On October 11, 2023, WGBH alumni Bill Cosel, David Atwood, and Chas Norton shared a conversation with Jay Collier about their experiences in live music television production from the 1960s to the ‘90s.
Bill Cosel was a 1962 BU scholar and was hired as director in 1964. He then served as producer director for Evening at Pops, Evening at Symphony, and many other music productions for WGBH including Bennett and Basie Together, Tom Rush: A New Year, The Newport Jazz Festival,and Two Gentlemen Folk.
David Atwood came to GBH in the Fall of 1965 as a lighting man, but ran camera until he was tapped to become a director. He directed many Pops and BSO shows, as well as Masterpiece, Mystery!, and Ballroom Dancing, and he was the first director for Antiques Roadshow.
Chas Norton joined WGBH in June 1965 as a probationary assistant lighting director and then became a lighting director a month later. He retired from full time work in 2006, but still works as a freelance lighting director for Antiques Roadshow.
Jay Collier worked in production and post-production from 1980 to ’86 as video switcher for Evening at Pops, and as an assistant director/editor, online editor, stage manager, and camera operator for productions and promotion in the studios, the field, and the edit suites. He is publisher and editor emeritus of wgbhalumni.org.
What follows is an edited transcript of the conversation.
David: In the summer of ’65, I was really in the right place at right time. I was getting married, we had a kid coming along and I obviously needed to work. On my first day in Boston, I walked into WBZ asking for a job, and they said, “Well, we might put you in the mail room.”
So then I went to WGBH. They’d just had people leave that summer and they said, “Can you come back in an hour?” I met with Al Potter and with Greg Harney and the answer was, “Can you start Wednesday at $80 a week?” They were desperate for people and we got paid for it. Well, $80 a week. That’s what I started at.
Bill: Me too. It was Jack Caldwell who finally said, “Hey, listen, you guys are underpaid.” And he raised us all up. You remember that?
David: We went up to $125, which was a fortune at that point.
Bill: At the beginning, WGBH took risks, and that’s how we were trained. We all had to learn studio cameras, and work with producers and writers and with musicians. We had to hang lights and we had to know how to switch. We had to know how to stage manage. That was really a big eye-opener. How to coil cable in a figure eight. And that old mobile unit! Yes, we had all of this in our kit bag, so when it was time for us to sit on the bench and call a show, we had the tools.
At the beginning, WGBH took risks, and that’s how we were trained… We went from studio to studio doing all kinds of different shows.
David: So I was up on the Ecolifts [powered studio ladders] hanging lights, but that was not fun for me because I’m terrified of heights! Then somebody found out that I knew how to run camera. I’d had some experience from my time working at Maine stations before I came to Boston and we did occasional music shows there. I remember a variety show we did every day. Musicians came in and it was kind of fun, I was just like, “Oh wow, this is cool.” We let the music drive the shots.
So then I became a cameraman [at WGBH] doing things like Jazz and Mixed Bag which were all ad-libbed and fun. I got to work with some great directors of which, Bill, you were one. In those days, as I remember, we weren’t specialists. We went from studio to studio doing all kinds of different shows, talk shows, more talk shows, music shows, public affairs shows.
Bill: But we were forced to become specialists in a way because there was a need.
Bill: The very first live performances we did in the studio were when the Lowell Institute colleges brought their artists to play for us. At one rehearsal, a soprano, Chloe Aaron, noticed that the camera was pulling back from her while she was about to go into a cadenza and she stopped and said, “Stay on me for my cadenza.” We all cracked up but, of course, we moved the camera right in on her because back in those days, the cameras had fixed lenses: a 100 millimeter lens, or if you were with Fred [Barzyk as director], you got a 175.
David: We had all kinds of tricks with those early black-and-white cameras using fixed lenses and special dollies. We’d hang them from the grid even though they were big, and we had all kinds of ways of doing creative things with them. But, the [fixed] focal lengths were boring after a while. You couldn’t get close with the lens and get a sense of where you were.
Bill: Later, when we got the smaller color cameras with zooms and extra wide lenses, those kinds of moves became a little bit easier. But they were on on monster pedestals and all they did was pan left and right and zoom in and out. The zoom ruined something.
David: And all our black-and-white camera tricks were gone and you just had these cameras zooming in and out.
