Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Mailbag: What's a field producer?


Your bio says you work as a freelance field producer. What exactly does that entail?

-Job Hunter

Dear Hunter,

Well, like any day in a local station, it is never the same. Sometimes it's a workout, sometimes a breeze. I'll give you an example of one from last year in real time, just like an episode of "24"

12:00 Noon: I get a call from the network desk asking if I can "jump and go" (code for "drop what you're doing") and head an hour out of town where a tornado has touched down and ripped the roof from a church. I accept the assignment, grab my pre-packed suitcase, and, because it is pouring, throw several towels, a bathing suit (I hate working with wet underwear) and a pair of Crocs (the ones with little holes in them... this is important)in the car. I'm on the road by 12:05. The photog, sat truck, reporter and network producer will meet me there.

12:30pm: I hear on the radio that the tornado has flipped several cars at a mall parking lot, so I call the photog. He's already gotten b-roll of the church, so he heads to the mall and tells me he'll meet me there.

1pm: I arrive at the mall. I put on my Crocs since I know I'm going to have wet feet, but I don't want wet socks and sneakers. The water will flow easily thru the holes. The photog shoots some b-roll, then we head back to the church after toweling off his gear. I get a call from the network that the reporter and his producer will arrive via plane at 4pm, and am asked to get as much info and interviews as possible.

1:20: We're at the church and set up an interview with the pastor, then get permission from the police to go inside. The photog shoots b-roll, then we interview the pastor. But we don't have an eyewitness.

1:40: We decide to split up and knock on doors to find a witness. After about ten doors I find one, so I call the photog on the cell phone and tell him where to meet me. He arrives five minutes later and we interview the witness.

2:00: The network calls and asks us to pick out some good bites and b-roll since the reporter will have very little time to put the story together, and also to feed the good stuff as soon as possible. It is still pouring buckets, so the photog starts logging tape in his car while I go back to the church in search of more info. The sat truck op calls, and we tell him where a good place for the live shot will be. He arrives shortly thereafter and feeds our tape as soon as he's got the shot in.

4pm: The reporter calls and tells me he's touched down at the airport, I give him all the info I've got and tell him we've got his bites and b-roll ready for him.

4:30pm: The reporter and his producer arrive and they start editing in the sat truck.

5pm: The network's morning show producer calls and asks if I can set up a live interview with the pastor for 5:30am. The producer on site cuts me loose, I track down the pastor and he agrees.

5:30pm: We're live on the network newscast. No problems with the package or the live shot.

6:15pm: We assume we're done and can go to dinner, but the network calls and wants a fresh package for a late feed. So I get in the car and go in search of take-out. One problem... the power is out all over town, it is still pouring buckets and most restaurants are closed. I finally find an open fast food joint with no customers. The manager takes pity on me and makes me a bag of chicken sandwiches.

7:00pm: The crew wolfs down the "dinner" in the sat truck, because it is now raining even harder. (Pretty sad being on an expense account and only spending 40 bucks on dinner for eight people.) The reporter and the producer go back to re-cutting their package.

9pm: Most of the crew is now heading to the hotel, which is 40 minutes away. The roads are nearly washed out, so I know we'll have to leave extra early for our morning show live shot.

10pm: I check in at the hotel, dripping all over the lobby. I ask the clerk for a 2:30am wake up call and get a puzzled look. It is also polite to ask for a room away from other guests, so the phone call doesn't wake them up.

2:30am: I get up, and make a pot of hot water in the room's coffee machine. Then I make a bowl of oatmeal (it's always in the suitcase) because I know nothing is open at this hour and I won't get to eat anything for a while.

3am: On the road to the sat truck. It is still pouring.

4am: The truck op puts up a tent since the weather report tells us there's no end in sight. We get the shot in, and we're set to go.

5am: Our guest arrives on time.

5:30-7am: A series of live shots. No problems other than the rain. The reporter is asked to put a package together before he heads back to the airport.

9am: We're done. We break down the tent (NOW it stops raining!) and the crew disperses. Some of us go to breakfast, some with long drives go back to the hotel to sleep.

9:15am: An open IHOP! A bunch of us stop for breakfast.

10:15am: I'm on the road, hoping I have enough caffeine and maple syrup in my body to keep me awake for an hour. Not a problem.

11:15am: I'm home and crawl directly into bed.

12 Noon: Telemarketer calls and wakes me up. My response is unprintable.

That's not a typical shoot, but just an example. The great thing is that all the freelancers are veterans who know what they're doing and are very friendly. Same goes for the network people. You can show up, never having met anyone on the crew, and everyone knows exactly what to do. Most times you get a call from the network on your way home thanking you for your help. (How often does THAT happen in local news?)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


You've got an awesome job. Someday when I get 100 years of experience like you I'll try to follow in your foot prints.

Question: You mentioned the network reporter had a producer with him as well. Is that normal for the big time reporters? What does the producer do? Also, I'm curious... do the network reporters write all their own stuff? Like, the setup, intro, pkg... everything? Sometimes I wonder if they're just there for their voice and pretty face.