“I think you might be the right guy for the job – just not on this switcher.”
Immediately, I was overcome with a flood of doubts. Here I was, talking with the director of a national television network program, and he wasn’t sure if I was up to the challenge of technical directing his show.
Honestly, neither was I…but this is just the beginning of the story. Wait until you see how it ends.
I got a random phone call in April from Hollywood. There’s a national cable show that wants to do a week of episodes from the Dollywood theme park in Sevierville, Tennessee, about an hour’s drive from my home in Knoxville.
A colleague of mine had recommended these guys talk to me about being a technical director (TD) for their location shoots. A technical director operates the video switcher that selects cameras, video sources and graphics…basically, anything you see happening on the screen is at the fingertips of a TD. It can be a fast-paced, stressful job. I hold two Emmy Awards for excellence in technical directing.
The phone call goes very well, and I am asked for introductions to more local freelancers – which I eagerly arrange. It’s always good to help a friend in the business find work.
We all get an appointment to meet the show director and key members of the technical team in advance of shooting four episodes for the Hallmark Channel’s “Home and Family at Dollywood.”
I show up at the TV truck, parked on a secured lot in Knoxville, to meet the crew from Hollywood. This is a truck that I’ve never worked in before, with a production switcher I’ve never operated before.
“You know this switcher, don’tcha?” one of them asks.
(My ambition tells me to say “yes”, but my integrity tells me to admit “no.”)
“I’ve worked on other models in the Grass Valley line, but never on this one,” I confess. (I had moved into directing years ago and now have people TD for me. This switcher is brand new, top-of-the-line equipment that I’ve missed out on learning how to operate.)
The group continues to exchange pleasantries and get familiar with each other. The ‘entertainment’ remote guys from Hollywood are trying to figure out how to work with the ‘sports’ remote guys from Knoxville – and vice versa. Eventually, sub-groups start to form based upon their specialties: camera, audio and directing.
“What will you need from me?” I ask the director.
“That’s a great question.”
He proceeds to describe how he likes to work and what he wants to see from a TD. We discuss how important it is for switcher effects to be ready in an instant and how they may be tweaked on the fly. “You have to be ready all the time. I can’t be waiting on you to fix something, or you’re going to see me screw myself into the roof.”
I’m sure my poker face (hah!) gave me away, because not long after that statement came the question.
“Are you the best person on the crew for this job?”
“You asked me a very direct question. I’ll give you an honest answer: No. Matt Laesecke is the best person for this job.”
My mind was racing. Did I blow it? What about the great payday that would come with the TD position? Does this guy think I’m incompetent? Will my wife kill me for passing up this opportunity?
Overriding all of the second-guessing was the assurance that I’d done the best thing in the interest of the team, my client and myself. (It’s one of the core values of Be Media Savvy.)
“Besides,” I continued, “if you were to book me to TD this show, I’d just have to turn around and ask Matt to teach me how to operate this switcher. He already knows how; put him at TD, and I’ll move to his position in tape.”
We agreed that would be the best solution…to the amazement, I think, of the director who appeared puzzled by my honest assessment of my own talents and capabilities.
“I think you might be the right guy for the job – just not on this switcher. Are you sure you’re okay with this?”
“Yeah, I’m sure.”
I lied. There would still be several hours and a few more conversations with important people in my life before I could be 100% certain.
Thank God for grace and an understanding wife. It was going to work out.
The four days on set at Dollywood were a blast for me. My role was video recording and playback. I had the crucial responsibility of making sure all scenes were recorded properly and transferred into the editor’s hands to be condensed into four 2-hour episodes.
On top of that basic responsibility, I had the green light to select and play back funny shots from a segment as we were bumping out to commercials. Not a huge role…more like the icing on the cake. But I did it well enough to get an “attaboy” from the director and executive producer after the production was done!
One of the things I personally enjoyed was being a “cultural ambassador” to my counterparts from Hollywood. I grew up in East Tennessee. My maternal homestead is in a holler on the next ridge over from Dollywood in Pigeon Forge. I was definitely straddling between my Smoky Mountain roots and media career.
Did you know banana pudding is a regional thing? I thought everyone ate ‘nanner puddin’ – but many on the Cali crew had never seen it before. They thought it was mashed potatoes at first, until I explained that it’s like coconut cream pie made with bananas and vanilla wafers.
Of course, many wanted to know about Tennessee moonshine. I tried to warn them that the Apple Pie flavored ‘shine sold in the retail shops and bars was dangerous. It’s so watered-down and flavored that you don’t get the burn warning you when you’ve had enough.
One crew member showed up the next morning all puffy and red-faced.
“How many shots of Apple Pie did you drink?”
How Hollywood is that?
It was also a great joy reconnecting with friends and former co-workers who are now in the Dollywood PR department; Pete Owens, Ellen Liston and Amber Davis.
THE WRAP PARTY
After every big film or video production, there’s a wrap party. Cast and crew let their hair down, mend fences (if need be), debrief, drink and complement each other on another job well done.
I was an hour late to the party, because I had stayed back to help tear down all the video equipment and load it into the remote truck. At first, I thought about skipping it and heading straight home, but the director had asked specifically that I show up.
When I show up, I get greeted – not with a hand shake or ‘hi, how are you?’ – but with the biggest bear hug from Rob, our director.
He was extremely kind and generous with praises for the work both Matt and I had done on the shows. His words of encouragement were an affirmation that we had put all the right players in the right positions to build a stronger team…and that my contributions to the team effort went way beyond my screen credit or job description.
The same day Rob and I had our first conversation about who should TD the shows, I shared this photo about teamwork on Facebook.
There is great potential in team. Don’t ever forget that. Don’t ever let pride force you to play “out of position.” I see businesses suffer when the owner doesn’t delegate well…or when certain players shouldn’t be on the team…or when someone is cast into the wrong role for them to play.
How about your business, organization, or family? Where are you supposed to step up…and where should you be handing the ball off to someone else? After all, you’re on the same team. Knowing when to let someone else shine, because they are better suited for the task, is also leadership.
Be a leader.
Had I stubbornly, pridefully asserted my claim to the TD’s chair, the team would have suffered. The shows might not have turned out quite so well. I would have compromised my own integrity and never won the respect of my colleagues from Hollywood.
There are hints of another location show later this year. The true clincher will be audience response to these first ones we shot. If no one shows interest, that indicates there’s not much demand for more shows like it.