It’s already late on a Sunday in September in St. Paul, Minn. In the studios of Twin Cities Public Television (TPT), there are ten people workingmon Make: television, a new PBS show that will be a companion to this magazine.
The set is a workshop, within a larger workshop normally used for set construction. The team is shooting a build for Maker Workshop, the segment that shows viewers how to make something in each episode. It’s important to get this segment right. It’s like demonstrating a recipe on a cooking show, but the ingredients and the process are more technical.
On the edge of the set are two plasma screens, one for each of the handheld HD cameras. One of them displays a timecode: 15:40:31:01 and running. The process of making video is all about managing time.
Get Me Rewrite
Bill Gurstelle is weary, and I can tell he just wants the day to end. A contributing editor to MAKE, Bill is the technical consultant for the show. He’s taken projects from the magazine and designed builds that can be demonstrated in the allotted time of just seven minutes.
Bill grabs a box of parts and places it on the workbench. It’s the Pole Cam project featured on page 108 of this volume, a close cousin of our very first magazine project, Kite Aerial Photography. With this rig atop a tall pole, you can capture unusual perspectives. What’s new is that the rig uses a radio-control transmitter/receiver and two servomotors to control the position of the camera and snap the pictures remotely.
Richard Hudson is in charge on the set as the show’s executive producer. Knowing he has the crew until 7:00 tonight, he wants to get a few pages into the script for this project and then finish it tomorrow. He’s providing the momentum, but things move slowly. He grabs the script and looks at Bill. “We have to explain servomotors without a lot of jargon,” he says.
Bill thinks for a second and says: “When you turn on a regular motor, it runs. A servomotor moves a specific distance.” Bill turns the switch, causing the servo to move.
The script, which Bill wrote, is now labeled revision 11. To Bill, the changes seem endless, and needless. To Richard, they are a series of ever more precise refinements that aim to use as few words as possible to accompany a series of actions demonstrated in front of the camera.
“That’s perfect,” Richard says.
“Where’s John?” someone on the set asks, and another person answers mockingly: “He’s in his trailer.” He’s actually in a small room nearby changing his shirt.
John Park is the host of the Maker Workshop and at 17:56 he walks in, ready to go. The Pole Cam is his second workshop segment of the day. Earlier, he built the Burrito Blaster, a variation of the potato cannon featured in MAKE, Volume 03. John, who works in Burbank, Calif., at Walt Disney Animation Studios, came in on Friday night. All day Saturday was spent rehearsing the four projects they will shoot Sunday through Tuesday.
Six people huddle around John and they talk about the sequence of the build. Richard brings up the idea of explaining servomotors. “Oh,” John replies, “a servomotor has a feedback loop using pulse width modulation …”
Richard interrupts him and the entire group starts laughing. “Simpler,” says Richard.
Bill chimes in with his definition and John tries it out in his own words. “A regular motor spins when you turn it on; a servomotor moves a certain distance.” He practices another line: “On our rig, the servos allow us remotely to tilt the camera up and down, as well as push the shutter button down.”
The script has about 18 separate scenes for this build. The goal is to get one or two scenes done before breaking for the night. Once the lights are arranged on the set, Greg Stiever, the director, places the two cameramen. Camera A is the focus for John when he speaks, while Camera B closes in on what John is doing. Vern Norwood, the sound guy, asks John to count to ten to test his mic. John gets to four when Vern interrupts him: “Brilliant. Most people don’t get that far.”
The first scene has John introducing the project. He starts off with a yellow Mr. Longarm extension pole in hand, then he’ll move to a workbench to introduce the rig and the servomotors. He rehearses the scene once but Richard doesn’t like something. “There’s so little to look at. Put him on a stool next to the grinder.”
“Grab your pole, John,” says the director, getting everyone in position for the first take. “Action.”
“That’s awkward,” says Michael Smith, the series producer, watching the scene on the plasma. He suggests a different way for John to hold the pole so it doesn’t cross between him and the camera. They start again.
This time John gets further but he’s stopped short again. “How is he supposed to be holding the motor?” Richard asks.
18:41 and there’s a loud crash of glass. In another part of the room, a fluorescent light tube fell from a 20-foot ceiling — inexplicably. The crew takes note, but they keep things moving. “Action.”
There are five consecutive takes. Each time, John amazingly dials in the same energy level and focus, making any changes asked of him, and seldom introducing anything new or different that might not be wanted. It’s a lot harder than it seems. John’s tired but it doesn’t show.
“Mark it. That’s good,” says Greg after one more take, but then he adds: “Let’s do it once more.”
At 18:50, Richard says, “Wrap. We’re done.” The next day we’re going to the zoo.
Bird’s-Eye Hitchcock Moment
It’s 8:45 on Monday morning outside the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory. There’s a water garden with lily pads and an incredible plant called a Victoria water platter that’s 3 or 4 feet across. We’re here to show the Pole Cam in action at the zoo, and we’ve come before the day’s visitors arrive.
