The In Production Blog

Tragedy of the highest order happened today in France as 12 people were killed at a French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo . The attack was apparently one of terrorism and a response to the years of poking fun at various members of radical groups within Islam as well as its’ figureheads. In the wake of all the publicity that “The Interview” garnered, the questions have again begun to float out: How far is too far with humor?


charlie hebdo



Charlie Hebdo has been no stranger to controversy or violence. In fact it has promoted it’s sometimes radical beliefs and satire many times over the years. This very publication had already been placed under heavy watch since it ran a cartoon depicting the prophet Muhammad. In fact, many felt they often crossed the lines, the US included. That they could be targeted has been a looming threat for a long time. That many were actually killed in cold blood is unforgivable and hopefully those who carried out such a cowardly action will be found and brought to swift justice.


In the wake of such unprecedented evil, a moment of reflection is surely in order. It is my hope however, that the decision is not made to make our humor as a society “safer”.


There will always be a fine line drawn between what is in good or bad taste but the simple truth is that the ability to poke fun must endure. Those of us blessed, and yes, we are blessed, to live in a free democracy that promotes open speech, must never forget this great liberty to speak our mind and voice our opinion. Great art is meant to provoke as well as attempt to answer some sort of truth or question. Were the cartoons in Charlie Hebdo or “The Interview” great art? Most likely not, but what they represent matters greatly.




Going back as far Jonathan Swift and the great political satirists of his age through Mark Twain to Charlie Chaplin to the the team behind South Park, humor has existed as a means to speak out against a perceived injustice or at the very least to make a point, even in a surreal way. Living itself can be very serious business, but it has been argued that being able to laugh at some of life’s absurdities is extremely good for you. Imagining a life without the ability to express or experience laughter is asking to put a lid on a constantly boiling pot to the point of explosion.


The basic argument against certain jokes or types of humor is that it takes on subjects that are too serious, from one’s religion to personal life to famine itself. You know what the best defense against all of this is? Not watching it or paying attention to it. The abundance of variety that exists within the entertainment world today means you are never without literally hundreds of choices. If something strikes you as offensive or in poor taste, there is plenty else out there.


There should be no such thing as a sacred cow or subject that is above criticism or skewering, especially if it doesn’t hold up to the scrutiny. Retaliating with violence is the most base of responses and only reinforces the inferiority of the argument against it.


Islam has often been held up as the poster child for intolerance for humor, but there are just as many cases of other societies banning art because it offends a certain sensibility. What is tragic is when radicalized members of a group strike out in violent ways because they can either not handle or not respond in a better, more humane, more civil way. These are the people who must be judged and cast out, not the humorists or satirists they target.


south park


I will not go as far as saying artists are heroes. They are merely human, like the rest of the world. Yet what they attempt to do, to put the human experience up to the mirror for us to see what is reflected is a heroic gesture.


Far too often we let fear and the unspeakable forces for evil dictate terms to us. Humor can be a means to fighting back, by proving that we don’t fear them, that in fact, what they stand for is not above mockery. By naming something as evil or unjust and taking away it’s power, that is the best way to make sure it never overtakes everyone.


Every free society is judged and endures chiefly by upholding its own beliefs. France in this time of great loss can take some solace in knowing that it stands still as a principled beacon of freedom. The freedom to make fun. The freedom to laugh or mock or at least call something into question for the world it take a closer look.


Let us mourn all of those we have lost and may their legacy of rebellious spirit and shaking of the status quo shine on. Then and only then, can we march confidently toward any sort of victory against the darkness that threatens to encroach on us all.


Photo Credits:*pulist*net%7Ca-modest-proposal-1334265867*jpg/

2014 was an innovative year for production, with all sorts of highlights on the small screen, big screen and every other screen possible. What follows are just a few of the best and most memorable:


1. Hugh Jackman BOUNCES To The Tony’s:


The sheer audacity of this opening is astounding. Not just for Jackman but for the steadicam operator who follows him literally from the city street to the stage, through the backstage area, on to an elevator and back again, all in one single take.  Jackman and the camera operator Tore Livia rehearsed the whole move about 3 times before tackling it live for the broadcast and it was a feat that will be hard to forget.


Why exactly was he bouncing? Well, he’s HUGH JACKMAN, that’s why!

