do with his gang at Station 7, was really close to what ours was. And sometimes, the Chief would find a better way for us to get those points across. As a matter of fact, he told us yesterday during our parting words, that if he had had more prior notice, he would have been glad to spend all of the days we were with the fire department, with us, even though two of those days would have been his days off.

We reviewed our plans, schedules and activities with the chief and quickly set about setting up our camera equipment, making sure our "host," Joel, was set to play his role, and got right to work shooting. Over the course of the four days with the department we shot over ten hours of video and mind you, they were neither on film or tape, but digitally on, what are called, "P2" cards. Think of them as your SD cards you use on your MP3 player, digital camera, or computer, but on "steroids," as the entire shoot was done in HD-High Definition.

Luckily, we only lost one day to weather, which was Tuesday. For Monday, we had scheduled an interview with the chief of the department, Chief Chief Joanne Hayes-White, for the morning and a ride aboard one of the department's two fire boats for that afternoon. (Hint, hint!!) Monday morning went fairly well, but there were some unexpected complications that had nothing whatsoever to do with the good ladies and gentlemen of San Francisco's Bravest.

Now we come to the "turn of the word." After lunch, we headed down to the Embarcadero which is where all the piers are. So if you plan on sailing out of San Francisco in the future, this is where you'll have to be. We arrived at Station 35, home to Engine 35 and the department's two fire boats. However, the station is under renovation (we could see why!), so the regular crew has been temporarily moved to a nearby firehouse. Here, we were met by a division chief who is in charge of the city's AWSS - Auxiliary Water Supply System. Dreamed up in 1903 by the then fire chief after the city had suffered multiple fires that destroyed a large part of the downtown area, the plan was to bury very wide pipes that could be supplied either with water from an inland, elevated, (you know how hilly San Francisco is) reservoir, or with bay water, pumped into the system from San Francisco Bay.

Unfortunately, the 1906 Earthquake occur ed, killing the fire chief immediately and igniting the Great Fire of 1906. However, once things had calmed down, the right people remembered the late chief's dream and started working to make it a reality. A large reservoir was excavated up in the Twin Peaks area that holds up to 10,3 million gallons of water. Additionally, two additional storage tanks were build with one holding nearly 750,000 gallons and the second with a 500,000 gallon capacity. Furthermore, the city constructed two large pumping stations, that still exist today, one located in the basement of Fire Headquarters and the second just outside of the pier area. Any of this water bypasses the public water supply and is directed to special, high capacity hydrants throughout the city. The water from the reservoir and two tanks is gravity-fed downward and the bay water is circulated by the massive steam pumps mentioned above. "Why such a massive back-up supply of water," you may ask. Because San Francisco is a peninsula, surround on three sides by water. The Fire Department must be self-sufficient for at least, 72 hours, when (not "if") the big even occurs.

There was a good wind off the water that day, as there is almost every day in the "City by the Bay." After the interview, we had to await for the firefighting crew (in addition to the boat crew of three, Captain, Engineer, and Hand) to arrive. Also traveling with us this day, besides my shooting crew, was the Chief of the Training Division and a high school senior who was shadowing him for the day. Well, after those two climbed down the pier ladder and arrived on deck, it was my turn...and what a turn it was.

I climbed down the iron ladder that led from the pier towards the boat. Now, with the renovations being down on the station house, a marine crane on a barge had been towed in and placed between the two fire boats. And being on a barge, every swing of its boom, up or down, left or right, created a responsive wave action all around the pier. I looked down and saw that I was one rung below the transom of the boat (the top rail). So I stepped up again one rung and got myself down with both feet on the transom.

Looking down, there were no steps to be seen so I reckoned that I had to get down the 3 1/2 feet or so from the transom to the deck, on my own. Now having had five surgeries on my left knee since 1977 and knowing that a knee replacement was in my future sometime between the age of 60-62, I knew there was no way I should go with that leg first. In hindsight, the smartest thing to have done was simply and easily jumped down with both feet together. But that's why hindsight is so damned accurate!

