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TV Industry Stories (2)
SUPERBOY, which follows the adventures of Superman at a collegiate 19, is streaking across TV screens nationwide this fall. Presented by AlexanderSalkind and executive-produced by his son, Ilya-the team that produced the first three Superman theatricals - Superboy has been an exercise in super-speed, and a trial by fire for the fledgling MGM-Disney Studios in Orlando.
Announced in February for an October air-date, the series is the first ever to be shot at the studio, a new venture that includes three convertible sound stages and a 1,000-foot, New York City-street set. "We chose Orlando because of the great variety of locations in the surrounding area;' notesIlyaSalkind. "You have everything... [except] mountains."
In addition, all post work is being done at the facility by
The Post Group, which is running Disney-MGM Studio's postproduction arm. At Post, the processed film is transferred to tape via a Rank Mark IV, with a colorcorrected one-inch master then made into laser discs with an ODC (Optical Disc Corporation) machine. Off-lining is then done on the CMX 6000 random access editing system, with the resulting edit decision list taken to the on-line editing stage where any special effects elements (such as x-ray vision) are incorporated. Special effects are created from a Digital FIX machine in conjunction with an Abekas A-64.
Many of the special effectsincluding the blue-screen flying sequences perfected by Superman III-have been borrowed from the Superman features. "The new things;' Ilya Salkind explains, "are complete electronic motion control, which we didn't have [when we started the movies in 1978]. There is also the extra kick of TV electronics and the fact that things which may not look wonderful on the big screen are fine on the smaller screen." The series, which is being shot in 35mm, is being transferred to tape for effects. "You have a vast improvement on look and a sharper image when you use film," Salkind adds. "We never even thought of tape [as the primary medium]."
Although Superboy is Salkind's first television venture, he is being assisted by familiar faces and TV veterans. From the Superman features, BobSimmonds is the line producer and Colin Chilvers, who won an Academy Award for special visual effects on Superman: The Movie (the original film), is one of three directors. (The other directors are Jackie Cooper, who played Perry White in the movies, and Reza Badayi, whose credits include Cagneyand Lacey.) From TV, executive story consultant Fred Freiberger produced the last season of the original Star Trek, while writers Michael Morris, Howard Dimsdale, Ed Jurist, Bernard M. Kahn and Robert Barbash wrote for programs including All in the Family, Quincy and The Six MillionDollar Man.
The first 13 half-hour episodes, syndicated to 92 percent of the U.S. by Viacom Enterprises, are budgeted at $500,000 apiece. "We take seven days to shoot, and 10 days in postproduction," observes Salkind, who admits the pace is. a challenge compared to the more leisurely world of films:
"We don't have six months to solve a problem." Costs are much lower than in Hollywood, he notes, and after an initial shakedown period -':'which you would have anywhere''--the crews (local and L.A.-imported) have been top-notch. "Some are even working 16-, 17-hour days," he adds.
Nonetheless, Salkind claims the program will not take the kind of shortcuts the original Superman TV series took in the 1950s, when special effects were amortized by using the same shots over the course of 104 episodes: "You can't cheat like that. Of course, sometimes he flies in the same way, but we will always re-do it."
To Salkind, however, the most immediate concern is not effects but character. "The original TV series had very good characterizations that the audience could relate to. That is very hard to do and it all really boils down to that. Special effects can help a show, but if the characters are not there, you have nothing."
wrap • october 1988
WAR OF THE ROBOTS
NEW YORK-The robocams are fighting it out. NBC made the first move, spending two years developing robotic cameras for NBC Nightly News and NBC News at Sunrise. That $750,000three-cameras-on-tracks system made its debut in March (WRAP 4/88). Then New York independent WPIX-TV followed with a robotic studio (which one source says cost $200,000). Now ABC has announced that it is developing its own robot setup, that will begin on-air testing inthe first quarter of '89.
"We don't like anything that we see now," asserts Eric Rosenthal, general manager of audio-visual system engineering at ABC. He feels that WPIX's trackless robocams - Ikegami cameras utilizing Vinten Equipment Inc.'s MicroSwift servo-control system oscillate if they are raised too high on their pedestals. "They have too much play in their bearings, and they have 'a rubbery feeling. I don't feel like I have control; the camera and. joystick don't move as one." As for NBC's system, manufactured by Evershed Power Optics, Rosenthal says: "Having those tracks means they're not very flexible. If one camera goes down, it's very hard to replace it."
Not so, counters NBC's Bobby Lee Lawrence, general manager of news engineering, who has supervised the network's project:"We always have another camera standing by on set in case a camera goes down, which has very rarely happened. And if the mechanics of the tracks fail, we can switch to manual and someone can go in and push it."
That problem actually occurred on one news broadcast when the camera started "a lateral move"without instructions. On-air Anchor Connie Chung began moving with the camera, but was saved any embarrassment when the system was switched to manual. "Sure there are bugs to iron out;' says Lawrence. "The motors were underspeed. We found that after two weeks they started running down and the cameras would not respond as quickly. We've fixed that by upgrading to a stronger motor."
NBC's next move is to install robotic cameras in Washington, D.c., Burbank, Calif., and London, and after that-probably in two years - the network will add what WPIX already has: a computer-operated switcher, saving $100,000 on a staff job.
These moves don't phase ABC. Notes Rosenthal: "We were not looking to be the first. We are interested in solving problems in a long-term fashion. We are currently looking at many systems - TSM [Total Spectrum Manufacturing Inc.] and others-that are quiet, lend themselves to state-of-the-art control and are flexible. We are also adding our own designs." Adds Julius Barnathan, president of ABC broadcast operations and engineering: "We are looking at NBC only to find out what not to "
"A year ago, ABC said they had no interest in robots," counters NBC's Lawrence, "so I think it's wonderful that they're doing this. I'm glad they don't like our system or WPIX's. Ours was the first in the industry and the first is not necessarily going to be the best. ABC will learn from mistakes and maybe come up with a better system - and that can only enhance the industry."