Also, it was an homage to this, “Bobby Van’s Take Me to Broadway”:


Not only were both moving, Livia walking backwards most of the time, by the way, but Jackman eventually has to emerge and sing to start the show. I’m sure he had to pop a few sour patch kids before he got on stage to be ready to belt out those opening lines! (A few years back I had a conversation with a fellow who worked backstage with Mr. Jackman on Broadway and one of his tricks to avoid getting dry mouth before a performance was to eat something sour to create saliva. Not sure if it’s true, but if so, it’s almost as charming as the man himself.)


It was a good year for steadicam tracking shots as the creators and operators in the movie “Birdman” also proved up to the task, by seeming to shoot the movie in one seamless take:



2. OK Go –   Drone Heaven

Drones became an almost household item in 2014 and that will only continue to grow in popularity as he head on in to the future. The limits of what we can achieve will no doubt change and astound with each day but for my money, it will be a long time before anything tops the OK Go music video, “I Won’t Let You Down” which is shot, again as one single take, this time with a remote drone:


Not only does the sheer amount of moving parts make this seem impossible (It reportedly took almost 50-60 takes to get it all right) but the fact that it also had to synch up to the song just boggles the mind. To achieve this, they played the song in half speed over speakers so all the dancers could coordinate their moves then sped the video up to get the frantic pace of the final product. At the very end, yes, that is still an actual shot from the drone, now nearly a half mile in the air.

Supposedly, you can also buy those motorized personal scooters, so be sure to add that to next year’s holiday wish list!


3. Live Coverage!

2014 was a HUGE year for live events with a winter olympics and a World Cup, along with the usual Super Bowl, World Series and any other host of sports competitions. Covering all of that meant we had a litany of production technology at work, from the spidercam:


To, you guessed it, Drones:


Likewise, 2014 gave us the second live musical, this time “Peter Pan” and while the response was somewhat mixed and perhaps a few technical glitches did occur, the fact that for the second year in a row an entire musical was performed for a live national audience deserves tremendous kudos. Everyone from the actors to the tech crew to the producers, directors and everyone else involved should feel a swelling sense of pride for having pulled this all together. So much could go wrong and so little did. That speaks to the level of craft, care and ability involved:


The real takeaway is that we live in an era where what rules now is the innovative and the original. Content, especially live content is king since so much of what we experience has been recorded, pre-programmed and downloaded for future use. Anything that can be done live and done well will outshine and out perform something that has a been there, done that pre-packaged feel or look to it.  As we continue to march forward, technology will be leading the way to give us new ways of connecting and entertaining.


This was just a taste of what 2014 offered us on a technical level. Who knows what is to come in the next few months?

As film and TV shoots get more and more complicated, additional crew is almost always a must. With so many moving parts, how does any person, IE the director, keep everything organized?


One word: delegation.




As the scale of a shoot grows, so does the director’s dependency on the team they’ve assembled. In many cases, especially with bigger budget blockbusters, the only way to get everything filmed in the given schedule is to shoot at multiple locations at the same time. The director of course usually sticks by the principal actors but what about all the other shoots involved?


That calls for something known as a Second Unit.


In our latest installment of the What Is A….? Series, we delve into the Second Unit, the people whose job it is to pick up all of the slack on a production that the director can’t directly oversee.




While filming, a director will shoot a scene multiple times using different camera angles to get a variety of looks for a scene. Sometimes, they will shoot a scene with multiple cameras to get all of this coverage at once but on many single cam shoots, this means a new setup for each shot. The “Master Shot”, is usually a fairly wide shot that shows the entire scene with all of the actors in frame together. It shows everything that is happening within a given moment.


After this has been finished, the director then picks different angles to get different views to edit in to the master shot, including closeups of the actor’s faces and OTS or Over the shoulder shots which means one actor’s face is framed while the back of the other’s head is shown. Cutting between the master and these different angles gives each scene an energy that one long master shot may lack.


The Second Unit is commonly the team involved in shooting all of the non-principal actor footage. Once the director is satisfied that they have gotten all of the shots they need with their actors, the second unit will be called in to shoot all of the missing pieces for editing purposes. These include:


Establishing shots, or wide shots that set up where a location is in the scene. Exteriors of houses or landscapes are a great example here.

Inserts, which are shots that cover an action occurring within a master shot but emphasizing a different aspect such as a closeup of a hand reaching for something.