Directing in the studio
David: One day, about two years after I arrived, they needed another director. Somebody called me into their office, and said, “We need a new director and that’s going to be you.” And I was kind of like, “Gee, okay.” They didn’t realize that I wasn’t actually trained as a director.
Bill: David, I was the guy who said, “I want you to be a director!” At that point, I was in charge of the directors and I was in the office next to [station manager Michael] Rice, so I’m to blame.
David: My first show as a director was a talk show. I found myself in a control room looking at a bank of monitors, and all the wonderful ideas that I’d had as a cameraman that I would do if I was directing … well, I forgot them immediately!
Also, it was supposed to be a three-camera show but when the show opened, I only had two of those three cameras. As the show progressed, I was finally given the third camera by engineering who’d been lining up [adjusting] the goddamn thing all day for hours and hours, hours and hours. And so that was my first experience as a director.
So my training was by doing … and watching Bill Cosel and Fred Barzyk and Mark Stevens.
You [Bill] did the first show where we integrated motion, color, and light in the studio. I then did three or four more of those and they were really cool and fun to do. I used to switch my own show on those, and I learned how to hold two buttons at once to superimpose the images. The engineers hated it.
Bill: Good for you.
David: Years later, Austin Hoyt and I were sent to the BBC for a week to study how they did a certain kind of program that ‘GBH was thinking of launching. From meeting a lot of those people and hanging out with them, I learned that directors over there got actual training by senior directors for a year or two. And I said, “I wish the hell I had that!” It took me at least five years to get my feet under me as a director when I felt like I was actually making a contribution.
Bill: It would’ve been nice to have two years of training if you were interested in focusing on the Masterpiece Theater kind of directing and the people who wanted to do that stuff did it. But the people who wanted to go into musical shows, they did that. And there was enough to go around.
Bill: When I got my first producer/director job — Sing Children Sing with Tony Salatan — I began to realize what I didn’t know.
My contribution had been to capture a show as best I could, but I always wondered, “Does it work? How many times have we done shows and were never able to sit in the audience with the folks and see if it was working or not?”
My contribution was to capture a show as best I could, but I always wondered, “Does it work?”
Well, we’d been making the Sing Children Sing shows sitting in the cocoon of the studio and we got good shots, the lighting was terrific, and Tony was a wonderful teacher.
But then we went into the classroom to see how our shows were working with the children, and that was a scary moment. But these kids were really paying attention, and Tony was able to connect with them.
Over the years, we came to know what worked and what wasn’t going to work. And that was through observing and learning on the job. We learned on the way, working with the crew.
Think about all the amazing things we got to do and got paid for it!
Bill: Chas, did you come in early ’65?
Chas: Yes. A bunch of people had left and I walked in the door. I remember doing The French Chef and being guided by [lighting director] Kenny Anderson saying, “Here, do it just like this.” So that worked out. And I think the first time I did a show live on the air was for Jazz. At the end, I took down all the front lighting and we did credits over people with backlight only.
David: You did a hell of a lot of shows that I did, and we didn’t always agree on everything.
Chas: I think that’s actually very healthy because if you can come to a good compromise, it means that you’re moving past just your own opinion and you’re able to listen to someone else and come up with something better. I think that’s true of politics and that’s also true of television production.
David: There was a proposal to do a bunch of shows out of New York with artists, to be called Medium is the Medium. So Fred Barzyk, Olivia Tappan, and I flew down to meet the artists and show them some of our shows: Fred’s What’s Happening, Mr. Silver? and my Mixed Bag, which was full of swirling images, and the artists said, “Okay, they’re cool. We can work with them.”
Think about all the amazing things we got to do and got paid for it!
Chas: But how did you learn about music? Doing shots, doing music on television?
David: I don’t know, I just did it because it was there to be done. I mean, nobody told me I couldn’t do it. I just watched carefully. I learned by doing and by emulating and by being in the chair as a director for show after show.
Doing music was just fun. There was no training. The obvious thing was to follow the ball, stay with the music, just follow what’s going on.
This guy, Bill Cosel, was a genius at communication in the studio. People would arrive in the studio for a recording session without having done that before. He was so smooth and genuine with talent, working with people, which is a real skill, and to shape the show ahead of time and make it happen.
Bill was a genius at communication in the studio. He was so genuine with talent, working with people, which is a real skill.
