A Matter of Time by Richard Serra

I am fortunate in that I live in an interesting place.

As I look out of my living room window, I can watch the Today Show and Al Roker, being made live from Rockefeller Center.

As I walk into the bedroom, I can look down on the sculpture garden at the Museum of Modern Art. This month it is dominated by the Richard Serra retrospective.

Television is the most powerful medium in the world. We collectively spend almost as much time watching television as we do sleeping, or living. More people likely will watch the “Today Show” in one hour than will pass through the MOMA in a month… or a year.

So what we do with it is critically important to who we are.

If we took all the art in the museum’s collection and piled it in the sculpture garden, it would probably not reach my window – even including the massive Serra work. If we took all the TV in the NBC library and piled it up in Rockefeller Center Plaza, it would stand 83,300 feet in the air, or about 15 miles high. (Assuming the earlier works are on 2″, then moving to 1″, then u-matic, then beta).

That is about 100 times the height of the NBC building in Rockefeller Center, or the size of 4 Mount Everests, piled on one another. No matter how you look at it, it is a titanic amount of television.

This is a good comparison because both NBC and MoMA began at almost the same time, just a block apart.

Buried in the MoMA pile we find Picassos and Jackson Pollocks and Modiglianis and Rauschenbergs and Giacomettis… works that have both been the hallmark of the 20th Century and have the power to move and express at the same time. Awesome giants.

In the NBC pile we find Lauers and Courics and Huntleys and Brinkleys and Who Wants to be a Millionaire.

Compare the piles – the alpha and the omega of our generation.

The difference is inherent in whose hands the tools of creation lie.

When Jackson Pollock or Picasso picked up a brush, they connected their passion directly with the canvass. Like it or hate it, it is a poweful instrument.

When a professional cameraman picks up a camera, he may be an excellent craftsman; but he is carrying out the work.. and the vision.. of others. There is no passion. There is, to be sure, a passion to do a good job, or even a great job; but this is vastly different from the passion to express one’s own emotions through the medium.

To site an example mentioned here yesterday, when Jim Sturges pickes up a camera to film his 8 children, there is a powerful and visceral connection between Sturges and his children and the fact that they are alone and together at home. He is just starting, but if he keeps at it, keeps honing his craft, he will be able to convey through the medium an emotion that simply will not be there even if Katie and the best camera crew in the world showed up. It is somthing different.

As we start to empower people with the technology and the tools of video making and television, we have the potential to start to create something very different with this, our most powerful means of communication and expression.


We can, for the first time, take the medium, which has traditionally been so cold and distant, and infuse it with passion. This does not mean that we capture a woman crying because her husband has been killed in Iraq. It is not the passion of the subject; rather it is the passion of the maker.

The ability to communicate passion is what makes Picasso or Pollock or Dine or Motherwell so powerful. They do it through paint on canvass. Directly.

Soon, we will be able to do it through images on a screen.

Think of the potential.

Think of what television could be.


18 responses to “Passion

  1. “When a professional cameraman picks up a camera, he may be an excellent craftsman; but he is carrying out the work.. and the vision.. of others. There is no passion. There is, to be sure, a passion to do a good job, or even a great job; but this is vastly different from the passion to express one’s own emotions through the medium.”