Cutaways, which are shots of something else within a scene to break the continuous nature of a master shot. For instance, if a character hears their alarm, there will usually be a cutaway of the clock to show what the character is reacting to.




Most of these shots don’t involve the principal actors so they can be picked up multiple times without fear of burning out the actor. On bigger productions, these can be shot while the first unit (the director with his actors) is shooting elsewhere to maximize their time and resources.


In many ways, the hardest and most important task of the Second Unit is to match the footage the First Unit is shooting so that when it is all edited together it appears seamless. The Second Unit must always be wary of what lenses, lighting and equipment it is using so that their footage matches. A lot of directors use the same team on all of their projects because they know they can trust the Second Unit Director to be very aware and conscious of this.


Working on the Second Units is also an excellent training ground for the crew to hone their skills, as they are essentially shooting the same movie and trying for the same results. A good deal of Second Unit crew from Directors on down have used their work here to springboard to being in charge of First Unit shoots themselves.




Peter Jackson, for instance, hired Andy Serkis of “Gollum” fame to be his second unit director because among so much else, he knew the look Jackson wanted and could give him exactly the same look whenever Jackson could not be present himself. Having someone in charge of the Second Unit who had been so deeply involved in the Lord Of The Rings trilogy from both an acting and technical standpoint proved a vital ingredient in creating the second cycle of movies.


The other major task often given to the Second Unit, especially on big budget films is shooting the stunts.


These setups can take hours upon hours to put together and oftentimes require very daring or dangerous techniques to film. As such, the Second Unit, working closely with the Stunt Team will usually be shooting these sequences while the First Unit shoots the actors elsewhere. In many cases, extensive rehearsals and run-throughs of each stunt will occur and if the First Unit is left waiting for the stunt team to finish their work, no film would ever be finished on time.


Shooting stunts can lead to some very innovative inventions of necessity, such as putting the camera in a harness atop the stunt person or inside of a car about to be sent flipping through the air. Though the mission is to get the shot in the best way possible, there is a lot of room for invention and imagination. Of course, safety must be paramount above all else.




With the advent of CGI, stuntwork can sometimes be done in post-production but for most action movies especially, the stunts prove crucial to the film’s success. Many actors take it as a badge of honor to do their own stunts whenever possible and it adds an element of realism when the audience can actually see a Tom Cruise or Hugh Jackman pulling off a dangerous feat themselves. They wouldn’t be able to do any of it without a great team supporting them of course.


Though they may not be involved in the glitz and glamor side of the filmmaking such as extensively working with the star actors, the Second Unit handles all of the nuts and bolts that truly makes a film complete.


Photo Credits:

Tishonna Ferguson had a dream. She didn’t know it at the time but within her she always felt it. As she made her way through life and a career path that was successful but not always fulfilling, she began to question it. Finally, it dawned upon her, she needed to make that change and soon found herself in a world she could never imagine: Makeup.




Starting out is never easy, especially when it’s a complete life change. She had to sacrifice a lot, give up a stable life and take the plunge in to the unknown that was ahead of her. Armed with just determination and her talent she began to make in roads in to the business.

A fashion show here, a family friend there, she began to build up her brand client by client. At first it was just to gain experience and put her name out there. Long nights, no days off, constantly updating your skillset and makeup kit, saying yes to any opportunity. It seemed like a daunting task.

In time though, it began to pay off. She started to get noticed. People began to ask for her on various projects and her network began to grow. Soon the REAL jobs began to flow in.




Now, several years later, she’s primed to explode. With recurring makeup jobs on TWO major two shows, you’ll be seeing her work weekly. Tishonna’s mission is to not create beauty but to bring out what is already there. As she told me in the podcast, she focuses less on what is perceived as a flaw with someone and more on what they love about themselves. Then she works hard to bring that to the forefront for everyone to see. Inner beauty made obvious.

You can follow Tishonna’s career by checking out her work on VH1’s “Love and Hip Hop: New York”  which makes it’s season 5 debut on December 15th and in many other shows to come in 2015. Also, be sure to check out her twitter and instagram:


The hustle never stops but success is in her sights!




In this season of being thankful, it’s time to reflect on some of the simple things that make set life easier to manage:


1. Late Call Times



Let’s been honest. Most call times SUCK. Projects take time to set up. Lights need to be installed, cameras built and blocked, makeup applied, sound checked, lines rehearsed. All of this means early, early early arrivals. Usually when most civilized people are blissfully asleep. Sure, the traffic and parking can be a breeze, but at what cost? Once in a while though, there is that glorious late morning or early afternoon call time which feels like heaven itself.  11am or 2pm never looked so nice. For that, we can be thankful.


