A good friend of mine is a TV Director for Fox News. (He’s also a paramedic and our in-house Live Broadcast Director, but who’s counting.) Knowing that I’m a huge ‘live’ geek, he invited me to watch him in action at Fox.
We got off on the 9th floor at News Corp, walked down a few long halls and turned a corner into the LED lit control room—one of Fox’s nine state-of-the-art studios. It was crazy, constant energy. He handed me a four page, double-sided and very complex rundown and said, “Here’s where we are now, but this paper will be worthless in a few minutes.”
Before I could say, “That can’t be true…” — the Director from the 11am show stood up, logged off the computer and unplugged his headset. ‘My’ Director took the chair, plugged in his own headset and assumed instant command of the studio. “We’re live in five, folks…”
He logged into the computer and two screens populated in front of him. The left was the rundown — identical to the papers I had in my hand — the other was the teleprompter script. He went live out of the commercial break and into the program…and within seconds, the rundown began what can only be described as an avalanche of changes that continued to crash down during the entire show. It was insane. Live and on air, the stories changed because talent was ready or not ready, because remote feeds weren’t clear, because Skype interviews were ready now, because a graphics computer froze…the show was truly alive. Like a 30-headed monster.
The Executive Producer — from her office on another floor, mind you — changed the show in real time. Seconds before a correspondent was due to go live, she inserted a video segment that was supposed to run at the end of the program. Seconds before. The Director had to be ready to respond as his eyes glanced across over 100 images on the huge flat panel wall in front of him. Meanwhile: he’s directing an entire studio full of technicians shouting across the floor to each other, and he’s directing the talent LIVE on camera.
So, I’m sitting there — eyes glued to the screens, mouth open in awe, heart pounding…and hands holding paper. Paper as insignificant to this news show as the printing press is to the Huffington Post.
The unique similarity that we all face in the live events business is the assumption of change. I can recall the days of actual physical slides (the ‘paper’ version of PowerPoint) when 48 hours before the meeting began, content was locked because there was no time to photograph and develop a slide negative then slot it into one of hundreds of pre-assembled slide carrousels. All of us — creative, production and client teams — adjusted to that timeline.
Now, with PowerPoint, digital video and Skype, we’re all working on a new timeline where things are changeable, sometimes up to the last minute…and we’ve adjusted to that. Directors (on TV) and Stage Managers (onsite) are expected to make a change with 5 seconds to ‘live’. And still make it perfect.
When we lost the paper, we actually lost some control and some sanity. The boundaries are now pushed so tightly against ‘on air’ that we’ve opened ourselves up to errors. Errors that we’ve all seen at corporate meetings — like when the wrong VOG plays or the lights go up instead of down over a video — and that I watched happen on Fox News. One of the biggest networks in the world.
But, when we lost the paper, we also gained. We got speed, accuracy of moving content and statistics, the chance to tweak and improve until the very last second, client satisfaction, flexibility…and for those of us who are into that sort of thing (cough, cough) an avalanche of adrenaline.