|Focus, January 24, 1974, Cover Story |
Can Teenagers produce a quality TV show?
A group in South Bend, Indiana, is earning critical acclaim for its own weekly productions.
| | Focus Magazine Cover
|"Quiet in the studio, please. This is a take." |
"Roll video tape recorder. Bring up audio. Action."
On the studio stage an operation is taking place-a one-in-a-million tonsillectomy. The camera zooms in for a close-up of the doctor's hands as he removes the whole head of the patient and replaces it with a cabbage!
The story is a spoof on TV soap operas. The place is a professional TV studio. And the actors, cameramen, technicians, and director are all high school students.
"Beyond Our Control" is the name of the show, a weekly satirical review presented over WNDU-TV, South Bend, Indiana. It's created. planned, and produced by teenagers from nine or ten local high schools who handle 100 percent of the responsibility for the show, although four adults from WNDU help out as advisers.
|About 30 teenagers gather every Saturday morning in the WNDU studio to produce the weekly shows. They're trying to answer the question: What would you do if you were given a half-hour of TV time to fill? |
The question was first posed by WNDU 13 years ago when the station joined Junior Achievement, a national program that offers young adults practical business experience. More than 250 teenagers have participated in the WNDU program, over the years, many of them going on into professional broadcasting.
A "wave" heaved by a stagehand hits the commander of the Roman ship in the battle scene from "Ben Hur".
One of the program's audio engineers doublechecks an audio cue sheet during a pretaping session.
"The project demands that you I develop a sense of professionalism and responsibility at an unusually early age," said Diane Werts a student who sells advertising for "Beyond Our Control." "It should help us all later."
As part of their training, students, work from October through May on every aspect of producing a professional TV show. Specialized jobs writing, art, photography, video tape operation, audio, and lighting are assigned on the basis of interest and ability. Everyone is called upon to act.
At the beginning of each year the entire group gets together for a brainstorming session and contributes to the Idea Book. Subjects for the book are drawn from TV shows and ads that students want to poke fun at.
Each week one of the ideas is: selected, and treatment for it is decided- location filming or livestudio taping. Among "Beyond Our Control's" productions have been:
*a parody of children's TV shows with five-second cartoons and constant commercials.
* The "Nearly Wed Game," featuring young couples on the eve of their wedding.
* A parody of Ben Hur filmed with miniature boats on a small pond.
* A takeoff on World War II movies in which the hero gets a Dear John letter that turns out to be an April Fool joke.
A cameraman films one of the model ships for a mock battle scene in the parody remake of Ben Hur.
|Filming the World War II parody provided more excitement for the company than their scriptwriters had expected. When they went to Buchanan, Michigan, to film, they dressed actors in appropriate Nazi and American uniforms and had them running around the location site. Suddenly a car screeched to a stop, the driver rolled down his window, and screamed out, "You're perverted! You don't really believe in that Nazi stuff!" Before the crew could explain what they were doing, the car moved on. |
They did get a chance to explain, however. To the local sheriff. He was called out by the residents of the town who phoned to complain that a bunch of Nazi nuts were running around the area.
It turned out that the crew had chosen a predominantly Jewish neighborhood for their filming.
Most of the work done by the group is not quite as exciting as their brush with the law. In fact, preparing the show is a lot of routine hard work.
The first problem each week belongs to the scriptwriters, who hold production meetings each Saturday and Sunday morning and on three weeknights to work out script solutions to production problems.
The writers prepare shooting scripts that include instructions for sound and camera shots. (You'll find sample scripts from actual shows on pp. 10-15.)
Scripts are distributed and parts assigned at a compulsory Thursday night meeting of the whole company. This meeting is also the only rehearsal for the crew before they actually show up at the studio at 8 a.m. Saturday morning to work out the complex problems of putting a show together.
The script is usually handled in sections, or scenes. Before each scene is taped, the studio becomes a squirming hive of activity. The audio crew fiddles with dials and adjusts volume levels, taping any music or voice-over needed for the show. Lighting technicians move, rehang, and test their lights to get effective highlights and shadows. While the actors run through their lines and action, cameramen are busy finding the right filming spots, practicing a smooth zoom in or a wide pan.
By 1 p.m. everything has to be done- the show has to be on tape. WNDU studios are needed for other productions after that time.
The hectic schedule requires rapid, dedicated work from all members of the company. But the payoff comes for them shortly before 1 p.m. when they gather around the studio monitor to view results. There come some groans and many shouts of glee. And then it's time to start all over again on the work for the next week's production.
In a battlefield scene from a World War II movie parody the hero takes time out to read a Dear John letter from his girl friend.
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In despair the hero of the war parody storms the line and is shot down learning as he dies that the letter was an April Fool joke.
Some of the students spend as many as 35 hours a week on the TV production work. Why are high school students willing to put so much time into a TV show?
"I see it as a creative outlet for all those against the usual standards of society, and football and basketball in particular," explains Dave Bashover.
"Even if I don't choose to pursue a broadcasting career, my 'Beyond Our Control' experience is as valuable to me as it is fun," says Randy Rhinehart, this year's treasurer,
Obviously, many students in the South Bend area agree with Dave and Randy. "Beyond Our Control" gets so many applications each year that advisers can select only two of every nine candidates. In previous years selection was done through a written quiz-nicknamed "The Dreaded Creative Aptitude Test"Ä that probed for student sense of humor with such questions as "Complete the following: if my mother were on her deathbed and Lawrence Welk were playing on TV and the doorbell rang, I would say .... "
The test has been discontinued because advisers feel they can get a better idea of student humor through personal interviews. During these sessions they explain the rigors of the work and try to turn away gently those students not really suited to the project.
Despite the hard work and constant demand for high levels of humor, the "Beyond Our Control" experience seems alluring for those students who experience it. Ninety percent of those eligible return for a second year of work. These talented young people are proving to viewers that teenagers can really keep TV well within their control.
Focus, January 24, 1974, pp.6-8
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