STUNTS IN POST
• LOS ANGELES- Jim "Bullet" Baily, a 33-year-old Australian stuntman, was keen on setting a world record-and on appearing on American television-when he arranged an unusual gimmick. He would drag behind a car on his stomach and let go at 85 m.p.h. The car would then swerve away, with Baily carried by the momentum through a 306-foot, 1,600degree flaming tunnel. Baily would wear a protective suit but only had a minute of oxygen. "Because of the flames, we couldn't really see him if he got stuck in the middle;' recalls Producer· Joshua Morton, who filmed the event on four 16mm cameras in 1981. "If he didn't make it through, he didn't make it-period;' Baily made it, zooming in and out of the flames in 4.2 seconds.
Now, seven years after Baily's accidental death, which occurred during another stunt, the segment has found a home in Jericho Productions' Playing with Fire, part of the Arts & Entertainment Network's Living Dangerously series, airing this season. Although the episode uses archival footage of famous stunts of the past as background, the bulk of the one-hour show offers film and TV excerpts of Baily, as well as contemporary interviews with people who knew him.
Morton, a self-styled "microproducer;' assembled Fire in three months for $80,000, combing UCLA archives for vintage footage and the U.S. and Australia for clips of the stuntman. The result was a potpourri of material, from Betacam and 3/4-inch tape to 16mm film and 35mm black-and-white film and slides.
"I shot the interviews on Betacam for cost reasons;' notes Morton, who generally employed a BVW 505 Betacam SP CCD camera. "I have a film background, . but I really think the tape here looks great. It's all a question of how you light it. We used available daylight with some fill thrown in;'
Due to the variety of formats, editing the program took some careful juggling. According to Morton, the process started off at Starfax in Los Angeles, where the material was transferred to halfinch tape. Morton then off-line edited at his home on a Panasonic AG-6500 before continuing the process at Varitel Video in Los Angeles. From a computerized edit list compiled by Morton, Varitel transferred all Fire footage-except for the Beta, which was edited as is-to oneinch for on-line editing. Ampex ADO and Quantel Paintbox workwith sound effects added to the archival footage at Coley Sound.
"I used a Paintbox for a logo and the ADO for a bumper montage of slides ... and the opening and closing credits;' explains Morton. "We had to reposition them on-line to make them smooth. We did some color enhancing, too, but in general I didn't do a lot of fancy
stuff. The material was so strong on its own, I just did straight cuts. That's what a documentary is to me."
Baily's fatal adventure proved the most difficult to salvage on tape as it "wrinkled and looked like a VHS copy;' says Morton. He explains that Baily, intent upon recording himself as he hung (via a glider hitch) from the wheels of a small airplane taking off, attached a camera, using a 3/4-inch work tape, under the wing of the plane. Not satisfied with the taped results, Baily repeatedly tried the stunt as he repositioned the camera at different angles, until his 300-foot plunge.
While Morton is utilizing this last tape in Fire, he insists that the' program is not meant to be sensationalistic. If anything, he stresses, it's to show that Baily went too far too fast. "For years I've had this material;' says Morton. "I know it sounds like bull, but I really mean it; I wanted Jim to have his moment. I wanted to finish his story."
MTV AT MY HOUSE
ADAMS, MASS.-As winner of an MTV contest called MTV At My Place With Belinda Carlisle, Dawn Wellspeak and her Adams, Mass. home have become the stars of MTV's game show, Remote Control, its dance program, Club MTv, and several video-jocky (VI) segments.
One fan's fantasy can be a producer's nightmare, however, as the MTV staff had only one week to prepare. "It could have been a studio apartment," says Lauren Corrao, producer'for the Remote Control segments, who says that although the house was not spacious - it included seven rooms and two bathrooms, all eventually occupied by equipment and crew-it was workable. NEP supplied the equipment, which besides lights, soundboards, mics and monitors, included two one-inch hand-held cameras on tripods and one Steadicam. "While they were setting up on Tuesday night;' notes Corrao, "we were able to free up the Steadicam to shoot some VI segments."
Part of the setup involved building a wall between the living room and dining room that the Remote Control host would tear down on the air. "I wanted to knock down a real wall;' jokes Corrao, "but they wouldn't let me." She and her colleagues did have their way in everything else, however, like rearranging furniture, drilling holes in the driveway for a tent, parking a tractor trailer on the front lawn, and painting logos on the house itself.
By the time the equipment was set up, there was barely room for the Remote Control contestants. Says Corrao: "The basic idea was not to build a set and put it in someone's home, but to actually get the feel of their home. We used very few outside props. My only regret is we couldn't fit in a studio audience;'
The show also adaptedMTV's standard formats. Instead of "Beat the Bishop," for instance in which a "bishop" races around the studio collecting props while a contestant tries to figure out a math problem, the home-grown Remote featured "Beat Your Mom," with Dawn's mother racing around the kitchen collecting pot holders.
The biggest worry of the dayand-a-half shoot was the weather, as Club MTV was to be shot in the backyard. Naturally, it was pouring on the morning of the taping, so the production company ordered tents and debated whether to move the festivities into the garage. While Remote Control and VI segments were being shot inside, however, the rain let up enough for the show to go on as planned.
"It was really fantastic;' observes Corrao of the experience. "That's what TV production is all about: figuring out how to get a problem solved." The house, incidentally, was restored to normal, except for one change: "We painted a big MTV logo across the front of the house" says Corrao, "and had paintings of dancing legs on the back for Club MTv. I heard they're keeping the MTV logo; I don't know about the legs."
WRAP, October 1988