I'm not much of a television person. We don't have cable, and didn't weather the so-called digital transition well. Although we have a converter box and have had help figuring out that yes, it's installed correctly, it doesn't bring us as many channels as we had in the old days of analog transmission. Now I watch almost no television, and my daughter watches mostly DVDs from the library—and a few shows that she can still get, if she can figure out when they're on.
So when I was contacted a few weeks ago (September 8) by Jaime Guthals at Interweave Press to ask if I'd be willing to fly to Cleveland to tape two segments for Knitting Daily TV (KDTV), I felt like I was being invited to visit a foreign country. However, I've been in a band (so I understand stages and microphones) and I've been on live radio a few times, and even had an appearance scheduled for the following week (so I understand tight timing, "on air," and, again, microphones), and I figured I could manage the rest.
KDTV is part of the programming that is offered to public television stations (PBS). Individual stations across the U.S. can choose to run the show.
The taping was scheduled for September 28, three weeks (and a trip to Massachusetts for a photo shoot) after first contact.
Before you travel to tape the show, however, there are the required preliminaries.
First, you are told the theme for the season and what your segments will be about (roughly). Then you fill out forms that explain what the informational points in each segment will be; what supplies and materials will be needed, who will supply them, and exactly how they will be used; and again, what the message will be.
Those forms were due the day after the photo shoot finished. I rescheduled my return flight from Massachusetts to be one day later than I'd originally planned for several reasons, including (1) so we would be SURE to finish the shoot on time (we were done by 7 p.m. on the last scheduled day) and (2) so I wouldn't have to try to write the KDTV materials and transmit them while bouncing from CLE to MDW to DEN. Although I was able to think about what I'd write before we finished the photo shoot, I didn't have time to even begin drafting the copy until after we were done. Although MDW, Chicago Midway airport, theoretically has free wifi in all terminals, on the trip east the free network gave me access only to a web page where I could sign in to a large number paid services, which I chose not to. During the time I was there—a couple of hours—I couldn't figure out how to access other parts of the web, or e-mail without one of those paid access channels.
Second, you need to cope with the wardrobe requirements. Most important is the shirt or sweater you'll wear, because that's all that really shows in the finished video. Specifications include:
- color—NOT white, and preferably not red or black; best are jewel tones or pastels; blues can be very good
- style—button front, so clothes can be changed without messing up makeup and hair (which is done ONCE for the day) and so a lapel mic can be easily attached
- style—three-quarter-length or long sleeves
These criteria do not describe the clothes that predominate in my wardrobe, which consists of a lot of t-shirts, many with sheep or dogs on them, and jeans. The instructions said to bring at least three alternatives for each episode, in part so they can thumbs-down any items they don't like and in part so clothing of guest and host don't clash.
In addition to finding ONE appropriate item in my closet, I took one item that my daughter provided (it was mine, but only she knew I had it), several items loaned by friends, and two items that I found on an emergency trip to Marshall's during my time in Massachusetts. It's a good thing my friend (and former housemate) Heather went with me on that quest. I have a tendency to go shopping and leave without buying anything.
Another wardrobe requirement is a manicure, with either clear or French polish. This is not in my normal routine, either, but I thought it was a good idea. My hands usually look like I've been using them for work. I needed to ask my friends for recommendations of where to go to get a manicure. When I got there on Tuesday morning, the day before I left, the staff thought my request for clear polish was BORING and also tried to convince—or upsell—me to get a pedicure and a paraffin treatment as well. I declined. My feet would not be on camera, and I was in a hurry to get home and pack. I also don't think most people arrive at the nail-treatment establishment by bicycle. I had to lock my bike to a tree in a narrow gravel area at the side of the building.
On Wednesday, I drove to the park-and-ride and caught the shuttle to the airport at 9 a.m. By 9 p.m., I was in Cleveland at the recommended hotel. Via e-mail, I learned when and where I was to show up the next morning: 7 a.m. in the lobby, to catch a ride to the studio with Jaime. There was a rumor that we'd get to stop for chai, but I had my chai much later, back at the Denver airport that evening. . . .
So it was Thursday, 7 a.m., and we headed for the studio, where I got a quick tour and then we all settled into the green room, which really is green. I think it's intended to be calming. It's right next to the studio. It's large enough to have somewhere between 10 and 12 large work tables set up simultaneously, maybe more. I didn't think to count them. I was focused on figuring out what I was supposed to be doing. Everybody else who was there had done this many times before.
Two of the show's three hosts are in the photo above, although you'll need to see good pictures of them at that link back there. Kristin Omdahl is on the left, discussing wardrobe choices with producer Kathie Stull. Shay Pendray is in the background, by the big TV monitor (which I'll talk about in a moment). Shay makes incredibly good cookies that she brings to help people get through the intense days of taping. Oatmeal raisin this time, and irresistible.
Other people involved included Katherine, Kathie's assistant; Marilyn Murphy, of Interweave, who, along with Kathie, decided whether what we were doing in front of the cameras was working or not (i.e., directed the process); and the videographers, who operated the actual studio, which was next door to the green room. There were a few other people in and out, whom I'll mention as we go along.