Instead, I decided to come down on my right leg and stepped of the transom to do so. As I did, the crane twirled, the waves bobbed and the boat slipped about a foot lower in the trough than I had anticipated. Thus I came down on my right leg without being balanced, whereupon the knee, quite promptly and quite painfully gave way. As I headed down, to fall upon the deck, the right side of my chest crashed against the manifold, a series of five brass ports, painted fire-boat red, to which hoses could be hooked up either to allow the boat to pump to engine companies or to pump seawater directly through hoses to fight a harbor blaze.

I crashed to the deck like a harpooned walrus, pulled over the side, squealing like a little piglet. Indeed, the pain was searing. Since three of the firefighters who had preceded me on board were also paramedics, that wasted little time attending to me to determine the extent of my injuries. We carefully straightened my bent right leg, which surprisingly hurt very little. Once done, I jiggled the knee a bit and the knee cap popped back into place. Hooray! A simple displacement of the patella and we're back in business. After a couple of minutes, with everyone calming down, I asked for their help and support in standing up and taking a few "baby steps" to see how I would do.

The first step was fine. The second felt better. The third, well, that one wasn't so good. My knee gave way again, very painfully, and I had to be helped to get to a sitting location. They had already called for one of the fire department ambulances to respond and now told them to keep on coming. So there was no doubt in any of our minds that I had quite plainly blew out my right knee; most likely by a tear of the meniscus and a torn MCL or ACL or both, if I had done it in BIG way!

There's more to tell, but we're descending down on our approach to Ft. Lauderdale. Tomorrow I see my orthopedist, I'll have an MRI next week and surgery soon after. So, to my sweet Judi, thank you for your words of good luck. I just need to not take them so literally next time!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

"Where Do We Go From Here?"

The lunch was great and the ideas we developed were even better. Now we had to decide what our next step would be. At this point in time, Joel was seriously interested in developing his love of travel and, more importantly, promoting travel, into a business. Having been in Miami television for a while, he had had the opportunity to work and network with people who could really help in his endeavor.

For me, I was still very close with my two former partners, Richard Bray and Tom Mitten. Additionally, though not a partner at that moment, another good friend in Los Angeles, Jesse Escochea, was always carrying around multiple copies of several treatments I had written since the turn of the decade, waiting for the right opportunity to let some director or producer read them.

"Wait," you pause, "How would Jesse know those kind of people?"

"Aha!" I reply. "Jesse has served as a technical advisor for a couple of network shows, such as "24," "The Shield," "Grey's Anatomy," and "Life," as a start."

In the meantime, Joel and I worked up a treatment. A treatment is nothing more that usually a single page that will tell the reader all about the show, with a single glance. Of course, there are good ways and bad ways to write a treatment and I think that ours fell into the "mediocre" category. Nevertheless, we made it neat and clean and sent it out to Jesse.

As we were doing the above, Jesse was busy in L.A. schmoozing with two gentlemen from a production and distribution house, called, Marker Entertainment. Jesse had showed them some of his previous shows and they really liked them. So much so, that they even helped him develop another show.

While talking to the Marker people and they kept telling them how much they like the "police story" type shows that weren't strictly copies of "COPS," Jesse happened to ask them, "Well, how do you feel about a show about the fire/rescue service? And not just another show about New York City or Los Angeles, I'm talking about a show that will deal with fire/rescue services from all over the globe!"

Without a hesitation, they asked Jesse, "Why? What do you have?" And Jesse promptly whipped out the treatment for our new show and handed it over. "I've know these guys for over ten years and they're the real deal. Firefighters telling the real stories about firefighters," Jesse explained.

After perusing the treatment, one of the gentlemen, Jeff, told Jesse that they would like to learn more about us and about our show. They were looking to get into producing a higher caliber of reality show, especially, one that an entire family could watch together.

I believe that all that occurred on a Thursday evening. On Friday, at about 7:45 PM, Eastern Time, Jesse called me to give me the good news. He explained what Jeff and his partner wanted, along the way of fleshing out the story lines and locations a little bit more. I called Joel and I called Richard, my best friend for over 30 years my lovely spouse aside) and one of my original partners, and shared the good news with them.