2. Catering That Changes



Long days on set burn lots of energy which must be refueled. Like it or not, unless you plan on brown bagging all your meals, you must eventually see what catering has to offer. Sometimes, it can be great, like taco stations or BBQ. Other times, and most people in TV know this, its the dreaded coldcuts and wrap platters. Nothing against any of these foods but when you eat them for a week or month straight, turkey and ham feel like torture. Changing the menu whenever possible is a great quick way to boost morale.





There is a certain hierarchy that is unspoken. Big stars and execs get a wide berth when they first come on set and it’s up to them to close that barrier down. Many are more than happy to, with a warm smile, handshake, conversation or even just a greeting. Yet, there are just as many who are indifferent to literally everyone around them and can make the crew and even other parts of the cast feel like they are beneath them. Sadly, the second group seems to be more and more common, especially in the world of reality TV which makes those who do remember that we’re all human that much more precious.


4. Humor



As mentioned, cracking a joke is a great way to bring everyone together. It’s also a perfect way to keep the tension levels low in a high stress job. Obviously, there’s a time and a place for it, but on just a normal day or in a normal scene, finding the humor in a situation really can make the difference. Sometimes, it can come from the most obvious place, via the star or a comedian in the project but usually the biggest laughs come from unexpected sources, such as an actor who everyone thinks is extremely serious but ends up being a goofball like Sir Patrick Stewart. Laughter is the best medicine and it can make even the toughest day fly by.


5. Wifi!



We live in an information heavy age and can hardly ever disconnect. Being constantly plugged in has its advantages but it can be a huge burden on your wallet. As mentioned several times before, the smartphone has become an essential piece of life on set when downtime will come early and often. All that browsing and texting can eat away at not just your battery but your data plans, so whenever a location or studio has a wifi signal that can be accessed, it’s like hitting the lottery.


6. Indoor/Location Shoots

in studio


Just like with food, variety can be the spice of life. There is certainly something to be said for the consistency of always going to the same set or studio but whenever a show or project takes you on location or to someplace new, there is a renewed focus and vigor.

Likewise, for those who often have to work outdoors, usually the sports, music, and live news crews, it is music to their ears when an event is happening inside. Finally, the rain gear, heavy boots, layers upon layers of clothing can all be discarded and the temperature controlled bliss can be enjoyed.


7. Mentors

Teaching Annalise how to use a camera


This industry is full of people who are scared they will be replaced. They are constantly on guard when someone new arrives because they fear it could be THEIR job on the line. So when help or training is required, the bare minimum is put in to protect themselves and get the new person out. That’s why it is so wonderful when people are able to look beyond themselves and give their time to those willing and eager to learn. Any job can be cherished and handled with care so the best way to build a legacy is to provide guidance for the future generations to carry on the good work with help.


8.  Good Fortunes



Most of all it’s important to be thankful and grateful for the opportunities we all have to work in this business.  The chance to help create, inform, provoke, educate and entertain an audience regardless of medium or form cannot be taken for granted. For most people, this field represents the fruits of our labor, the passion involved and time put in must be taken with pride. It is a skills industry and we must always be thankful that we have those skills and the chances to make them flourish.

Even more importantly, we must all be thankful for our families and friends who understand our crazy lifestyles. Between the call times, long hours, stress levels and so much else, they still find it within them to love and cheer us on. Never forget them and give them as much love and support back whenever you can. That’s something we can all be thankful for together.


Photo Credits:

Election night is like the Super Bowl for News people. It’s been months, even years in the making with two teams (In the US at least) fighting it out for a victory. Each and every network does its best to trump the competition, whether by adding new technology, more guests at the desk or just by being FIRST. There is a constant scramble to be first AND right, which isn’t always as easy as it sounds. Thankfully, the methods have become much more stream-lined since the days of Dewey defeats Truman. Having one of those happen on in the blogosphere of today might in fact cause the internet itself to crash.




What is always fascinating to watch is how different narratives are tried out over the course of the days before Election night. In a world with so much data, their are projections on who will win each and every race WAY before he polls even open. In most cases, two types of graphics are ordered, one for each result. The losing graphic gets cast in to the same abyss as the losing team’s Super Bowl merchandise. They most likely go to unsuspecting people who will still believe the Patriots finished an undefeated season with a win against the Giants since they have the T-shirt.


