Jim Peck is executive producer and director of photography and videography in Communications and Brand Strategy. He was one of two instructors who taught the class “Reality and Television Production” in Communication Arts and Sciences that is producing this year’s President’s Report, Inside Out.
“Well, I could have a list of stories you’re going to do each week from now until the end of the semester,” I heard myself saying. “And then every class could use the same list of stories. It would be totally predictable.”
I said this to my student producers who are taking “Reality Television Production.”
“NOOOOOOOOOOOOO” they all moaned.
“Okay, then. So you’re going to have to figure out how you’re going to get the interviews in time for your deadlines,” I said.
Deadlines. They’re the things that keep television production humming along. Some students are good with deadlines, some aren’t. But there is a big difference between a deadline for a TV show and a deadline for some class assignment. You miss the deadline for a class assignment and your grade suffers. You miss a deadline for television and the show misses its airdate and you get fired. Guess which one tends to be more of a motivator?
I’m in the unique position of being in charge of both kinds of assignments. Each week the students have an assignment they have to complete. They need to turn in a finished TV segment telling the story of the cast member they're following. These stories are also the main content for a television show featuring undergrad students going through their fall semester.
And that content is critical to creating the TV show. I’ve told them that it’s actually possible that they could fail the class but still be a pretty decent TV producer. It’s unlikely, but it’s possible. Missing enough of the deadlines for their class assignments means they’ll fail the class.
But if they shoot, write and edit good stuff, the TV show could still be terrific. But, no matter what, I need the content they shoot. Thing is, if you are the kind of person who misses deadlines, you’re most likely going to fail in an epic way as a TV producer.
Part of what they’re up against is trying to work with the schedules of the cast members. It’s challenging. It’s what I have done for more than two decades when I’m trying to line up interviews, get video of people doing what they do and make television. Sometimes it just doesn’t come together and it’s just not going to, not as fast as you need it to, no matter how many times you try and no matter how many phone calls you make. But you never stop trying. That’s what I’m trying to get across to my students.
This is a class. If they can't get some of what I have assigned them for the week because their cast member isn’t available for a legitimate reason, I accept that.
A lot of production has nothing to do with cameras and microphones. An awful lot of it (and sometimes I do mean AWFUL) is scheduling and researching, planning and reworking. These students need to learn that, too.
I think this is a great class. An amazing class. The kind of class I wish I could have taken when I was in school. One where the work you are doing is real TV production work that’s going to hit the air for everyone to see. Work you can claim as your own and put on a resume reel and be proud of.
Like everybody else in journalism school, I took lots of classes that were mostly theory. I needed those to teach me a lot of things. I took a lot of classes where I churned out assignments, assignments developed by the professor that were supposed to give experience. I needed those, too.
But this class is real. Really real. The students are my students, but they are my CREW. I have to depend on them to get what I need to make this show, “Inside Out,” excellent. To make it into something people are going to want to watch. It’s a new experience for me. I've worked with lots of students and young producers and I’ve taught classes. But I’ve never had to depend on such rookies to kick out the kind of quality content it takes to make good television.
I have help in this. I’m co-teaching this class with Troy Hale, a veteran news videographer who’s been producing some documentary work for the past few years. He teaches full time and knows the ins and outs of the classroom. Together we need to turn students into producers. And we’re doing it.
I told the students I didn’t expect their work to look professional after week number one, but that by week twelve it better be. It needs to be. And it is. I’m writing this now that the class is over. I am proud of every single student. The work they’ve done is what you’ll see when you watch the show.
Each of them showed up the first day of class with different skillsets and talents. Some were good at shooting, some better at editing, some weren’t very good at any one thing. But by the time we wrapped up the class in December they were all good, across the board. And I’d work with any of them again.
When it was all over some missed some deadlines, some put less attention into this class because another needed more but all of them gave me what I needed to create a solid TV program we can all be proud of. So when you watch “Inside Out” and you’re watching and hearing the stories of what the undergraduate experience is like at MSU, remember that you’re also watching a big piece of the experience of a talented group of producers. You’re watching the work of the Reality TV class, you’re watching the work of my crew.
Photo by Kurt Stepnitz