I am not new to the filming industry. Besides having friends (past and current) in the "business," and often visiting studios over the years, I was a guest star on Oh, Madeline, with Madeline Kahn, for one episode (this was in the 1980s . . . but the show pops up every now and then . . . I no longer get residuals!). But I continue to be amazed watching the equipment and the operators thereof . . . it's almost like a waltz as cameras move in, move out, and make it look so easy. I know it's not and that often there are last minute adjustments, for various reasons: lighting, sound issues (and the Mint was fraught with those as the ceilings have to be 30 feet high and with hardly any furniture in the rooms, if there were few people around, the echo was pronounced), availability of the applicants to be filmed, equipment failures, etc. The casting director was a miracle worker. She must have been in three or four places at once and used both walkie-talkie and her phone to connect with people. Bless her heart, when I didn't appear in the lunch room when the rest of the folks were there, she texted me to make sure I had something to eat! And what a spread (Hollywood folks are known for getting some of the best food for their people . . . I have no idea how so many stay so skinny). Anyway, the constant flurry of activity kept me on my toes (often getting out of the way of people).
So, I have been asked: did people really just show up with their stories, asking for genealogy advice? Yes. But those that Josh and Kenyatta worked with had submitted their materials at least two weeks in advance (most, more than that), and we on the research team had lots of time (this being a relative term, of course) to get the information and verify it. I will be sharing a little more about some of the stories that I worked on in later posts. But let's look first at those crowds of people.
Folks had an opportunity to reserve tickets in advance (I believe for free). I tried to do that, but all tickets were gone within three hours of the PBS station posting their availability! (Funny: one of my friends - non genealogist - got one of those, not knowing about my involvement, arrived, looked in and saw me, and we had a great reunion!) Anyway, not all of those people were ticket holders. The others were a mix of family members of the applicants, various crew members (moving furniture, setting up lights, tearing down tables, etc.), and paid "extras." Yup, they paid folks to make sure there would be a crowd. At first I thought that was strange, but when you consider that a lot of people would come in for their consultation, chance to be on TV, etc., and then leave, there was a frightful chance that, at the end of the day when they were filming the last bits, there would be just an empty building. Hiring extras kept that from being an issue and, watching large families leave after having their clans' mysteries solved, I realized the need for the additional, guaranteed "audience."
There were four or five genealogists there to answer questions and I was included in that group. Jim Dane, Kim Cotton (who was instrumental in securing a number of documents for us), Gena (who had another obligation in the morning and didn't arrive until later in the day), and me (I am sure I am forgetting someone, so please let me know who you are) talked to people "off the cuff," giving them websites to visit, other avenues of approach to their brick walls, etc. Usually no more than about 20 minutes was spent on each of these good people. But I also handled some of the less dramatic (for television) stories that had been submitted early and I was able to give a little information about the applicants' ancestors. So, while Josh and Kenyatta were filming in two large rooms across the hall, other genealogists were working with folks in another big room without large crowds around. Personally, I liked the more intimate setting as we got to discuss side issues that were not possible to cover in the filmed segments. The two segments I did do that were filmed never made it to the final cut . . . I am not surprised . . . one of them would have not fit in comfortably (due to the awkward setting and no real information involved - more of a show and tell ancestor chart) and the other really didn't include any new information for the applicant (except that he came from a long line of people involved in refrigeration and, before that, the ice business).
The day went by too fast. I had a great time. And, personally, I think the resulting splicing and cutting made it look a lot like it was (compressed into a viewable hour). I continue to wish that there had been more time for a couple of additional stories, but those were received very late and one was a bit "touchy" in the final reveal. I would like to see more of how everything was found, but each of the more involved stories would have taken a minimum of two hours to do right. I will share a few of those background research details in the next blogs. Enjoy.
(above: Paxil the Platypus displays the KQED Genealogy Roadshow card that everyone was given for coming to the taping.)