When you are making your first programming project, it is sometimes called a "Hello World" project. I'm not a programmer, unless you count the BASIC class I took in high school!
Likewise, when you start a new blog or whatever you do a generic "Hello, this is what I'm all about" post. So here goes:
Hi. My name is Mike. I'm a long time Creative COW user, and formerly frequent blogger. But over the past year I've posted only a handful of posts, and have been pretty busy offline. So for those of you who have never said "hey, who is this Mike Cohen character and what do his early blog posts look like?" here's a summary to bring you up to speed:
Born in Massachusetts some time in the Nixon Administration. My dad was the manager of a camera store called The Photo Shop. They did photo developing and sold cameras. When I was little kid I liked to play with the tripods and other gadgets that were within reach of a 4 year old. My Aunt and Uncle could often be found in the back office of this family business. They would take me to lunch at Friendly's (egg salad and chocolate milk). This particular Aunt also was known in town as the "cake lady" as she made cakes and pastries for many events, and of course she made a custom birthday cake for each of her nieces and nephews. Her husband worked in the school system as an administrator well into his 80's and they named one of the middle schools after him while he was still alive. Very influential relatives.
Anyway since my dad always had access to the latest camera gear, our early family photos were spectacular and prolific. My brother and I and the extended family were frequent stars of color home movies. Here is my favorite (I'm the adorable kid in the overalls in the opening shot):
Well, in the mid-Carter years we moved to Des Moines. My dad got a job as the electronics buyer for a retail chain. This was quite the transition - highways, cable tv, ATM machines, barcode scanners - we had arrived in the future. My grade school years were uneventful - school projects, field trips to the state capitol, museums, the wonderful Des Moines Botanical Garden, Hebrew School and making friends. We spent Summers back in Massachusetts.
My pre-teen years were a series of annual moves as we worked our way back to Massachusetts where we finally stayed put through high school. I discovered a love of video from a pretty early age. In 1983 my uncle had an early video camera wired to a boom box sized portable VHS recorder. This was present at many family gatherings. In 8th grade he helped me make a very brief video about the history of American Money, and in 9th grade we did a 60 minutes style video about Ancient Rome. Very low fidelity 8mm by this time.
In High School my interests were visual arts, mostly illustration, drama club and yearbook. By 11th grade I was the yearbook editor and quickly became known as the kid who always had a camera available day or night. Although we had a professional photographer for big events, I took shots at dances and around campus. Somehow I managed to not get stuffed into a locker. The Saved by the Bell character Screech was loosely based upon me at age 15.
When it came time to apply to colleges, my parents convinced me to pursue communications rather than technical illustration. For once in my life I listened to my parents. I applied to Ithaca, Quinnipiac, U of Hartford for Communications, and UMASS, UCONN, UMASS Dartmouth, URI as safety schools (back in the George H W Bush years UMASS and UCONN were very non-selective) and Roger Williams College in case I decided to study architecture. I visited everywhere except for Ithaca, and got in everywhere. I chose U of Hartford because it was relatively close to home, not in a big city, and they had a 2-year old modern TV studio.
The first year of college I could not get into any Communication classes except the intro lecture with like 700 people in the class. So I took a mix of history, literature and science or math classes. Sophomore year the fun began with Intro to TV Production which consisted of learning how to do everything in the studio - camera, lighting, VTR, switcher, Chyron, teleprompter, audio, floor direct, direct. Each student had to write and produce a 5-minute how-to video, with the rest of the class in the other crew positions. Most people did things like how to make a sandwich, how to tie a bowtie or how to fold a shirt. I had not yet completely left Screech behind so I made my video "how to disarm a nuclear bomb." It was good on paper. But it was fun.
During the same semester I attended an evening seminar geared towards the community (adults) given by the Hartford Ad Council. Each class for 6 weeks focused on a different type of advertising. Most of the attendees were either business owners or others from the area. One of the classmates with the assistant to the News Director at WFSB, the local CBS affiliate. She got me an interview for a news internship, which I was awarded for the following semester, a rarity for a sophomore in college.
Recently both here on the COW and in the news media in general there have been stories about how internships exploit young people. Back in the day at least in my experience, I received 3 credits for each internship. After 4 internships this essentially eliminated 1 semester of classwork so that by my final semester I only took one class and spent the rest of my time on an internship and other on-campus video activities.
Back to Spring of Sophomore year. About a month before Summer break, a grad student in the Communication program decided that for his master's thesis, he would attempt to start a weekly live newscast on campus. Up until this time the tv studio was used by students in about 4 classes per semester, and very little else. There was also a field production class which used some of the editing systems in the studio, but not all of it. The online edit controller was the official domain of maybe two people on campus.
Myself and maybe 10 others went to the initial meeting and we founded STN - the Student Television Network and the Channel 2 News broadcast was conceived. Most of us were off to internships in our home towns for the Summer, so everyone had the assignment to learn how news is done and report back in the Fall.
Summer that year I spent working my first internship at WCVB, the ABC station in the #7 market. This was a big deal for a 19-year-old. Having grown up watching Channel 5 it was exciting to be working with some of the anchors I had been watching for years such as Jim Boyd and Susan Wornick. I was assigned the Midday News three days a week. I arrived at 9am and gathered B-Roll, directed the editing of VO and VO-SOT segments based upon scripts written by the Associate Producer or Producer, delivered Chyron orders to the Chyron operator, gave cue sheets to the audio guy and then distributed rundowns and script pages to the anchors, director, producer, audio and executive producer minutes before the live show at noon. I took it upon myself to make some custom forms to help organize these pieces of content and tried to break a maximum of two copy machines per shift :)
I got to go out in the field on one weekend day only because I asked to. This was post Iraq War 1 and during one of the saber rattling episodes between the US and Iraq, so I accompanied the reporter and photog to interview this guy http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bernard_E._Trainor
- then Bush 1 made a speech which I logged as it came down from the satellite feed, found some stock footage of planes taking off, and helped the reporter edit together his package for the 6pm news. Very exciting.