Now, the real work was about to start. We would have to contact at least a half-dozen or more locations, outside the continental U.S. and see if we could "sell" them on nothing more than the premise of a television show. Even with the Internet and Google Translator, it took a great deal of work.

We'll share more in the next "episode," "If it's Tuesday, We Must Be Somewhere!"

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Wheel has come Full Circle - Joel Connable

Its incredible how life works. Almost 20 years ago, I was hanging out in firehouses and working as a New York paramedic. I left the business for a while and wen ton to learn to fly planes and anchor the news on television stations in Los Angeles and Miami. Now I am back where it all started.

"Where's the Fire," a television show I have thought about for several years and a show that only came to life because of a close friend named Steve Greene is about to be put on tape as we shoot the first pilot in San Francisco.

It actually isn't going on tape. Most production companies don't use tape anymore. We use something called a P2 card which stores all our footage on a hard drive. After 8 years working as a paramedic and another 13 years working as a television news anchor and reporter in Los Angeles and Miami, I am surprised, but very excited to be back where it all started.

I can still smell the firehouse. I can still hear the sirens as I drove ambulances to emergency calls and wore my bunker gear that smelled of burning wood. I still remember the excitement as I watched someone come back from cardiac arrest after I arrived on scene. I remember all the sad and happy times so well from the days and nights when I was the guy who answered those emergency calls. It really was the best life and death experience I ever had.

Now, I get to ride again, but this time I will be showing the world that every fire department isn't the same. They don't just respond to emergencies in fire trucks. Some fire departments, like San Francisco respond in very interesting ways. When ever a fire call comes in, San Francisco firefighters hit it hard. In a city like San Francisco and fire can burn down an entire block in minutes, since most houses have wood-frame construction and they are built on steep hills.

In San Francisco, an earthquake can hit at any time, so special confined space rescue units and heavy rescue units are trained to deal with anything from the smallest quake to the "Big One." In San Francisco, firetrucks have to navigate some of the steepest and tightest streets in the world. Even so, they still use the tiller truck, a truck that has a driver int he back to steer around corners. I will be learning to drive this truck when I get there... pedestrians and small dogs, look out. I don't think I will be very good.

There are rumors that I may be assisting firefighters with a rescue drill on the Golden Gate Bridge or some other high angle rescue that will make me pee my pants. I used to fly small planes as a private pilot, but I don't like heights.

As this show progresses and become a series, you will see all the strange and unique things different fire departments face around the world. From Tokyo, where they use robots to rescue people, to Hong Kong where they use some the highest tower ladder in the world - 171 feet. We will also be riding with the Venice Fire Department where they respond to most emergency calls in fire boats. I look forward to the Alaskan fire departments, where I have always wondered, how do you fight s fire in -45 degree weather? I also look forward to Israel, where we will see how firefighters, both of Jewish and Arab descent help people no matter who they are. i think it may be the only profession where peace really exists in the Middle East. Finally,

San Francisco is also my favorite city in the United States, so how lucky am I to shoot the pilot there? I love everything about the City. If you ever go, make sure you drive or hire a cab to take you across the Golden Gate Bridge to the Marin Headlands. Once up there, you will see the World War II bunkers where guns were aimed at the Pacific to ward off Japanese fighters and you will see the entire San Francisco Bay and Golden Gate Bridge from about one thousand feet above it all.

We will be staying at my favorite hotel in San Francisco, the Mark Hopkins, Intercontinental on Nob Hill. If you haven't been to San Francisco, make sure you go before you die. Here's another travel tip. If you want to see the best sights without walking everywhere and paying for taxis, hop on the double-decker bus run by San Francisco Tours. I think it's only $25 per person for three days ad you can ride it all around the city and across the Golden Gate and hop on and off whenever you want and then get on the next bus every 15 minutes.

I am excited to put on the uniform again. This time it will be the uniform of a San Francisco firefighter. I an honored that the Department is permitting me to ride with them and wear their colors. I feel like a little kid. Well, I guess I never really grew out of being a little kid.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

"The Next Time..."