Bill: There was no question in my mind that you [David] had what I felt was critical for doing and understanding the subtext of music. You and I both played music, and I know you had a deeply rooted music sensibility, which I immediately applauded when I saw you at work.
It was in our bones. I mean, not everybody has that, some people are just interested in other things. And we grew up doing it. We ended up learning a lot and we ended up getting better and better. And I think the two of us ended up doing most of the channel 2 music programs.
Live (and live on tape) from Symphony Hall
Bill: We all went from ad-libbing and having fun with the camera crew during the live Jazz and Mixed Bag shows, to learning how to manage and block [plan out camera shots] for huge symphonic works or a concertos or chamber music.
I was one of the directors for Evening at Symphony and Evening at Pops. Pops started in 1970 and we had to do 12 shows in three weeks. It was you [David], me, Chris Sarson, and James Field. I think the four of us directed the first year, because we were leapfrogging. Tuesday was a show, Thursday was a show.
David: Oh, that schedule was unbelievable.
Bill: Yeah, Unbelievable, but it calmed down.
We all went from ad-libbing and having fun with the camera crew to learning how to manage and block for huge symphonic works.
My first [recorded] show at Symphony Hall was with the New England Conservatory of Music and Newton Wayland (who ended up becoming the Zoom music director). He was playing one of the pianos for a Bartok sonata for two pianos and percussion.
So I got the score and realized that I could follow it, since I had been able to read music before that. I worked with David Sloss, who was a Harvard student and a producer trainee, and he was assigned to help me learn how to block it.
During that show, I had Newton interview Seiji [Ozawa] up in the balcony and he addressed him as “Seiji.” The next day, I got calls from players and they said, you can’t call him “Seiji”, you have to call him “Mr. Ozawa.” Well, the orchestra players had been there a long time, and they were certainly very good at what they did, but they had to break out of the Boston Brahman culture a little bit.
David: The orchestra and [conductor Arthur] Fiedler used to battle each other like children. I’d sit in the balcony and watch. Fiedler would storm off the stage at their behavior and management had to come back and say, “Alright, this has to stop.” But Fiedler would also do stuff like, if the rehearsal was supposed to be over at 12:30 and it was 12:25, he’d call out to start the next score and play right up until 12:30 on the dot. That was just to be mean.
Bill: Soon, I got asked to do a live broadcast from the Hall with the Symphony. I met this guy named Jordan Whitelaw. He had done a lot of thinking about how to block a full orchestra for symphonies and concertos. He would make notes in the score that were his camera treatments and that gave me the tools to develop my own style.
There is a subtext in music, which isn’t necessarily about following the oboe or the bassoon, or whoever’s now playing, but about covering other things that are going on, musically. And we began to integrate those two to make it more interesting.
David: My first job with Symphony or Pops was as a video switcher, but then a bunch of us signed to direct, and Jordan did the camera treatment. Originally you’d go to his house and he played quarter-inch tapes and we went through the scores. You got to see his camera treatments written in the score.
Later on, we did it on our own at home, getting the scores and the tapes long before the day of the shoot. I couldn’t read music so I had to learn to follow it and I got really good at it because I had to.
After that, we hired a score reader, Jerry Cohen, who allowed us to look at the monitors while the A.D. [Assistant Director] prepared the next shots — “camera two is next on so-and-so” — and you’d take a look to see if they were there and ready. Or, you’d have to direct a camera move, giving it a sense of speed and framing. To do those things, you had to know where you were in the score and the score was critical. But we usually came in even better prepared than the score reader because we had studied at home and came into the truck ready. We had to.
The thing about Jerry Cohen was he used to get excited by what was going on in the truck, which was kind of dramatic. A.D.s would be calling the shots and I was sitting next to him and he would lose his place in his enthusiasm. That was something the score reader was not supposed to do.
Working with musical guests
David: With the guests, we got back into ad-libbing, and part of the learning for me was that ad-libbing was scary and tough, especially when we were live. I really tensed up, going from shot to shot and worrying what was going to come and trying to make it look somewhat good. You [Bill] used to say something like, “Loosen up, just flow with it,” which I wasn’t doing as well as I could have.
Bill: We did a show with Sesame Street in 1970, during their very first year when Joe Raposo was their music director.
