How To Make A Living With A Video Camera – Pt1


…”we’re waiting for the cameras before we can evac you…”

In 1994, my now ex-wife (who shall mercifully remain nameless) and I wandered into the waiting room of the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP) with a small, hand-held minDV camcorder and started to shoot.

We were there on kind of a weekend lark to see ‘what would happen’. Just hanging out. A few minutes after we got there, a young couple came in and took a seat next to us. I turned to the guy:

“What happened?” I asked.

“I was shot six times” he announced. “Wanna see”?

Why not?

He lifted his shirt and showed me what seemed to be old scars. He had indeed been shot. The bullets enter hot and fast and cauterize the wound themselves. Over time, like a splinter, they start to work their way out. This had brought him to the hospital.

“Would you mind if I filmed you?” I asked. (I did not want to say ‘would you minhd if I shot you’, for obvious reasons).

He had no problem with it.

In short order we were taken into the Emergency Room, where he was examined by a young woman doctor. She did not like him at all, or his girlfriend.

“Frequent fliers” she told me. “They get shot, we sew ’em up, they get shot again”.

Perhaps because she wanted to teach him some kind of lesson, she began to extract the spent bullets using a forcep, but without any kind of anesthetic. He screamed. She kept digging.

“You big baby” she told him.

I kept filming… or rather videotaping.

Soon, the doctor had extracted the first bullet. She held it clean in the forceps. Suddenly, in a flash, his girlfriend grabbed the bullet from the forceps and flashed it in the young man’s face.

“You said you was shot with a .38. This ain’t no .38”, she announced, “this is a glock 9mm”.

All of this I was recording.

We spent a week at the hospital recording many such incidents. Then we came back to our small house in Philadelphia and began to edit some scenes together.

Neil Cohen, a friend and brilliant editor cut some 7 minutes, and (against my instincts) tracked pounding rock music against swish pans and fast cuts.

Dum de dum dum dum….

“my leg… don’t cut off my leg!!!”

Dum de dum dum dum…

“My baby is gonna die!!!?

Dum de dum dum dum….

I was not at all happy with this. I had come from PBS and CBS News. We did ‘serious’ stuff. You can not film in Emergency Rooms and then cut it to rock music.

No one cared.

We got a meeting with The Learning Channel. They were just getting started and still did lots of ‘educational’ stuff about ‘The Life of the Romans’. No one had heard of them and in fact they were the only ones who would talk with us.

We had absolutely no track record in producing for cable, or anywhere else. We were, in all honesty, just a step above screwing around.

We did, however, get the meeting, and in a conference room in Discovery’s first offices in Bethesda, we sat and screend the VHS of our 7-minute demo reel.

Dum de dum dum dum….

“My leg man! Don’t cut off my leg!”

Dum de dum dum dum…

“My baby is going to die!”

Dum de dum dum dum…..

The tape ended.

The room was absolutely silent.

Well, it was not ‘The Romans were a happy people…..” was it?

The lights came up and John Ford, the newly appointed head of The Learning Channel turned to me.

“I want to order 13 hours immediately” he said.

That would be 13 hours at $200,000 per hour. In a moment, effectively, $2.6 million slid across the table to us.

We paused to catch our breaths….


That 7-minute tester became Trauma, Life in the ER. It ran for 9 years on TLC. It also spun off Paramedics, Maternity Ward, Labor and Delviery, Code Blue and lots of other shows as well.

John Ford? He went on to become the head of National Geographic Channel.

Neil Cohen? He is VP for Programming at A&E.

You can still see Trauma on cable to this day.

You can do a lot with a small camera and a good idea.

Trust me.


6 responses to “How To Make A Living With A Video Camera – Pt1

  1. Pingback: Matt Sokoloff » Want to make a TV show…go for it

  2. It’s a great show, which finally cashes the check that “Medic” wrote in the mid-50’s. (Remember the opening?: “the eye of an eagle, the heart of a lion, the hand of a woman.”)

    Programs like “Trauma, Life in the ER” and “Cops” (I know, I know) truly do take advantage of TV’s ability to put us in places that are otherwise closed to us and let us experience them as if we were there. Reality TV has gotten a bad name from the likes of “The Real World,” but serious reality TV is still a great ride.

  3. What an amazing story. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  4. Great, great story. Seems like a lark on the surface to some people, but you still had to have the balls to be in there doing it. Interesting how things tend to come together when you go out on a limb, but have had enough experience to know how to pull it together.

  5. Pingback: how to make a woman dum

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