Fall Semester, Junior Year. I reported back to STN on campus and brought with me intimate knowledge of how to put together a newscast. Many of my compatriots had similar experiences, so we all put our information into a hat and got to work. We spent all of the Fall semester doing practice stories and practice non-live newscasts. We had a card table and a cardboard logo for a set. After much lobbying we received an initial budget to buy two SVHS cameras, one SVHS deck, some mics, an IFB system, tripods and blank tapes. Everything else (paper, ink, a vintage 1984 Macintosh and U-Matic tape-to-tape editing bays we "borrowed" from the tv studio which was for academic use only. From humble beginnings, I recently attended the 20th anniversary celebration where they showed this video:
Also this semester I did my internship at WFSB. My main duty was sitting at the assignment desk most of the day, calling state police barracks looking for stories, and fielding calls from crazy people claiming to have met Elvis. We did have someone call about what turned out to be Gulf War Syndrome, but at the time nobody had heard of this. One of the star reporters was Gayle King whose BFF Oprah would call periodically to say hello - she was always very friendly. Other cub reporters I worked with, who have gone on to network careers include David Ushery and Mika Brzinski. The best part of the job was after the noon show I got to go out in the field with whoever I was assigned to. We did the typical local news human interest stories, but this was also during the Bush v Clinton campaign so we did some political reporting. I met Rev Jesse Jackson, Barbara Bush, Dr Henry Lee (at the scene of a grisly murder) and probably some local politicians. Once back at the station I could either sit in the control room or the studio for the 5, 5:30 and 6 pm shows, or wander around. I became friendly with the chief meteorologist and the paintbox artist who both were mentor-like during the short time I knew them.
Oh, I also started taking guitar lessons at the Hartt School of Music. I wish I had continued, but there is still time.
So now it is Spring Semester and we were ready to go on the air live with our weekly newscast.
The first shows were memorable. My role was News Director and TD during the live shows, and did a little reporting and lots of other activities. At the end of the semester as the grad student was preparing to leave, I was elected General Manager, given the elusive key card to the studio and it was off to the final Summer break of college.
Yep, I did another internship in CT, stayed on campus for the Summer and worked odd jobs around campus (theater usher, auditorium AV tech, TV studio summer session teaching assistant). The internship was with COX cable advertising. The other intern and I made weekly donut commercials for a local IGA store, car dealers and banks. We compiled the weekly commercial reels (60-minute U-Matic tapes) and delivered these to the head-end, and helped shoot some original local car commercials and the like.
Finally Senior year. Given the interest in tv production never before seen on campus, the art school created a post-production editing class, and the theater program created a single-camera drama production class. Needless to say, all of the same students who were doing the live newscast also signed up for these new classes. We were clamoring for information and ways to hone our skills, and we were darn busy. We would spend the week on classwork and preparing our stories for the newscast. Everyone managed to have few or no classes on Fridays so we could spend most of the day prepping for the 4pm live newscast. After the live show we'd strike the studio and often hang out in smaller groups until late. As GM and the guy with a car, it fell to me to deliver dubs of the show to Hartford and West Hartford cable access who had agreed to play our shows.
Then we'd spend all day Saturday and Sunday shooting our movie. Same crew members in different roles. For that I was lighting and editor. Here is some of the result:
Note to modern viewers - this was shot with a Hitachi Z1C, a 3-tube camera that was quite sophisticated for its day, recorded to 20-minute 3/4" U-Matic tapes.
Somehow I also found time to spend one day per week at the Travelers Insurance tv studio. Another guy and myself received no instruction, but we were given access to the online bay once a week to learn what we could in the hopes that there might be some work. Going from our tv studio's 3/4" machines and tube cameras to a Sony 9000, Grass Valley 300 switcher, Sony 1" machines and BetaSP decks was exciting. Alas the studio was auctioned off soon after and we were back to campus!
Anyway, by the time Winter break rolled around most of us were exhausted. But it wasn't over yet.
I spent Winter break with a friend in CT so I could start my final internship working for a high end corporate production company in Hartford. We did work for LEGO, Heublein, United Technologies and numerous golf club makers. I learned about another type of production and was exposed to the first AVID Media Composer in the state. In these days computer based editing was offline only. Once your picture was locked you would need to make a B-reel using the EDL generated by the AVID, then go to an online bay and reassemble the video at full resolution. Actually the word resolution is not relevant here because going from BetaSP to 1" was simply a direct analog transfer of video from source to master. One of the studios even had a D2 machine featuring pre-read (allowed editing video using the master tape as the source). The future had arrived.
Finally the day had come - I was a college graduate. A week later I moved into my swanky bachelor pad in Naugatuck, CT and started as a production assistant at Cine-Med, where I still work today.
In my next post I'll bring you the rest of the way up to speed with some of my adventures in the art of Medical Media Production, Medical Meeting Management, Publishing, CME, Safe and Effective Use of Medical Device videos, traveling for work and the occasional photo of dinner or cats. The bulk of my back catalog of blog entries relate to my career, but I'll try to summarize how I got here from there in the next entry.
If you just can't wait until the next installment, check out these links to get the flavor:
This reminds me, I have to update my website:
Thanks for reading.