David: Beforehand, we had gone to New York to meet with Muppet principals Jim Henson and Frank Oz. I remember we were sitting with them and Bill asked, “Could you go get Cookie Monster?” So Frank went and came back in with Cookie Monster on him, and he was a totally different person. He wasn’t Frank, he was Cookie Monster. This guy who barely said anything sitting in the meeting was suddenly full of life.
That was back when we used to go meet with people beforehand, which I think was wonderful, because when they finally came to do the show, we had met each other and already had the beginning of a relationship.
Bill: I insisted on that for all of us. More often than not, we went to meet people, whether it was going to be out in Las Vegas or wherever.
David: For that show, I was under the stage with Frank Oz. At rehearsal, I had ducked into a little mini-stage we made for Cookie and I said “Hi” to Frank, and he said, “Do you want to do his right hand?” I went, “Oh, sure,” so he showed me. I suited up and watched the monitor, and when Frank did something with the left hand, I did something else with the right. It was one of the most fun moments in all of the television that I’ve done.
For that show, we also passed out [squeaky] rubber duckies to the entire orchestra during rehearsal, but the players tormented Fiedler with little squeaks until he stormed off stage. Later, management came on and said, “Well, if any player, other than percussionists, plays one, they need to be paid for doubling [playing a second instrument].” And at that point, the cost would have gone the roof, so the only rubber duckies were in the percussion section. They can play anything.
Bill: One of the other pieces we wanted to do with Sesame Street show was the Toy Symphony by Haydn, which has parts for a toy trumpet and a cuckoo clock. We cast Cookie Monster instead of the cuckoo and at one point, the Cuckoo is supposed to say, “cuckoo,” so we planned to have Cookie say, “cookie,” and Fiedler was to give him a cookie at the end.
But backstage, Fiedler said, “I want the cookie wrapped up in Saran Wrap.” I said, “You can’t do that. You can’t feed Cookie Monster a wrapped cookie. Put it in your pocket.” “Well, it’ll get all dirty,” said Fiedler. I said, “That’s okay. We’ll get it clean. Put it in your pocket.” So at the end of the piece, he walked up to feed Cookie Monster, but he was afraid of the monster, so he dropped the whole thing on the floor right in front of Cookie!
Another Fiedler story. He never talked on stage. At one show, Pearl Bailey asked him, “How many times have I sung Hello Dolly?” He said, “I don’t know,” and she laughed, “I got him to talk. I got him to talk.” That tore the house down.
David: When Evening at Pops came along, the first thing that we did was bring the stage forward. We designed a modular extension system where we could build it to work best with live guests. It was visually very different than just standing beside the conductor. Under John Williams, we made an even a bigger stage extension to give even more separation.
Bill: The very first time we did a lighting cue with that stage was with Doc Severinsen who was standing up front and doing the Carnival of Venice Variations. It was a very showy piece. We took the orchestra down to their overhead lights and we had follow spots on Severinsen. The cameras made the orchestra look dark, but they really still had enough light. A couple of the guys who weren’t playing came into the truck and said, “I see what you’re doing. You’re getting rid of us because so-and-so is performing.” But the lighting was the whole thing for big orchestra pieces and Pops.
I hope that moving the stage forward like that, Chas, gave you the opportunity to make lighting changes that really helped.
Chas: The extension really made it possible to have an area where soloists could move around. It was their space and so it meant that portion of the show was theirs. That made a great deal of difference.
We made a lot of different things happen over time. We started with very little sophistication and I think, by the time the show stopped, it had gotten much better and more sophisticated.
Bill: We had been all squished on a stage with a hundred musicians and guests. There was no separation, no backlighting, it was all just a big mess. And you did what you could with what you had, Chas.
Then, we got Symphony Hall to come up with some money. They realized that they needed to spend money and so they bought equipment that they still use today.
It’s thanks to you, Chas, and all of us who were in that starting gate, and everybody learned from it. And most importantly, the Boston Symphony learned from it.
Bill: We had the Nitty-Gritty Dirt Band playing with John Hartford in 1970, the very first year with Fiedler and the Pops. The band was in Room 5, which was right over the stage door. Remember that there was no air conditioning in Symphony Hall and the windows were wide open, with a cop right outside directing traffic. I walked into the room to say “Hi,” and there was a cloud infused with marijuana, and the cop could see right in. I said, “Oh my God, you got to stop this stuff.” “No,” they said, “We’re not stopping.” And we got away with it.
