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Get Your Money's Worth Out of Your Time

One of my fondest memories of working in television news (or maybe it's one of my most haunting nightmares) is the race every day to get the story or stories done and on the air.

What you had finished at 5:05 (or whenever the story was supposed to run) was what people at home saw. Anything else you had shot, any fancy editing, an integrated graphics, anything you didn't have done on time, none of that saw the light of day.

I think Richard Nixon is often credited with calling politics "the art of the possible." My recollection is that he meant that a politician should identify what's actually possible and get that done.

Nixon beat George McGovern in 1972, and I remember one voter I saw interviewed who capsulized McGovern as "so heavenly of mind he's of little earthly use." Nixon, for all his foibles, knew how to get things done, and that's what voters wanted.

But hey, this isn't the History Channel.

Getting a news story, or any other piece of television done and on the air is certainly the art of the possible. And although a magazine format show or a documentary may not have that daily 5:05 deadline, they still have eventual timeslots as well as finite resources to complete the production process.

It comes down to time and money, and in most cases time is money. It's not just the time you're allowed in a studio, with an EFP crew or in post production. Time is other people's money too.

I remember a producer at the station where I worked who was doing a documentary on Boeing. I researched the story and someone walked him through an engineering room where several hundred aeronautical designers were bent over rows and rows of drafting tables, drawing rivets into wings or some such.

He thought: "This would make the coolest dolly shot across the front of the room, showing the seemingly endless amount of design work it takes to build an airliner." He was surprised when the PR person escorting him said he would have to get that shot cleared with upper management.

I'll never forget the explanation. "We've got 500 engineers working here, and if what you're doing distracts them for 15 minutes, we lose over a hundred manhours of work." Knowing that setting up and getting the shot would take more than 15 minutes, my friend canned that idea.


Mostly though, you're concerned with the time and money you have to spend. I mentioned earlier that time is money, but in the case of a production, time and money have some different characteristics.

Money can be spent now or later. If you've got a travel budget that will allow a bunch of small trips or one big one, you can make those small trips all though the year, or shoot the show locally until the final episode, then do that trip to Hawaii for the finale.

Time is different in that respect. If you've got a resource, like post production, where you have three hours a week to finish the show, you're not going to be able to do it in two and a half hours for 40 episodes and then expect to run over for 20 hours on the Hawaii special.

It's the same with a videographic designer's time, as well as well as with that of an EFP crew.

That's why I've been a believer in using the resources I'm given week-to-week, day-to-day.

If I've got an EFP crew and we've already driven an hour and a half to a location, in the same way I shouldn't tie them up for more than the three hours they're assigned to me; I also should get three hours' worth of production values out of the shoot. (As long as you don't slow down Boeing in the process, that is.)

The same would go for the videographic designer's time, the same for post production.

This means that while you've got to plan carefully, you also need to plan loosely. On the one hand, if things don't go well on the shoot, how will we get enough material for the show? If things don't go well in post, how will we ever get it done in time? If that easy little animation I dreamed up is actually a monster for the videographic designer, how could I simplify it so it actually gets done?

However, if I find we're scooting through the field shoot, how could we use the rest of the time to add to the show? If that animation I want is a snap, what could I add to improve the show? If the show is practically putting itself together in post, is there anything I didn't ask for that maybe I should have?


I didn't invent all this, but I'll tell you about the person who taught me, by example, about it.

I used to produce a weekly magazine show that did the intros and outros, as well as some program elements in the studio. One director I had would either rev the engine or coast, depending on the progress we were making on getting out of the studio on time. (Getting done on time was critical because the studio crew had to turn around and do a live news show right after we were finished.)

When we were ahead of the game, he'd try my harebrained ideas. When we were behind, he'd just plain take the production over until we were ahead again. We always finished on time, and more to the point at hand, we always got everything we could out of the time we had.

That ability must be valuable; Dick runs a large television station now.