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Small Boutique Handles Big Project

Making multiple PSAs for NAB requires marathon skills


Shooting 400 TV spots in nine days takes more than a small amount of coordination. Rosemary Reed has done it, and she repeats it like a mantra:

"These were all shot in nine days."

Watching a reel of the spots run at the event where they were unveiled, she states the fact as if she herself is unconvinced.

Reed, president of Double R Productions in Washington, D.C., produced the 30-second spots for the National Association of Broadcasters' Congressional Families PSAs program.

"We used to work in the studio with family members for 12 days," she said. "Now we did it in nine days. Sometimes we did 20 women per day. We tried to crank them through in about a half-hour."

Since 1985, NAB has invited the families of senators and Congress members to participate in public service announcements about issues such as breast cancer and literacy.

Reed had just gone freelance in 1985 when she landed the job, along with her partner, Mike Hurdlebrink, vice president of Double R. There were 20 spouses that first year. They showed up on the Mall, and with the Capitol in the background, did a straight 30-second read, which was captured on 3/4-inch videotape. The spots were not particularly compelling, Reed said. They needed a creative infusion.

In the years that followed, family members were brought into a studio where they got the full make-up and wardrobe treatment. A set of 15-second vignettes was developed to open the spots. A five-second NAB logo bumper was attached to the end.


The opening vignettes are shot on film, since film remains a cheaper proposition than high-definition video, especially for a boutique like Double R. The masters are sent to Colorlab in Rockville, Md. for telecine transfer onto Beta SP.

The little 15-second films are illustrative of the given issues, which are selected by NAB. This year's PSAs covered breast cancer, bullying, child safety, diabetes, emergency preparedness, literacy, physical fitness and volunteer service. Some are straightforward productions with paid actors, like the emergency preparedness piece. In it, a small group of people is out backpacking when the weather turns threatening and one hiker asks if anyone has a tent or a flashlight. Instead, a woman pulls a kitten-heeled mule and a swimsuit top out of her backpack. A voiceover intones, "Emergencies are no joke," and to "be prepared."

For the breast cancer PSA, Reed hired a freelancer to create a 3D graphic in which a hundred or so headshots fall into a collage of a U.S. map and a pink survivor ribbon forms over the top.

Some vignettes are recycled from previous years, while new ones are created for fresh issues or those that remain consistently high profile, like breast cancer. Double R does all the creative planning once NAB has determined the topics. The scripts and vignettes are mapped out and submitted to NAB, and to the partnering agencies (Homeland Security, Health & Human Services, the American Diabetes Association, etc.), for approval. NAB invites the Congressional spouses to the shoots and sends them the scripts. Those who accept choose their causes and get a timeslot in the studio, where Reed shows them demo spots featuring her in the role of Congressional spouse.

Double R booked nine days in May at Reuters Studios in Washington, D.C., one of the few facilities left in the District that meets the parameters of the project. Two Sony DXCD-34WS cameras were used; one close-up and one wide. In all, 112 family members participated, many of them doing multiple spots, said Dennis Wharton, NAB senior vice president of corporate communications.

The tapes from the shoots were whisked back to Double R, where Michael Gionis edited them into the bumpers on an Avid Adrenaline system.

In many ways, the edit bay is the workhorse of the Double R. The house has several small cameras--a Sony VX1000 MiniDV and a Canon GL2 MiniDV--for smaller shoots; say "if someone's doggie graduates from doggie training school," Reed joked. Contractors are hired to shoot larger projects.

The Adrenaline system is configured with four Avid 36 GHz hard drives on a dual-processor, 2 GHz Power Mac G5 running Panther OS. The edit suite is equipped with two 20-inch NEC monitors, a Sony Betacam UVW-1800 recording deck and a Tascam CD-A500 cassette/CD combo deck.

Double R bought the Adrenaline late last year to replace its Avid Media Composer 1000XL, but the old system remains in an adjacent edit bay. There are times when a second system comes in handy, Reed said.

A 933 MHz Power Mac G4 running Jaguar OS powers the 1000XL. Mitsubishi monitors, a Sony UVW- 1600 and a dub rack with a Sony U-matic VTR, VHS duplicator, PAL/SECAM VHS player/recorder, DVD recorder and 13-inch monitor round out the bay.

The U-matic is more than just a sentimental relic. Double R still gets the occasional request for something on 3/4-inch tape, including the previous round of PSAs. The majority of hard copy requests are for S-VHS or Beta SP.

For the most part, stations pick them up via satellite. NAB distributed the latest batch of PSAs June 17, 24 and 30 from noon to 3 p.m. ET on C - band, Galaxy 3, Transponder 7 at 3840 MHz. The spots go out by state, so stations can tape the families of their respective lawmakers.

The audio is stripped out for radio stations; it can be downloaded as an MP3 file from the NAB Web site, or stations can request a CD. NAB also made the spots available to non-member stations for the first time this year, Wharton said.

"It's left to individual broadcasters; but feedback indicates they're prominently played in these communities," he said. "That's why we get such a good return."

A week after the unveiling--at NAB's 7th Annual Service to America Summit June 13--Reed was in her offices at Double R, where the staff was making a "blooper" DVD for all the participants. When those go out, she'll get a few more requests for copies of the PSAs, because Congressional spouses will call stations and ask to have them run. Because, Reed said, "They see them and realize, 'hey, I look pretty good.'"