Chas: I remember the decision to broadcast Ethel Merman live as a gift to the audience. We had been planning to record it for later broadcast in the Pops season, but somebody said, “No, let’s do it live so that we can give it to our local WGBH audience as a special gift, prior to the national airing.” So it was done as a live event and probably meant as much to the Boston audience as a Super Bowl halftime does today.
Bill: There was a very tense moment on that show. Ethel wanted a radio microphone instead of a mic stand, but Tom Keller, our chief engineer, said, “No, you can’t do that, the frequencies are screwed up.” So I had to call whoever was the head of ‘GBH at the time, and they overrode him. Tom said, “Bill, I can’t do this,’ but Ethel said, “Then I’m not going to do the show.” And that was like 20 minutes before showtime.
David: So Tom gave her the radio microphone and I remember her holding the mic and the transmitter box and saying to Tom, “Where do you want me to put these, honey?” Hah! That’s right. That sticks in my mind.
David: I have a story about Roy Clark, who came to town to play the show and we did rehearsals in the afternoon, as always, and then people went out to dinner. I stayed back because I do Transcendental Meditation, so I’d go off to hide in a room and do that for 20 minutes. And then, when I came downstairs and was on my way out, I heard Roy playing in his dressing room. I just walked up the stairs and knocked and went and said, “Hi, how are you doing?” And he says, “Yeah, I need to play a lot to get warmed up.” And I said, “Oh, can I just listen or something?” And he said, “Well, there’s another guitar, pick it up.” So I just played background with him while he was going from one song to the other.
I remember you [Bill] coming back, opening up the door, looking at him, looking at me, like, “What the hell is going on here?” And then we went and did the show.
Bill: With Bobby McFerrin, we had monumental stage changes. The first song started out with nobody on stage, no music stands, nothing. It was his voice that actually did the whole thing, choreographed.
Chas: Is that where we did a double exposure, where we recorded him and then had him come back so there appeared to be two of him on the stage?
Chas: That posed a lot of challenges, and I think it was one of our better visualizations.
Bill: And then he came back and did a Vivaldi and also conducted the last of the Beethoven Seventh. The players loved it because he was so musical. And they were with him. He conducted the last piece at quite a clip, remember? That was quite an ending, it really got going. The players had to work, but they followed him because he was spot on. Spot on.
Chas: He was able to become one with the orchestra, and maintain his very special presence.
Bill: And you directed that one, David.
David: I did.
Bill: I would recommend a relook at that whole show because it embodied a lot of challenges that we met.
Bill: David, I remember when you really began pushing for onstage cameras and that was a great improvement.
David: I did the first onstage camera. Ray Charles had a piano on stage, and I wanted a head shot straight on through the piano cover. Somebody negotiated with the orchestra, but the first on-stage camera was way over in the corner of the stage. The cameraman was Bob Wilson.
So then we developed chairs that had camera mounts on ‘em, and we placed cameras, maybe four of them, all around the orchestra. It was great. It produced fabulous shots. Shots that we’d never imagined from camera one or three that were up in the balcony.
We developed chairs that had camera mounts on ‘em all around the orchestra. It produced fabulous shots.
Bill: Now, those shots are easily done with a tiny camera and a high quality, wide angle lens. We didn’t have that.
David: We didn’t have those tools.
Bill: Had we had them, we would’ve used them.
David: Lionel Hampton knew us because we’d met with him ahead of time and then he showed up at Symphony Hall in a taxi cab holding his Bible.
In rehearsal, he wanted to ad-lib until he gave us a certain cue, but Fiedler couldn’t deal with it; he needed a certain number of bars to count. When we did the live performance, Lionel started doing some special stuff before the agreed upon a number of bars and Fiedler was terrified but Hampton brought it out exactly where they had agreed. He just wanted a little more time to mess around, so he just started early.
Bill: The night before our show with Ella Fitzgerald, we had a piano rehearsal upstairs in the conductor’s room and her accompanist, Tommy Flanagan, came into the rehearsal dead drunk. I went, “Oh boy.”