In the first scene, John will stand in a grassy courtyard and say, “Nothing beats a pole-mounted camera,” then he’ll turn around and say, “Hi, I’m John Park.” The cameras are shooting him from the top of a two-story building. Time and again, he does it.
The next scene shows the Pole Cam in action, and John can’t do it alone. So I’m holding the controller while a production assistant holds the pole. Richard says it’s my “Hitchcock moment” where I get to appear inconspicuously in the shot.
We wrap up at the zoo and go to the park next door to shoot a scene for a different project, the $14 makeshift Steadicam that appeared in the first issue of MAKE. It’s a tripod with a barbell weight used as a stabilizer. “I don’t know if the five-pounder is good enough,” worries one of the production assistants.
“We’ll just have to try it,” Richard says. An Ultimate Frisbee player shows up and soon three people are tossing the Frisbee. John steadies an HD camera with the stabilizer and he’s running back and forth after the Frisbee. A cameraman follows John. Unfortunately, this part of the park is inhabited by Canada geese, and their droppings remain underfoot. At 10:27, the scene is done but everyone needs to clean off the bottoms of their shoes.
Drill, Baby, Drill!
At 11:16, we’re back in the workshop. Bill and Richard are reviewing the build sequence for the Pole Cam’s two-piece wooden rig. There’s an upper frame that must fit inside a lower frame. The camera and one servo are attached to the upper frame, and another servo is attached to the lower.
Bill reminds Richard that he had to trim a tab off the servomotor with a knife. “Do we have to show that?” he asks.
“No,” replies Richard. “We’ll put it in the written instructions.”
At 11:46, John arrives on the set. At 12:46, with several pieces of wood on the table, John begins the scene: “First, we’ll build the rig.” There are lots of starts and stops. A battery runs out on the wireless mic, causing a restart. The scene ends with John saying he’s ready to drill a hole in the frame. “Do you want to go to the drill press next?”
There’s some debate about what to do next, but it’s then decided: “Let’s drill.” Soon a chorus of “Drill, baby, drill!” rings out, repeating Rudy Giuliani’s infamous line from the Republican convention, which was held in St. Paul two weeks earlier.
I pop into the editing room to review the Maker-to-Maker segments featuring Mister Jalopy.
A contributing editor for MAKE, Mister Jalopy gets a chance to show off his garage and talk about what he discovers from “garage saleing” in Los Angeles. He talks about a vintage car he bought for “a fistful of dollars and an old bike,” and why he won’t restore it. It’s great stuff.
At 15:06, John is tightening a nylon wing nut to join the two frames. “Now we can test out the pivot,” he says. The servomotor moves the upper frame, and John smiles when it works out. Michael says this scene is the longest, covering 45 seconds to a minute. We’ve done about 12 scenes this afternoon, each requiring four or five takes.
In the final scene, John is supposedly looking at the pictures on the camera that we took at the zoo. “Excellent,” he says looking at the still camera. “Awesome. Fantastic. Incredible. Woweee.” He keeps riffing until everyone is laughing.
“Just say ‘excellent,’” adds Richard.
At 17:43, we’re done for the day. John’s been “on” for most of it, a kind of marathon. It’s about 24 hours in real time, 12 hours in actual recording time — all of it for seven minutes of a half-hour show.
I ask Bill how long it might take a person to do the Pole Cam project and he says: “About two hours if you have everything ready to go, but it would probably take most people a full day.”
A full day. So, the making of a Maker Workshop segment becomes a project in itself. Not surprisingly, it’s a group of people working together on deadline. Make: television is coming to public TV in January 2009 — contact your local station for airtimes, and visit makezine.tv to learn more.
Based on an idea by MAKE editor at large David Pescovitz and myself, Make: television is a blend of “meet the makers” documentary with a hands-on workshop that shows viewers how to build things themselves. The show is comprised of four segments:
Maker Profile: A documentary segment that shows the creative and collaborative side of making. We visit San Francisco’s Cyclecide group that makes human-powered carnival rides; author Syuzi Pakhchyan from Los Angeles, who designs electronics into clothing; and many other amazing makers.
Maker Workshop: Your host John Park shows you step-by-step how to make a VCR Cat Feeder, a Burrito Blaster, a Digital TV Antenna, and many other projects.
Maker-to-Maker: Insights and tips from notable makers, including Mister Jalopy, Cy Tymony, and Bill Gurstelle.
Maker Channel: Videos created by makers themselves. If you have a video you’d like us to consider, tell us about it at makerchannel.org.
Read bios of the Make: television team at makezine.com/16/maketv.
Geek Squad: Take the World Apart
The Geek Squad was quick to sign onto the project as a major sponsor. Their founder and CEO, Robert Stephens, explains, “When I was a kid, my parents let me take things apart, and that gave me a curiosity for how the world works.
“This is why Make: television is important,” he adds. “We need young people to be curious and take the world apart to see how it works. From Wikipedia and YouTube to MAKE, the world has an edit button on it now. The Geek Squad is proud to be a founding sponsor of Make: television.” We at MAKE agree!