With the advent of twitter, there are now people dedicated strictly to scanning the web for tweets from politicians, from poll stations, from anywhere honestly. In most work environments, they’d be fired for spending all their time on social media, but on tonight especially, they are vital parts of the team.


The use, for instance, of stand-ins for various politicians is  another practice in altered reality. Take for example, a young black intern standing in for an old white politician and attempting to answer questions the same way. It’s their goal to take up the place and amount of time that will be given to the guest come broadcast time, so there is a lot of filler talk to get the required 3-4 minutes.  Some of the stand-ins answers end up so close to the actual ones that it begins to show how scripted many of these talking points really are.




Others work the phones and their computers getting results and shouting them to their bosses who are constantly updating the results board. There is a certain electricity in the air as results come flying in within minutes of polls closing.  As 9 and 10pm hits, it looks like a Republican wave is on the way. Time to dump all those Democrats Keep The Senate graphics.


Correspondents and reports all over the country check in, some at cheering crowds gathering for a victory, others at now empty rooms where a losing candidate’s signs are being quickly taken down.


The staging department have spent many long hours re-dressing the set with the appropriate banners and bunting to give the night a more exciting feeling. Everywhere you look, there is an atmosphere of how different and unique this night is. It’s not just another episode of television. There are echoes to history, to elections and broadcasts of the past to serve as a guide and reminder of what we are all doing here.




Election nights are usually long, drawn out affairs which makes for long, often overlapping hours for the crew and production team. Though most people would find it crazy to work say a 48 hours straight shift, this can also be a golden ticket for many as it approaches the mythic “Continuous Time” which is when you are working long hours with short turn-arounds and are essentially being paid overtime every single hour. As highlighted by a previous blog post, so long as you do it correctly, you can achieve this and still live to enjoy it:


What’s also fun is that Election nights end up being a sort of class reunion with various anchors and crew all working together on a single project. Usually, you may see the people in the hallways between shifts but this gives everyone the opportunity to actually work together. A lot of time gets passed just catching up on old friends and refreshing friendships since very rarely do the schedules match up.


These nights take on a feeling of greater importance due to the sheer size and pageantry of it all. Instead of just a 5 cameras, how about 12? Why not two steadi-cams? How about 8 anchors instead of 2? Everything is bigger and better. Though, this is usually better in theory than in practice.




As the night drags on, you have people speaking over one another since they aren’t all used to sharing screen-time or even the rhythms of how they ask questions. Likewise, the crew begin to get a bit punchy as with so many cameras, lights, mics and such, people begin to get in each other’s way. More than one screaming match happens in the commercial break though thankfully nothing further really comes of it.


Results begin to trickle through, everyone gets a bit looser, especially as the west coast broadcast gets prepared. By this point, most people have been up nearly 24 hours, many having worked almost straight through. Nothing cuts the tension and feeling of being tired better than the steady stream of snacks and meals that are brought in. Whereas on many days even getting some water may be a bit of an issue, on big events, full spreads of sandwichs, drinks and especially desserts are in full demand.


As each commercial hits, there is an exodus from the studio and control room to grab whatever isn’t tied down to eat. Anything with sugar or caffeine is needed to keep the energy level up and going.




There are moments of real laughter as well, as with so many people in a space, everyone is a lot more chatty. When a certain Senator or guest comes on and is a drip or just talking solemnly on, you feel everyone in the room getting a bit fed up together and as soon as the interview ends and mics are shut, the insults begin to fly. Nothing cuts up a room better than having an anchor, producer or director say, “Asshole” as soon as an interview ends with a particularly difficult guest.


As the night draws to a close and it becomes clear that one party is having a better night, the talk inevitably begins to turn to the NEXT election, as if this one cannot just stand on its own. It is the very nature of politics as well as TV itself that the narrative must never actually end. Speculation for who will run in 2016 is already perking up just as most of the crew is tuning out.


Finally, the night ends and many people rush in to congratulate everyone involved. It feels great to have your hard work and dedication recognized as well as knowing the job was done well. Frankly though, most people just wander out quickly and quietly, searching for a bed to crash on for a few hours. Dawn is nearly approaching and the news doesn’t stop.



Better rest up, 2016 is on the way.