So Fiedler says, “Okay, what’s first?” And Flanagan said, “I don’t know.” Fiedler says, “You don’t know? Well, it says here, ‘Old Black Magic.’ So how does it go?” Tommy Flanagan starts playing his version of “Old Black Magic,” but Bill Shisler, the librarian, says, “No, no, that’s not in the score!” I said, “Don’t worry, because Ella is not going to be on the bar line anyway. She’s going to be ahead of it or behind it. Don’t worry, just play your score and she will be fine.” Fiedler said, “I can’t do that.” I said, “You can do that.” I was sweating bullets.
The next morning I went in and talked to the players. I said, “Please pay attention because we can’t let this rehearsal get out of control. Ella knows what she’s doing. You guys know what you’re doing. Please, let’s just do this according to the score.” And they did. They did it really well, and they loved her because she was a giant for them. She was way off the beat, all over the score, but if you listen to it and feel it musically, you were with her. And so was the orchestra. They were listening to her.
Chas: In the last season, [lighting consultant] Alan Edelman came from New York City to help us realize a lot of things that we had all been wanting to do.
Bill: I had started working with him when I was doing Carnegie Hall shows and I saw what he was able to do, with very little light, to make the hall’s architecture become part of the show. The reverse angle at showed the beautiful circular balconies and their sconces and so on, and he was able to control it. He knew the IA people [IATSE stage crew union] very well, and they did everything for him and he also had a budget for all kinds of lighting gear. So he came with all of that experience to help us.
Chas: He was able to push things over the edge in a very good way and was able to make some of the prettiest looks that I’ve ever seen in that show. I wish he could have come sooner.
Bill: No one had budget to do something like that.
Beyond Symphony Hall
Chas: I remember going to WTEV in New Bedford and we shot Tony Bennett as a freelance gig on a Saturday afternoon. We walked in, lighted, looked at the staging, shot it, and left all in probably no more than six hours. We went down and did it very much off the cuff, but just as if it was the kind of thing we’d do any time. We were there in a different studio with different cameras and everybody just jumped in and did it.
Bill: And we had Tony Bennett twice at the Pops.
David: Yeah. Twice. Eight or ten years apart.
Bill: And then we had Count Basie.
Bill: We recently had a screening of Two Gentlemen Folk, a show we made 40 years ago with Ben Luxon and Bill Crofut. I saw it on a huge screen, and I was choked up because I really liked those singers, the lighting was superb, and I was amazed at how well the whole thing worked musically, and without HDTV cameras.
It was the first time I’d done a show that wasn’t already packaged. The Boston Pops was packaged, the three tenors were packaged, Carnegie Hall was packaged. We made this show from the ground up because I knew both singers very well and we wrote the show together.
The band had never played together before, so we worked for about a week, and it came together. They were at the edge of their chairs playing, and they gave a hundred percent. Everybody did. And the lighting looked great, Chas. Forty years ago.
Chas: I tried to carve out the people rather than have broader lighting.
I remember we took a break to eat lunch before we taped, and a carpet was put down by the people who were helping us locally. One of my cardinal rules has always been, whenever you put a carpet down, you have to transfer spike [tape] marks and then you pull the carpet up and check it to make sure you’ve replicated the spike marks on the new surface. Then you put stools in the right place. Anyway, cut to the chase, we came back from lunch, and we had a new carpet and no spike marks.
Bill: What happened then?
Chas: It was one of those situations where one has to remain totally calm. It was almost heart stopping. So basically, I had to put it all back together again. I had to go and work with my focus lights and put the spike marks back in, and it worked out. And 40 years later, the fact that you could look at the show and make that comment brings a great smile to my face.
Bill: Bravo to you for doing that. It looked fabulous.
Jay: You were talking earlier about improvisational directing, Bill. On Two Gentlemen, Folk, did you have 3 or 4 cameras?
Jay: Five! There was no script and there were no shot sheets, each camera simply had certain shots as their foundation. But since you had worked with the performers ahead of time, you knew what was coming up. You’d be thinking ahead several shots and would have each camera move just before the appropriate time.
In one song where there was a contrast between English and American versions of the same traditional song. You had two cameras cutting back and forth as each performer did a passage, but you also called for other cameras to fill in.
I remember that, as the video switcher, I wasn’t nervous at all because I could see where you were going. That was one of the highlights of my career at ‘GBH.
