Where are you currently employed?
I'm a Freelance Technical Director.
Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! are my two primary projects. I have been with Jeopardy! for a little over six years and with Wheel of Fortune for about 18 years. I also fill in for fellow TDs on various shows. My primary focus is game shows and entertainment-oriented shows.
Describe Your Job.
A Technical Director is essentially an Editor who cuts a show and adds visual effects in real time, in addition to being the crew chief. The tools to create the show are different than in a post environment, but the end result is the same.
The Director will call for camera cuts, tape rolls, graphics and other elements. It's my job to not only respond to those calls, but to be a few steps ahead of the director so that when an element is called for, I have it ready to go.
How did you become interested in this line of work?
Creating complex effects and making them work in a live environment is one of the most challenging and rewarding creative jobs I can think of. To me, a video switcher is the world's largest and most interactive video game.
Who gave you your first break?
My first break came from ABC, which hired me as a videotape operator out of college. My first break as a TD came from director Mark Breslow and with Mark Goodson Productions, which brought me in to switch some of its shows.
What was your first union job?
I was fortunate to step out of college right into ABC Network. My first union job was also my first job in TV.
Which of your credits or projects have made you the most proud and why?
I was the effects TD for such shows as the Academy Awards and the Olympics. I'm on two of the longest-running and highest-rated shows in syndication. It's not the shows themselves that make me proud; it's the people with whom I've been able to collaborate.
I've been involved with the design of many of the video switchers that are in use today. I also train other TDs. These two things are what make me the most proud. It's rewarding to watch your work live on and grow through others.
What was your biggest challenge in your job (or on a particular project) and how did you overcome/solve it?
The Wheel of Fortune remotes are very challenging. I don't use an effects or screens TD. I have to build many of the show's graphics from nothing––just the switcher and clip art elements.
The most challenging job I had was as an effects TD for the Academy Awards. This was before the time of multiple servers and graphic artists. What got me through all of my challenges was my background in post-production. I've been able to apply the skills learned in the edit bay to live productions. Starting off as an editor has helped make me a better TD.
What was the most fun you've had at work?
After 12 years at ABC, I moved over to CBS. The people that I worked with there made it the most enjoyable place that I've ever experienced. Management let me be creative, and the production companies that I was exposed to pushed my talents to the edge. It was a great time.
Jobwise, what do you hope to be doing five years from now?
I had always said that I never wanted to be a 50-year-old freelance TD. I passed that point four years ago. I had wanted to direct at some point, but I'm seeing a trend where directors are having less and less creative input into the final product. I'm starting to re-think my long-term plans. I'm actually very happy bringing the creative visions of others to life. Being the director's right-hand man can still be very rewarding without all the stress of that center seat.
What are your outside activities, hobbies, passions?
I love flying my home-built helicopter. I truly enjoy teaching switchers, and my favorite passion is designing switchers. But when I'm not doing something TV-related, my favorite thing to do is to travel, primarily by cruise ship.
Favorite movie(s)? Why?
I tend to be drawn to technically cutting-edge movies. The newest crop of 3-D movies is right up my alley. I enjoy the eye candy. I appreciate the work of those who can meet such challenges. Upon seeing the movie for a second time, I may realize that the plot may be lacking, but the work of the behind-the-scenes talent never disappoints me.
Favorite TV Program(s)? Why?
In my opinion, you can't beat some of the old imported comedy programs––Benny Hill, Monty Python... I'm also a big fan of many of the Discovery Channel programs, not so much because of the specific content, but because I keep wondering...where do they get cameramen who will put themselves into such dangerous situations?
Do you have an industry mentor?
My TD mentors were Bob Kemp from ABC and the late Ray Angona from CBS. I'm where I am today primarily because of them.
What advice would you offer to someone interested in pursuing your line of work?
When a director calls for a camera cut, it's only a suggestion. Most of the better directors will appreciate your watching their back. If you see them making an obvious mistake, you have the ability to correct that mistake and make them look better. Our counterparts in the edit bays do this all the time. TDs have just a split second to decide if we will help or not.
Watch others. Don't be afraid to ask questions or too proud to learn from their experience. Most of all, make sure that you enjoy what you do. TDing can be stressful, but it can be incredibly rewarding.
Remember that television is a jealous mistress. It will consume as much of your time as you let it. Don't forsake your family and friends for a job. You'll never get back the time that you gave up. Regardless of how big a show you think you're doing, it's only filler in-between the commercials. Do your best, but don't take yourself too seriously.
Was there ever a circumstance when you had to rely on the Guild for help or assistance?
I don't rely on the Guild per se, but I do network with Guild members. They're there for me when I need a back-up for my shows. I'm there for them when they need someone to pinch-hit. Most of my work outside of my primary shows comes from my association with Guild members.
Is there anything you'd like to say to your fellow Guild members?
To those of you in the edit bays, thank you. While we TDs live in a very different environment than you, the pre-production work that you do in preparation for our programs allows us to make our shows look more polished.
The post-production work that you do cleans up any mistakes that we––or our directors, cameramen or audio mixers––may make during the course of taping. You make us look good.
Compiled by Robin Rowe