The other guest on the day I was taping was Adina Klein, former editor-in-chief of Vogue Knitting and now creative director for Tahki/Stacy Charles. She had the work tables one side of the room, I had those on the adjacent side (back wall), and Kristin had the third side. The television was on the fourth wall. The middle was available for anybody who needed extra room. We set up our supplies for each segment on big, metal trays (like commercial bakers use) and carried them into the studio when we were called.
While we were setting up, we rotated on schedule through the makeup room, where a friendly and accomplished woman named Karen set us up to look good on the video. We had been told to wear our "normal makeup," which would be "brightened" for onscreen work. I came, as usual, with no makeup. I did put the lipstick I wear a few times a year in my pocket. Regardless of our normal state, makeup took about half an hour. At the end, I didn't look so much like I'd been spending most of my time over the past couple of weeks in airports.
The television monitor in the green room: When we were in the studio, just the people who were taping were in that space. However, everyone else could watch what we were doing, in real time, on the big display in the green room. (The monitor was "big" in my terms, although I realize some people have much larger television screens at home.) As we were working, Marilyn and Kathie could talk to the host through an earpiece. If they saw ways to improve what we were doing, they either told us what to modify or came in and moved items around, or told us to alter how we displayed (or said) things, or had us change the clothes we were wearing.
This series of studio days will result in series 600. A series consists of 13 shows, and each show contains a number of segments. Both of my segments were "long," which means 5.5 minutes when completely edited, although everyone attempts to make the entire segment work in one, continuous pass.
I taped one segment with Shay (#612) and one with Eunny (#603), in that order. The segment for 612 is about the wide range of types of wool, and the one for 603 is about the transformation from raw fiber to clean yarn and then to a finished item, using as an example a gorgeous, beaded mohair shawl by Jackie Erickson-Schweitzer . . . all my spinning lately has just been samples and my knitting has consisted of swatches; Jackie was kind enough to loan us some of her exquisite work, which I first became aware of back when I edited Spin-Off magazine.
When I moved into the studio with my trays of materials, we set them up on the "real" table and then Kathie came along and rearranged them so they'd work better from the cameras' points of view. She talked with us about what the segment was intended to convey. In 5.5 minutes, you have to keep your information extremely focused. We discussed briefly what the sequence of ideas would be, and how we would move the items that would be shown on camera. I was told never to look at the cameras, always at the host. Then we started for real.
We did the lead-in for each segment a couple of times. The first time we began the first segment, I looked at the cameras. It's hard not to be curious about the studio process, including the cameras! it's also sort of weird to just look sideways at the host while the host is looking at a camera to introduce the segment. That was only a few seconds in, though, and on all the subsequent takes I managed to maintain the requested focus of attention.
After we finished the first full taping of the 612 segment, Kathie and Marilyn conferred in the other room, reviewed parts of it again, and said it was fine but they'd like us to try one more. We did. They said they liked both and will choose the one they like best later. I'm guessing they'll settle on the second version. We had a lot of ideas to cover, and we did it a bit more smoothly on the second take, although there are parts of the first version I might like better. I didn't have a chance to look at any of the stuff we recorded (and that's okay).
With the 603 segment, we did a couple of starts but the first complete run-through was deemed perfect and I was done with my official time in the studio. The rest of my stay involved enjoying the cookies Shay had brought, packing up, having soup and salad with the whole cast and crew, and getting a ride back to the airport from Jaime.
Before each segment was recorded, Annie—who, along with Jaime, makes sure the organizational details all get attended to—took a snapshot of host-plus-guest that I think will be used to identify the segment. It was important that we be wearing the right clothes, and on the segment I did with Eunny Jang she was asked to change to a different sweater after the first, test video bits were shot, so we had to pose again at the end in the correct garments. Here's what the final wardrobe combination looked like, with Eunny on the left and me on the right:
When I did the first segment, with Shay, I hadn't yet gotten the hang of the process and hadn't brought my camera into the studio to ask Annie to take a picture for me. I wish I had a photo with Shay. It was great to work with both Shay and Eunny. They're very different, and they both helped me stay comfortable on the set. While I didn't work directly with Kristin, I enjoyed meeting her in person (we've connected on the internet) and spending some time with her.
I got a snapshot of Jaime in the green room, though, before she drove Adina and me back to the airport.
The photo's a little fuzzy, but so was I by that point. You can still tell she's a capable person who could convince me I could do this and get it all pulled together in a couple of weeks.
I went from Cleveland to Midway, then Midway to Denver again. The plane arrived in Denver 5 minutes early, which meant I was lucky enough to catch the 8 p.m. shuttle instead of the 9 p.m. one I was scheduled for. I was home by about 10 Thursday evening. Thirty-seven hours, door to door.
It was fun. I'd do it again. The hardest part was talking for less than several hours about wool!
Series 600 of Knitting Daily TV will air on PBS stations beginning in mid-January. DVDs of past seasons are available for sale. Whatever we managed to accomplish will be around for a while. I hope it's good!