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Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Toole Time (Film At Ten)

So the Hollywood Police Department says compulsive liar Ottis Toole did, in fact, kill 5-year-old Adam Walsh back in 1981. Even though Toole recanted his confession, is known to tell tall tales about his killing sprees, and even though the best evidence in the case has… ahem… disappeared, the book is closed on the case. Next!

That announcement last month reminded me of WCIX’s first live remote, and the days when the station not only had no live capabilities, but was all-film. There was no such thing as rushing a tape back to the station, cueing it, and getting it right on the air. Film had to be developed! Every other station in town had made the conversion to tape, but not Channel 6 – not until February 12, 1982, that is, when we finally left the ‘70s behind. (Channel 10, I believe, was the first to make the all-tape move. Who could forget the infamous “you don’t have to take the film and develop it” promos, back in the Ron Hunter years?)

So while everyone was putting crisp, clear pictures on the air, we had… film flutter! The young’uns in the news biz have never heard of film flutter… or super slides… or 35-millimeter key shots! And you know what? They’re lucky! We may not have been technologically advanced in those days, but we all worked very hard to try to put a decent hour-long newscast on the air. Very hard! And we had to be super-diligent. Just look at what the associate director, and the audio operator, had to deal with.

(Click images to view them full size)

The notations on the left side were the A-roll. On the other side was the B-roll. Somehow we had to hit the B-roll at just the right point. At 27 seconds in, the audio operator had to turn the pot up, for the sound on film (SOF), then turn the pot down, then up again. There was so much going on in this 1979 Harlan Levy reporter “wrap” (we didn’t call them “packages” back in those days. They weren’t really “packaged”, like they later were on videotape.) The associate director (usually Rod Kerrison or Bob Rossicone) really had to be on his toes.

The individual photographer/editor filled out the film cards, and their writing wasn’t always very legible. CT-SIL stood for cart (which contains the reporter track) over silent film. The audio operator had to alternate between sound on film, and the reporter’s track (on cart), which meant it was crucial to get the outcues just right. Missing it could mean a meltdown for the rest of the story, and likely an angry reporter.

This card was a little more straightforward, and easier to follow. This was a Jill Beach wrap, shot and edited by Ira Lazernik. Since Jill’s track was over silent file footage, there was no half track, and only a sound bite to worry about. There was also no reporter stand-up, leading me to believe this must have been a wire story, turned into a local wrap with nothing but a little file film and one sound bite. Instant news, quick and dirty.

Communication would have been very important with this reporter wrap. The associate director had to communicate that the audio was hot, and that there was no pad at the end of the piece. That means the director had to “punch out” of the film, the very second Harlan Levy did his sig-out. If not, the screen would go to black, and the producer (probably Don Adams) would get louder than a Potamkin car commercial. In the years to come, we would crack down on pieces that had no pad, even going as far as freezing the last shot. Going to black is a cardinal sin in TV news. You just don’t do it!

As I mentioned, we finally went all-tape in 1982, and it would be another year-and-a-half before we had live capabilities. Mayco “Mike” Villafana (the future FPL/Miami-Dade Schools/Convention & Visitor’s Bureau spokesman) was the producer, and John Turchin had the honors of doing the first WCIX remote. The occasion? A news conference by the Hollywood Police Department. The story? A suspect was being named in the Adam Walsh kidnapping and murder. His name?

Ottis Toole.

25 years later, that classic line by the Talking Heads inevitably comes to mind.

“Same as it ever was.”

1 comment:

Paul Stueber said...

Makes for AMAZING reading! And I never knew what an INCREDIBLE pack-rat you must be, to have paperwork from way back when.

And let's see ... back then you must have been 11 years old?