David: When we started doing Mystery! intros with Diana Rigg, she was new to us. For one shoot, we were setting up for an intro and it was in a wide doorway. There was a spike mark, and she looked up and she looked at the light and she moved a little bit. And then she said, “It’s actually right here!”
Chas: I remember that vividly. And I think that that was one of the great things working with her. This was not her first rodeo. She really knew what was going on in a studio, and she knew how to do and say things. And if there was a problem, she had a way of pointing it out without creating any kind of ripple.
David: I was so impressed with her. Another time, when we were going through a whole series of intros and got to the next one, she read it from the teleprompter. But then she stopped and said, “Wait a minute. This isn’t right because it couldn’t have happened from the previous intro.” And whoever wrote it got together with her and said, “Oh my God. She’s right.” In other words, she wasn’t just reading the prompter, she knew exactly the context for she was saying the whole time.
Live directing versus editing in post-production
David: For a while I veered off the path of live cutting and thought, “Well, this is great. We can now make a recording on each camera and we can cut it in post.” And I did that for one or two shows.
But I looked at it and said, “It doesn’t feel anything like a live show. I’m going back to cutting my shows live and later only making edits where we need to make edits if something gets missed or there’s a bad shot that needs to be covered.” Live directing had a better feeling.
That’s how we learned how to direct: live. We didn’t have any choice. We did stuff live because we couldn’t afford to record it!
Bill: The last live show I ever did was a worldwide feed of the Three Tenors at Dodger Stadium in California. But it really wasn’t any different from what we did years ago, except you had three giant people and a whole bunch of producers from Germany and elsewhere, and they were all over me in the truck. But I had my team with me and no one was going to get to me. I knew what I was doing, and we did it and it was fine. There was always going to be some big event when our experiences at GBH kicked in. We were secure and ready.
David: For a bunch of years I recorded operas out of a performance center in Concord, Mass. I did seven of them, all multi-camera switching, four cameras, and then sometimes an ISO [isolated recording of a camera] for two of them because of subtitles.
And when I do those, I can just sit there and enjoy it and flow with it. I do my own switching, which we didn’t do in those days at all. But when I do my own switching, it’s so much easier.
Bill: I don’t think I could switch. I did it once on a gig somewhere but I can’t do it. I need to focus entirely on the non-mechanical parts, otherwise I cannot do my job. And you’re lucky to be able to do that, David. I mean, I can see why it can be very helpful.
Getting started in live music television today
Chas: Where does a young person go who wants to break into directing live music on television? What paths should they follow? I’ve been thinking about that and I have no idea what skills, what prerequisites are necessary. Do you really need to know music? Do you have to know how to play an instrument? Do you have to read music?
David: That’s really a question about how much live music is done on television today.
Bill: Back then, WGBH wanted live shows from Symphony Hall with Arthur Fiedler, Seiji Ozawa, and some huge piece of music, Carmina Burana, that kind of thing.
People who watch TV at home now aren’t really into that kind of event unless it is huge and the newspapers have been talking about it for a while.
And the path is very different now than it was back then because the technology is completely different. Cameras are so much more sensitive nowadays.
When we started, the path was right where we were, in a station that liked to experiment and help create that type of programming, and we were there to do it and learn how. I don’t think that path is in broadcast television anymore. For a while, it was in cable television.
The word “live” is key here. Learning how to do live music shows, whether small or gigantic, is a whole different set of skills than recorded and edited music shows.
Today, you can go out with your iPhone and make a music video all yourself. You don’t need David or me to do that. And the high-tech productions with real popular musicians, like Taylor Swift who made the movie of her show, are done in the editing room with a lot of ISOs [isolated camera recordings making it possible to switch between cameras in the edit suite]. Live technique isn’t going to be part of it.
When we started, the path was right where we were, in a station that liked to experiment and help create that type of programming, and we were there to do it and learn how.
So a young person who likes live music and wants to do what David and I were so lucky to do has to choose what the [viewing] venue is going be, in this case, what screen, and decide who is going to provide video for that screen.
David: Anybody who wants to try to do what we were doing then in today’s world, well, I wish them well. Really. It was a different age in terms of television and coverage. Completely.
Bill: We were at the right place at the right time. Anybody who wanted to do what we were lucky to do then, would now have a hard time because there’s no need for it and it’s hard to get the kind of training that we were all lucky to get at ‘GBH.