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From the Field

Avoiding Turbulence in the Control Room
By Mark Burnette

Communication. If there’s one thing that defines the difference between a smooth-running show verses a frustrating, hair-tugging show (hey, my photo doesn’t reflect that at all – okay, so I used to have as much hair as my son), that one crucial factor is a producer’s communication with the director.

Sounds simple enough, right? Well, after directing more than 10,000 newscasts spanning nearly three decades, you come to realize we could all take a few lessons from Dr. Phil on the subject.

Communication on a broadcast should begin when the producer organizes their rundown. Every producer’s rundown should reflect what he or she actually wants to see on air. I had one producer place “still store” in the video column. A wasted 20 minutes of going back and forth between the producer, writer and pre-pro director passed before I figured out the producer was actually asking for rolling video with a sidebar thunder clip and changing live chyrons.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the best producer-director combos I’ve been witness to and member of don’t need to talk very much at all while the show is on the air because of clear communication and preparation. Still, what would life be without the exception to the rule, namely breaking news. Oh yes, contrary to popular belief, most directors love breaking news. That’s when we get to throw out the rundown, have some good ol’ exciting adrenalin rush through our veins to stimulate hair growth back in our scalp after years of Electromagnetic Field abuse from the tiny room filled with television screens and electronic equipment, get down to basics and do what we love … direct!

So when breaking news is not happening, here’s a tip especially for new producers on how to make your life and that of your director’s more copasetic: please learn when to talk to the director. When the director is listening for a live reporter’s roll cue to a package, that’s not the time to grab his arm and tell him the weather guy is getting 2:30 in the next segment. If you add a story a mere 30 seconds before the newscast starts, it’s okay if one anchor reads an extra story. You don’t have to swap the reads on the next 10 stories.

Most reporters fall into one of two categories when they are doing live shots. “Reporter A” thrives on the adrenalin rush they feel when appearing in front of the camera 30 seconds before their live shot hits. “Reporter B” is in front of the camera five minutes before the live shot hits. We love “Reporter B” because – and this may shock many reporters out there – we really want you to look and sound good. Five minutes gives us time to make sure the camera is white-balanced, the video level is set and the microphone is not over-modulated.

Conversely, adrenalin-lovin’ “Reporter A” usually winds up looking terrible in their package intro. Little or no time off air translates into a director scrambling during the reporter’s package to get the camera looking good and the audio airable. Hey, at least the live tag will look good for “Reporter A.”

That’s all for this week, keep the blue side up.

About the Author

Mark Burnette has been a Director at KRON-TV in San Francisco since 1996. Prior to KRON, he worked at KPIX, WTVJ, WIS, WXEX, WFBC, WITN, and WNCT. He is a FAA licensed Commercial Pilot and Certified Flight Instructor. He can be reached at