Outdoor TV shows and news segments look like they’re loads of fun, but looks, of course, can be deceiving.
Recent years have seen a marked increase in the number of local fishing and hunting television shows, so much so that those who keep up with the genre are left to wonder who won’t have their own outdoor show. Will one of the options this spring be “Martha Stewart Outdoors,” with segments like “Julienned Bream pulled from the Prison Pond?” Or maybe “Afield with Janet Jackson” and her 30-minute clip titled, “Cats, Gars and Gou: No Longer Booby Prizes.”
At the same time, there has been a weekly fix of short segments for New Orleans area viewers on three of the four stations carrying the late local news. Dealing mainly with saltwater fishing, these segments have become a staple for anglers looking for insight on the coming weekend.
Many who take in the shows regularly know little about the process of putting together one of these shows. We took a look at the process during a whirlwind couple of days in January to peek into the long process involved in the production of each of these shows.
Tuesday morning, 6:00 a.m.
There aren’t enough fishing trip departure times like this. I’m meeting Don Dubuc, media extraordinaire, in Slidell at 6:30 where we’ll take on Lake Pontchartrain and the surrounding area with equally famous Dudley Vandenborre, part owner of V&G Lures, makers of the Deadly Dudley lures, to film Dubuc’s weekly “Outdoors with Don Dubuc” news spot on WGNO-TV.
Dubuc and his cameraman Andrew Ankrom are waiting at a convenience store near Vandenborre’s house. The flags lay still above the slow, steady procession of cars heading across the Twin Spans into the city. The fishing is reportedly tough, but Dubuc was ebullient that he finally had a day when the winds weren’t blowing a gale. A schedule, it seems, is a schedule, and putting on a show on a set date away from the weekend is not as glamorous as it seems.
“We sometimes shoot a few days prior, but it’s usually the day of the telecast,” said Dubuc. “It just seems to always work out that way with everybody’s schedule.”
Dubuc’s rotation of fishing guides, of course, enjoy the fact that Tuesdays are among the most lightly booked of the week. Additionally, Vandenborre gets a chance to promote his line of soft plastics among the busy charter schedule he keeps.
“The Seabrook shows are the cameraman’s favorites. We can pick him up at the dock over there, and often we’re done pretty early in the morning,” says Dubuc. “Then he’s free to do whatever after that.”
Most days are not like the one described above for the artists charged with capturing the action, though on this morning, it might as well have. We don’t get a strike at the Train Trestle and take off for Seabrook in search of some flounder lurking around the same shell beds many feet below that house the tremendous schools of trout that many would consider trophies.
After 15 minutes, Dubuc connects with a small flounder that shakes off at the boat. Andrew gets the action on tape, and everybody silently wishes that that footage will make it to the cutting room floor. January is a tough month for Lake Pontchartrain, even though the state’s No. 2 speck was captured here several years ago on Super Bowl Sunday.
With one small flounder actually in the boat — a fish I flipped in far too fast for the camera to catch well — we finally make it to the Hot Water Canal off of the MRGO. A handful of small trout come aboard after a short attempt to capture a few small mangrove snapper among the rocks lining the canal that is warmed by the discharge of a nearby power plant.
“These segments are from one-minute, 15 seconds to one-minute, 45,” said Dubuc. “This one’s looking like it’s going to be tight.”
Keeping a mental inventory of what is in the can is important for both members of the team, especially on days like this. It’s also important on the good days so that Dubuc doesn’t have to go through the entire roll to pare down what he needs to fill the spot. For Ankrom, it’s just as important when it’s time to do the actual editing in the studio.
“Don does a great job in that he has it in his mind where he wants to go with a piece,” said Ankrom. “It saves a lot of time.”
It’s been a long time between fish, and we have covered a lot of territory. From the MRGO to Lake Borgne to Bayou Catherine to Lake Catherine and back to the lake, there hasn’t been so much as a bite since a few trout pushing 13 inches hit the boat. The Twin Spans come up dry — somewhat of a good thing as the noise of the traffic above is terrible — and the Highway 11 bridge looms ahead.
Ten minutes in, Dubuc hooks up and brings a 2-pound trout to the net, and instinctively launches into a close of the segment with the cameras rolling, deftly working around the jighead entanglement and managing to unhook and display the fish without a hitch in the delivery.
“It was an obvious close on a day like today, but on other days, instinct tells you when it’s a good time to close. But I’ve been doing it every week for a while now,” he said.
I arrive ahead of Dubuc at the studios of ABC 26 in the World Trade Center in time to hear frenzied reports of a fire in the Ninth Ward, one we can see from the 26th floor headquarters. Dubuc gets to work in Edit Bay Three. He views the tape and then writes the script on software designed to approximate the time of the voiceover. He logs 17 useable clips, including the tight shots of us reeling, birds and others that Ankrom shoots in order to get around most anything.
“We have a no-tolerance policy for jump cuts and with a piece this short, there’s really no need for it,” said Dubuc, speaking of the awkward jumps to other action in the piece.
Dubuc and Ankrom work to meld A roll and B roll into a cohesive unit, eliminating the awkward silence and choppy conversation of most fish landings. The voiceover of the written script, including the short interview with Vandenborre, is typed verbatim, for closed captioning purposes.
