By Mark Neuling
Field Camera Operator for Tech TV
Most of us in large markets or those who shoot for networks eventually
have the opportunity to meet, photograph and sometimes hang out with
celebrity types. Whether they are athletes, politicians, musicians
or actors the shoots often prove to be among the most nerve-racking we do.
The very first celebrity interview I ever did was with a cast member
from the show MASH. The show had just concluded its decade long run
on television the year before. The actor we were to interview was directing
a small play in Palo Alto. He was finally getting to do something different
after several seasons of starring on the “Green Show” as he called
it with a certain condescension; referring to the green military fatigues
that were the standard issue costumes for the show.
There was some connection between our station engineer and the actor,
I never knew what it was, but it was through the engineer that we got the
Our little troupe met late one afternoon at the theater where the actor’s
play was taking place. I would run one camera, the engineer would run
the other and one of our producers would conduct the interview. Our
guest met us outside and led us into the theater. We introduced ourselves. I
was terrified. Here I am shaking hands with a guy that I’ve watched
on TV for years and I’m about to shoot an interview with him. Oddly
he didn’t seem that much different from the character he played on
MASH. It most likely wasn’t much of a stretch for him to have
played the pompous, arrogant officer he portrayed on television; at
least that was my first impression.
We scouted out a location for the interview and decided that we would
shoot upstairs in the theater’s art -deco lobby.
As the producer, engineer and actor chatted with each other I got about
setting up the lights and camera equipment. What seems routine now,
nearly two decades later, was then a constant mental checklist of what to
do when setting up the gear. What if I forget to white balance,
what if the shot looks bad, what if I forget how to work the camera,
what if the camera falls over, what if, what if?
We had transported the cameras in their big, heavy, cumbersome shipping
cases. Just as I got to the top of the stairs I stumbled. The
wheels on the bottom of the case had caught at the top of the staircase and
the quiet conversation that the others were having was suddenly violated
as the heavy camera case slammed onto the polished marble floors. I
of course looked like a dancing hippo as I fought to maintain my balance.
The actor turned from his dialogue and with a twinkle in his eye said
to me, “Hey Mark, take it easy there big fella.” Oh my
God! The famous Hollywood actor actually remembered my name. The
nice thing about actors is that they do remember the names of the crewmembers
and they usually remember to thank everyone when the shoot is over, especially
if they feel you’ve made them look good.
Fortunately the rest of the night went well. Most of the conversation
was about working on MASH and the challenges and difficulties of being associated
with such a hit show. I remember that as we were leaving the theater
early that evening, the last rays of light illuminated our subject
as he strolled down the sidewalk wearing a green military fatigue jacket,
in his pockets, carefree and happy.
We had one shoot when I was at KICU TV 36 in San Jose with a major
comedian/talk show host from the early days of television. He was on
the college lecture circuit and agreed to meet with us prior to an engagement. It
was a hot summer day, the kind where the air doesn’t move and the smog
just hangs over the valley. This shoot was a very big deal for the
producer who had set it up. He was a big fan of this celebrity. In
fact the producer had invited his wife along just to meet our celebrity guest. That
was a first.
We arrived a little early at the hotel where we would shoot the interview. As
we’re waiting for the elevator along comes the celebrity having just
finished dinner. There are terse greetings. The air in the cramped
elevator was heavy and stifling; the numbers for each floor passed by insilence. We
got the idea that we were not exactly welcome guests.
The hotel room was a small suite with a bedroom, kitchen and living
room. The only real option we had for shooting the interview was in
the narrow living room. There were a coffee table and couch with nothing
more than a blank wall for a background and no room or time to move
Compounding our troubles was the number of people crammed into this
tiny space. There was the producer and his wife, myself and the soundman,
the celebrity and his son, who was traveling with him. It was tough
for every one to find a place to sit that wasn’t in the way of a light,
the tripod or the camera.
I began to set up my tripod, which was the old, heavy, wooden type. We
didn’t have a very portable wireless microphone system in those days
so the soundman ran audio cables and microphones for our talent and guest
and found a corner to sit in with his old 3⁄4 inch videotape machine. The
celebrity’s son sat at the kitchen table just out of camera range. As
I’m locking the tripod legs into place, the celebrity, who is sitting
on the couch, looks up at me says, “They say that the most flattering
shot is when the camera is an inch or two above eye-level.” He
pauses as I click our battered Ikegami into place on the sticks and then
resumes his comment, “And I see that you are doing that correctly,” he
concludes. Oh brother! Then just before the interview begins
he once more looks my way and says, “No close-ups please.” Well
maybe we’re not “60 Minutes” but a loose medium shot of
a celebrity sitting on a couch before a bland background doesn’t make
for very exciting television.
Our producer was a very thorough guy. He always did his research and
had good questions to ask and attempted to go beyond the usual subject
matter that most celebrities banter about with the media. But on this
day he struck out. The interview subject was nearly emotionless in
the way he replied to the questions. His answers sounded as if he’d
given these same sound bites a thousand times before, and in fact he
a comedian there weren’t many laughs that day. The producer
was crushed. Not only did the celebrity have feet of clay, but a toupee
to boot. The piece ran but we rarely ever discussed the shoot after
have had the opportunity to work with Peggy Fleming on several
won the gold medal at the 1968 Olympics in figure skating and has been a commentator
with ABC Sports for many years. She and her family live in the
hills above Silicon Valley and she has been very active as a participant in
national and local charitable organizations. We were to tape some stand-ups
with Peggy for stories that were airing on one of the myriad of telethons that
my erstwhile station use to carry.
|Producer Susan Hoffman and Peggy Fleming
changes. April 1990.
© 2003 Mark Neuling
Fleming and young friends at the Celebrity Waiters Luncheon,
California. March 1996.
© 2003 Mark Neuling
up front let me say this. The camera loves Peggy Fleming. Any
kind of light, indoors or outdoors, she looks marvelous. When
her eyes lock onto the camera it’s pure magic. I have
never had an easier time making “talent” look so good.
Our crew arrived at her home and we exchanged the usual pleasantries. It
was to be a long day of shooting. There was a teleprompter to set up and
several locations around the house and pool for us to photograph at. We
all wanted to get down to business as soon as possible before it got too hot. But
first there was the little issue of Peggy’s wardrobe to solve. She
wasn’t sure what to wear and wanted my opinion! So off we go to her
bedroom. She had two outfits selected. Here I am with Peggy Fleming
discussing the merits of a jean jacket versus a peasant blouse in her bedroom. Now
you can imagine how cool that was for a camera monkey like me.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.
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