APTRA Academy -- IT ALL SEEMS SO REAL!!!
By Nancy LeMay
APTRA Academy Mentor
Whenever you do anything for the first time, you naturally
have nothing to compare the experience with. So it was with
last fall's first APTRA Academy; not only was it the very
first Academy, but it was unique both in what it attempted
and what it accomplished.
Eisner's concept was straightforward: to give people the opportunity
to 'try on' the experience of putting together a news story
from beginning to end, in a real life, in-the-field workshop.
This seemingly simple idea is really rather radical: it takes
students, (as well as pros contemplating a move into major
market TV), removes them from the lab atmosphere of the classroom
and puts them through the entire story cycle in real time.
The faculty created a story for the students to report: a
brush fire which was being fought in Malibu Canyon. We had
all the details of the firefighting effort, we had victims
for the reporters to interview (including my husband, Harry,
and myself). We had crews, live trucks, the LA Fire Department's
PIO, LA reporters and producers, great file footage of local
brush fires being fought, we had graphics. We had a great
What struck me about this experience is how quickly it came
to feel like the real thing. The students, who ranged from
high school age to folks in their 30's, were immersed from
the moment they arrived at Cottontail Ranch in the motion
and urgency of a developing story. The force of 'deadline'
was real; all of the faculty were news veterans for whom getting
to air is the daily job. So 'what if' gave way quickly to
the actual crafting of the story. A briefing from the PIO,
then go out and report.
When Harry and I were pressed into service to portray a fire
'victims', we got another perspective on how real this all
became. As we were being interviewed by the students, telling
each of them our stories, it became clear how completely 'in
the moment' they all were. The professional reporters were
standing by to offer tips of the "don't forget to...' variety;
their shooters were pointing out the best camera angles, suggesting
establishing shots, and offering 'do's and don'ts' of their
own. And what we heard over and over again from the professional
mentors was "be compassionate... remember, these folks have
lost their homes, their belongings...". The students listened,
sincerely interested in the real-life insights. Writing, editing,
standups, and unscheduled cut-ins were all done, too, as the
A map of the area, and a full-screen showing the major details
of the fire had been made and were available on tape; I explained
why graphics are important to a story like this, and how to
order them. The graphics were then cut into the pieces by
the editors, using Beta and DVC Pro decks. The hubbub, confusion,
shouted questions and answers, the glancing at watches, the
endless inquiry of the newsroom were all there, recreated
in a rec. center nestled in a quiet little canyon belonging
to Pepperdine University. All of this worked for several important
reasons. To begin with, professionals said "yes, this is a
good idea", and provided the time, the energy and the gear
required to do it.
The concept itself was something fresh and new. Careful planning
and coordination on the part of the Academy's organizers helped
to make the 'story' seem real. But just as important, students
let their imaginations loose and put themselves into the story.
Some discovered they were comfortable in front of the camera,
and others were amazed how their hearts pounded when they
went 'live' with breaking news. They knew they had to get
it right; it was great to watch the students get these important
The Second APTRA Academy this Fall will offer the chance for
students to find out what it really is like to be in the news
business. Plans are to make it bigger and better than last
year, but it will again be, clearly, a really special experience
for everyone. It was a gratifying and enjoyable experience
for my husband and myself; I suggest you take the opportunity
to join us this Fall.
NANCY LeMAY is a freelance graphic designer currently working
for KNBC in Burbank. She has worked for 14 years as a broadcast
designer and art director in New York and in Los Angeles.
Her resume includes an alphabet soup of corporate and academic
initials. She has won five LA Area Emmys, three awards from
The Broadcast Designer's Association and four awards from
The Associated Press. Her work can be seen in the book "White
Graphics", published by Rockport Publishers. She is a member
of the Television Academy in Los Angeles, and can be reached
online at this address