Though the Emmy award-winning government channel, GTV6, is based in sunny Glendale, CA, the staff spent the last six years located in a two-room studio and post-production facility fondly referred to as the dungeon.
Situated in Glendales City Hall basement, there are no windows, no elevators, and no bathrooms. In addition, the space was built in the Cold War era, with concrete walls and floors so it could be used as an emergency operations center. Not necessarily the best place for a professional broadcasting production facility to flourish. But flourish it has.
In 1995, when GTV6 took its first steps, the station was broadcast on the public access channel and brought only three meetings a week to the community, taping live meetings on Tuesdays and replaying them on Wednesdays. Today, GTV6 has channel 6, a 24/7 government cable access channel in addition to a 24/7 videotext agenda running on channel 21. The production staff has grown from part-time freelance contractors and volunteers to six full-time staff members plus college and university interns.
We dont just hire someone because theyre very talented at what they do. We want someone who will work with not only the people at channel 6, but also city department employees and the city council. We want a team player, said Glendales public information officer, Ritch Wells. ***image1***
Since its a small staff, we like to have the flexibility that everyone can pitch in to every aspect of the channel, explained Tor Rolf Seemann, broadcast manager, GTV6. The positive aspect is that there is always something different each day. You might be in the police helicopter one day shooting a B-roll of the city, and the next day youre covering a design review board meeting for the planning department or down in a tunnel with Glendale Water and Power doing a documentary on how they keep the water clean.
Only self-motivated junior or senior college students majoring in television or film are eligible for internships. Were a small staff and we cant afford to hold peoples hands, noted Seemann. Oddly enough, because Im an Ithaca College graduate and theres an Ithaca L.A. program, weve been getting a regular supply of interns from Ithaca. But we are expanding the program to try to reach out to other neighboring schools in the area like USC, UCLA, and Glendale University here in town.
Im known within the Ithaca community as giving the best hands-on. Youre not going to be getting lattes for the director or making Xeroxes of the scripts. Youre going to be out in the field shooting and producing PSAs or technical directing live meetings or shows.
The versatile staff shoots 37 meetings a month in addition to developing and producing PSAs, interstitials, and programs. Recent productions include Behind The Badge, a live call-in show with the Glendale Police Department, The Dog House, a program spotlighting homeless dogs and cats at the Pasadena Humane Society, TreeHouse Tales, a monthly childrens reading program presented by the Glendale Public Library, and Glendale Arts TV, a quarterly arts program sponsored by the Glendale Arts & Culture Commission and the California Arts Council.
Out Of The Dungeon
In the beginning, according to Wells, the city was using general fund monies for startup purposes and to pay contract staff. But in 1997, Wells proposed that a public, education, and government (PEG) access fee, available through the citys franchise agreement with the local cable company, be utilized. We were able to ask the cable company to essentially put up to a two percent charge on local subscriber bills that would solely be dedicated to PEG purposes. That money essentially allowed us to buy equipment and cover our staffing costs.
Last year, an opportunity to move into a new facility presented itself. Monies from a legal settlement were used to build and outfit the new space.
I spent six years making a mental list of the ideal situation and hoping that some day it would be a possibility, said Seemann. Last year, we were granted space in an historic building. Its an odd shape, long and skinny like a cigarette. I used Adobe Pagemaker to lay out the space because Im not an architect.
I thought about the ideal working environments for editors, he continued. I was just thinking in terms of conduit runs, air conditioning, soundproofing, and where the common space and office space would be. I had a long time to think this over and now Ive been able to build my dream space.
The entire facility was built for approximately $1.2 million, which included gutting the entire floor, building the studio, adding lights, conduit, plumbing, air conditioning, and soundproofing, as well as a new roof, cameras, and editing equipment.
We now have a more competitive base of operations, noted Seemann. Big windows and our own bathroom and open space. Our staff just came back and theyre having lunch at our conference room table, which was a distant concept a couple of years ago.
The new facility provides some valuable creature comforts, including a large elevator and a dedicated studio. Before wed have to go up and down the stairs from the basement with all this gear, Seemann recalled. We didnt have a studio; we always used existing spaces for studios. If we wanted to shoot a specific talk show, wed go into city council chambers and reconfigure the space with lights and some minor props and sets. In some cases wed go out in the field to shoot or use the emergency operation space as a studio, but we knew we needed studio space.
The 37 meetings are still shot in conference rooms in either the city council chambers or the Municipal Services Building using a five robotic camera setup. (The control room for these two spaces is still in the City Hall basement.) All other programming not shot in the field is now done in the new studio.
The City Council and MSB meeting rooms are big enough to hold a public audience and use standard daylight balanced florescent lights. But because the studio has limited square footage for set storage and low ceilings it was decided to use Ultimatte to create large spaces in virtual reality. In addition, a custom three-wall cyclorama by Pro Cyc was also installed. The lighting includes five Kino Flo cyc lights that are fully dimmable with GTV6s ETC dimmer board.
Originally, the studio used Panasonic AJ-SDX900 field ENG cameras. Seemann chose those because the facility needed uncompressed SDI out of the camera for the Ultimatte process to get clean keys, plus the cameras could do double duty in the studio and in the field.
Initially, we didnt have all the funds in the budget to get everything that we wanted, he explained, so at first we used our field cameras in the studio and wed take them out when necessary. It saved some money, but thats not the most efficient process.
Currently, Panasonic AW-E860 block cameras are being used in the studio. But because shots in the studio are static, either talking heads or establishing shots, GVT6 is making the switch to Vinten HS-102IT robotic camera heads for virtual studios.
With the Vinten robotic heads, they have real-time digital electronic positioning of the pan, tilt, zoom, and focus, Seemann explained. When you pan to the right, the virtual set automatically pans at the same time. It becomes more of a true virtual set where you have a 3-D space with the virtual set reacting to the camera because the robotic camera head talks to the Ultimatte.
GTV6 is now fully automated after more than two years of research, Seemann said he finally hit on the right system. For our PEG level of cable access, there is no better combination that the 360 Systems Image Server and Tightrope Media Systems automation. The server is a simple box that plays back video clips and was ideal because it does both analog composite video and SDI. A lot of the stations at our level are transitioning, so were all doing standard composite analog video, but when youre ready to go SDI uncompressed digital signal, its there.
Additionally, because the facility often works in DV, there was an advantage in that the 360 Systems Image Server allows playback of DV files without converting them to MPEG-2 and risking recompression artifacts.
The Tightrope automation works as a simplified interface that allows PEG-level stations to have scheduling flexibility. Other automation software controllers are aimed at the networks where theyre using scheduling just for a day and there are people watching it and making sure it happens, Seeman said. Those channels have other needs such as counting the number of times that a commercial for Pepsi airs.
Also, instead of one cramped space in the dungeon, there are now four rooms with dedicated editing bays and three additional systems that can be used as editing bays, all standardized on Avid. There are two Avid Adrenalines with additional suites running Avid Xpress Pro with Mojo. There are also editing stations that run Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere Pro. I think its good to be cross-trained and therefore the staff ends up being trained on more than one tool, said Seemann.