The piece ends in a tight one-minute, 14 seconds, and we’re walking out of the studio a little after 8 p.m.
“Some days it comes together really easily, and sometimes it kicks you in the butt,” said Dubuc. “You run into dead end after dead end.”
Shortly after viewing the ABC piece, Kevin Ford’s truck blares outside my door, and I’m off again. The host of Geaux Fish TV and I pick up John Sulser, a producer for the New Orleans Hornets’ broadcasts, and his mountain of gear, and head east for the (hopefully) friendlier confines of Shell Beach.
“We didn’t catch enough last week to make a show,” said Ford, speaking of a cold day downriver with one fish, not enough to fill even an “Outdoors with Don Dubuc” piece, much less a show requiring 22 minutes of footage.
Making shows such as this during the “down time” of most guides makes it easier to pick the days in between the pair’s basketball duties and when the weather is conducive to good action. But it doesn’t always work out that way, and days without footage in the can, while uncommon, are part of the process.
Re-runs of previous editions of Geaux Fish are built into the schedule, so there is less at stake when a trip goes afoul as there is with OWDD, but certainly there are only so many times an episode can be shown before it loses its luster to viewers and advertisers.
We arrive at Capt. Frank Moore’s place in Shell Beach, check in to the back camp and unpack, finally knocking off after a few hours catching up on the ins and outs of sports and the media business and not mentioning the fishing too much.
Moore is more than capable of putting anglers on fish, even if it means sheepshead and drum. Like Dubuc, Ford is interested in promoting Louisiana’s wildlife in a wide-ranging way and not simply the glamour species.
“We’re actually planning on doing a sheepshead show soon, so if tomorrow is that day, that’s fine,” said Ford.
Another glorious post-cold front morning with the promise of a slight warm-up has Ford setting his sights on trout, and Moore obliges with a trip into the marsh south of the Ship Channel and into territory typically known more to Delacroix anglers. Sulser is busy with the camera capturing sights used to fill the short clips getting the viewer in and out of the show.
I’m positive that the lack of action is due to the 50-degree water temperature, but it’s hard not to think I might have something to do with it. Sulser is busy catching some “B roll” and “scenics” used to get to a commercial break or to fill in footage between action.
“You’ve got to shoot a lot of those cut-aways. There’s a lot of stuff to cover,” said Sulser. “About 30 percent of the scenics actually come out good enough to use.”
He also catches some of the easy-going give and take of the boat’s passengers, including the irresistible urge to tease the show’s host. Ford isn’t concerned in the slightest with the perception contained in the shows that he’s not the greatest angler in the world.
“Kevin’s got a good personality for that, and we like to play it up a good bit,” says Sulser. “We try to entertain people just as much as informing them.”
As the water warms a bit, the fish turn on enough that a trout show is in the can. The fish won’t raise any eyebrows at the dock, and it’s far from frenzied, but there’s enough action and good-natured hijinks to fill a few segments, as well as another lesson for me regarding actually allowing the fish to be seen by the camera.
One problem remained: Ford has yet to catch a keeper fish, and there’s the possibility to make up for the wasted trip the previous week with a redfish show a short distance away.
Finally, the host lands a keeper, and he and Moore tape the closing shot. A last-second slip of the tongue sours a perfect interview complete with a fish being landed in the background. Take two goes without a hitch, and the attention turns to the south. The wind had threatened to kick up as the trout turned on, but had laid enough to try a bay on the edge of Black Bay.
Sulser marks the two tapes of trout footage and loads a fresh one. There’s a noticeable spring in the step of the two as the possibility of knocking out two shows in one trip looks promising.
Moore’s 25-foot Privateer’s high, stable gunwales not only offer an outstanding angle platform for Sulser’s camerawork, they provide a great vantage point for seeing fish. I can’t help but stand on them — likely making Moore’s job a little harder when others try to do it later in the year — and look into the water for signs of reds. The bay’s water is more than clean enough, and soon plumes of mud are popping.
The action begins immediately with 8- to 12-pound reds, culminating with Ford hooking up with the biggest one of the day on one of his last casts as in-town schedules are set to clash.
As chores are finished at the camp, Sulser and Ford painstakingly record short sit-down interviews on the dock about the various subjects concerning the day’s trip and Louisiana coastal fishing in general. Again, a perfect take is ruined by a passing oyster boat, and it’s filmed again.
1:00 p.m., four days later
With the AFC Championship Game on in the background, Sulser and editor Bryan Harden log the footage, a process that takes around three hours. Harden is also a member of the Hornets broadcast team, and the chemistry of the two is as evident as it is important.
“The first show we ever did took about 20 hours,” recalled Sulser as he and Harden continually checked the audio and video levels as the footage rolled in the order in which it was logged. “It takes about four or five of these to get comfortable with each other.”
Eight hours is the normal time needed to put together the intro’s, footage spread between four commercial breaks, music and guide’s sometimes rambling, sometimes far-too-short answers to Ford’s questions.
Besides that, all that’s really needed is for the fish to bite.