The “Next Time…”

The “next time” began last spring. Our household has always been a loyal NBC local and network home, especially for news. During the few years prior to all this happening, a new reporter came on board at NBC6-WTVJ, Joel Connable. He came to South Florida, via Los Angeles. He was a good reporter and certainly did his research for each story.

For a while, besides general assignments, Joel also reported for the “CIU-Consumer Investigative Unit.” Some months later, upon the retirement of one of the best anchors in local news, Tony Segretto, Joel was named as the replacement anchor. And as tough as it was to see Tony retire, especially after being one of the calmest voices that broadcast all night long during Hurricane Andrew, Joel started filling those “big shoes” quickly and very well. And somewhere along the way, he also earned himself an Emmy Award in journalism

At some point, Joel surprised the viewers and on-camera, announced that he was a diabetic and very active in the fundraising efforts of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. His story was geared toward young adults and he explained his entire experience with the disease and how, with care, he leads a very normal and full life. I was really moved by his story and his life. So what did I do next?

I went on Facebook® to see if he was there and send him a nice email. We started to chat via email and lo and behold, I discovered that he served as a New York City Paramedic for a number of years, as well as a volunteer firefighter in a small town in Long Island. This in itself almost sounds like a script! I told him about my eight-year experience as a volunteer firefighter/medic 1 and a bond started to form.

At the end of April 2009, I was lucky enough to have fractured a bone in my lower leg. I was in a mobile cast for eight weeks and home from work for about 10 days. We continued to correspond and talk about the good old days. Around this time, I had been thinking about creating a new show about the fire/rescue service in the U.S. And Joel, who had developed a strong interest in the travel industry, was leaving network news and thinking about some sort of informational travel business.

I invited him to join me for lunch and we met at a small Israeli restaurant about half-way between where each of us lives. I told him about my idea for the new show and he told me his idea for a new show that would marry the story of the fire/rescue service with his love of travel, and voila, a new partnership and concept was developed over falafel and fries.

Next: “Where Do We Go From Here?”

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Audition

This isn't our first foray into the world of television production, here in the U.S. more than a decade ago, three of us, put everything we had, both monetarily and in "sweat equity," to produce our first show about the fire service, "America's Heroes: The Men & Women of Fire/Rescue."(c) That work occurred in 1999-2000 and the show became available in late 2000 and early 2001. "America's Heroes" Titles & First Story

While we had done all the production work and had a reputable agent, we had to find a way to have the show represented and distributed. That came about with a company who had had a decent track record with DCI (Discovery Channels, Inc.), which was very important to us as we believe that was where we belonged.

The company was willing to represent us and to distribute the show. And so they did, in a manner of speaking. While our pilot episode was a hit in parts of the UK, the Middle East, and the Far East, America barely gave us a glance. And that was because, the company never put any real effort into selling our show domestically; i.e. right here in the ol' U.S. of A.

As you can imagine, being told that we were a hit in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, didn't give rise for us to pop open the champagne bottles. Nevertheless, we struggled through with them, right through the summer of 2001. Then came the fall--both the season and our project.

I was sitting in our offices when word of the World Trade Center attacks came through on our scanner, as local dispatchers and officers announced the little bit of news they had and hungered for more. I quickly rolled one of our TV monitors out of the production office and hooked it up, and there, lay before us, the greatest tragedy in American history.

Oh, perhaps I forgot to mention that the then, three partners of Dalmatian Productions, Inc., were either still or had been members of the fire/rescue community. Three, snot-nosed, smoke-eating, bell-crawlers, trying to tell the stories of the men and women, both career and volunteer, who risk their lives every single day, to protect the lives and property of their own communities.

With that tragedy so fresh in America' broken hearts, there was no way that we could continue to market this show, without appearing to some, perhaps many, that we were looking to make a fast buck as we trampled over the boots of our fallen brothers. And with that, "America's Heroes" faded off into the proverbial sunset, as did our collective dream of telling our story and the stories that we had received and produced, from all over the country, from Texas to Connecticut.

"Next time," we thought, "Next time will be different."