by cheri sabraw
It’s been over 53 years since I made my television debut on The Mayor Art Show. You can read about my early (and abridged) career in television here.
Last week, I returned to a studio to be part of a new show, the Washington Hospital Experience, on the Washington Hospital cable network. This time, however, the studio was not a fake mayoral set governed by a silly host wearing a top hat and white gloves, who encouraged the child hosts to shout “Bluey, Bluey!” into a microphone.
Rather, the studio for this episode materialized in three locations: a busy infusion center, where nurse navigators were administering chemotherapy; a beautiful sunlit atrium, the tranquil view on which patients gaze while receiving their treatment; and the hospital lobby, a busy intersection of people and noise—elevator bells and the grumble of an espresso machine.
To say the first morning of taping was a comfortable experience for me would be skirting the truth: I have a lot to learn. Luckily, I was in the hands of a capable crew, whose sole mission was to showcase the powerful work going on daily at the Sandy Amos R.N. Infusion Center at Washington Hospital in Fremont, California.
The man behind the entire production is Bill Emberley.
Bill has over twenty-five years of Bay Area television production under his belt. In his own words, he “ wears many hats in the mean lean guerrilla production world. I am the director of photography, sound, lighting, writing and logistics all rolled into one.”
Bill wore a shepherd’s cap as he guided the initiated (me, myself, and I) through the process of video production.
My role was to ask questions, appear OC (on camera) for a short introduction to the series and this specific episode, and to tape a VO (voice over),which described the amenities in the infusion center such as iPads, portable televisions, comfortable rooms and chairs, and a specialty kitchen, full of healthy snacks and beverages.
I had hoped to ask just the right questions in the most evocative way, so that the two cancer survivors, Linda and Brenda, could tell their inspirational stories about their experiences in the infusion center. They, and two nurse navigators—Shari and Tammy—would deliver to the camera lens short narratives about excellence, courage, aesthetic space, and dignity, all rolled into one.
In addition to learning that I must pause in between questions at least three seconds (for editing purposes), I also realized just how many “takes” are necessary for a creative perfectionist like Bill and his production manager, John, who will record 5 hours of footage, edit it, and then glue the parts of the day into a whole for the year.
Perhaps the most challenging (and at times hilarious) part of the entire experience occurred in the hospital lobby in front of not only a teleprompter, but also a sampling of senior citizens coming in for blood draws, urinalyses, and imaging (which we used to call X-rays…) who became amused, I think, while watching someone repeat the same scene, over and over, like the film Groundhog Day. Even the espresso machine silenced itself.
In the lobby, illuminated with lights of all shapes and sizes, and hidden behind the silky square black screen on which large white words in a blocky font scroll down in a speed determined by the production manager, sat the camouflaged camera lens—a five-inch critical eye that recorded every blink and twitch, tooth and hair.
Snaked up under my crisp powder blue blouse, resided the wire that connected the small lapel microphone to its power source, a battery box clipped to my waistband and hidden behind my blazer. How that microphone found its way to its appointed destination, I have no idea. (Actually, I do.)
All I was supposed to do was stand at the lobby desk and make casual conversation with Gracie, sitting behind the counter. Then, I was to turn and walk toward the camera, stop on a piece of duct tape, and say, “ Hi, I’m Cheri Sabraw, the host of the Washington Hospital Experience, a series of short segments that will highlight some of the service lines the hospital has to offer.”
How hard could this be? I remember thinking.
Twelve takes later, after tripping over my words, overshooting the duct tape, and laughing while on camera, the scene finally worked for Bill, his production manager, John, and the grip, Cody.