    Let me disagree with you Michael (so what’s new). Do you play an instrument Michael? Are you a musician by any chance? I am. I started taking music lesson at the age of nine. It was a free after school programs in every city in Italy. Actually it was a leftover from the pre-war Mussolini era where every neighborhood had a “ricreatorio”, that was an educational, recreational and athletic center for youths. I started my fist band at 14, American music was very popular back then and Elvis was a king in Europe too. Then in the early 60s the British invasion started in Europe first; we let our hair grow a little and switched from Elvis to the Beatles. In my college year music was one of my main sources of revenue. Music has been an important part of my life. I insisted for my children to learn music, not that I want them to become musicians but to appreciate and understand music. Both of my boys have or had bands. (There’s a point to all this). When my oldest boy started putting a group together (that was about 15 years ago), all they wanted to play was “original music” I never even heard of that term; that’s a band that only plays music that they created themselves, they refuse to play popular music. Having been in the creative business most of my life I was impressed with these boys wanting to be creating and expressing themselves thru music. Of course all those instruments can get quite expensive, so I suggested they try earning a few dollars by playing at local clubs, after all in my travel I always see bands playing at hotels and resorts that I’m working with; these musicians get paid quite well. That’s when the truth started coming out. You see, these “players” never learn to read music, they just learned from those “learn quick” books and video that you always see advertised on TV. They never went thru the discipline required to be a “real” musician. The only reason that they only play “original” music is because unlike real musicians that make money playing at clubs and resorts who can take a music sheet and play whatever the guests ask them to play, these “original” musicians can only compose music within the boundaries of their knowledge. Subsequently these “original bands” can hardly get people to listen to them, even for free. Yes, a microscopically number of these bands will get a hit but most of them will get tired of “listening to themselves” with their own music and inevitably will move on to do something else. They will be so disappointed and disgusted of their accomplishments as musicians that the will never pick up an instrument again. Just look at the classified section of any newspaper and see how many used musical instruments for sale there are. The big difference here is that their careers was halted by the absence of proper education.

    The accomplished and well educated musician will of course play the music of others (visions). But every time that they open a music sheet they expand their own vision.
    Just about every musician that I know has also written his own music and be assured that those pieces are infinitely better than those written by the “original only bands”.

    Now let’s go back to our business. What makes you think that an accomplished cameraman can not do his own things? You see, doing your “own thing only” is infinitely easier to do. Just like the “original” musician, VJs will only compose or create things within the boundaries of their knowledge and will never be able to venture themselves outside those boundaries, and this is because most of them don’t even know they have boundaries. On the other hand a well educated and experienced photographer can take someone else’s vision then add his own creativity, now you have two creative minds working as one, twice as much creative power. It takes a lot of knowledge to understand others creativity and visions and turn it into reality, something that VJ will never be able to do, that’s why the can only work alone, that’s not an advantage, that’s a handicap.

    Now let’s go back to musicians. Today is Sir Paul McCartney 65th birthday. Probably one of the most talented composer/musician of my and younger generations. Her can create, compose, sing and play it on the piano. Unquestionably he is a visionary, he is also very smart. Sir Paul knows very well that what he does alone will not sale records. He needs orchestration and he can not do that or he can not do that successfully himself; therefore he will seek additional creative assistance from a music director and a music producer, in few word he will assemble a creative team. The director will compose and write the music for each instrument and will also hire the proper musicians that he knows will be capable to translate ink into music. And be assured Michael that the music director will not hire any of those “original bands musicians”

  2. i guess we’re lucky someone hasn’t written software that lets italians gesture with their hands and arms when they write online… we’d be here all morning reading n!no.

    300 word comment limit???

  3. So now they have computers in trailer parks too.

    You should be that lucky, you might even learn to write something intelligent for once. But I give you credit for knowing your limitations and not making a fool of yourself by attempting to write something intelligent.

    I have a sign above my desks that says:

    “It’s better to be silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubts”.

    I’m sure that you were an inspiration for the author of that sign. You are also a living testimonial that ignorance and prejudice is alive and doing well in this country.

  4. You are a living proof that we are not a perfect culture and there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done.

  5. I like the post Mr. Rosenblum though, once again, you seem to find it hard to believe those of us who are cameramen, also contribute to the final product with our own creativity instead of just following orders.

    Besides that minor disagreement, we share a vision of what needs to be made better for a quality television product in general.

    My comments made about the efforts of Mr. Sturges were used in proper context in your latest submission, but I hope you understand I am not one who thinks that is the only way to achieve a quality product. The difference being in the selection and approach to the subject matter. Not limited to only one form of production, larger crew or single VJ.

    The fact is sometimes the larger group is able to achieve a better intimacy than an individual loaded down with too many responsibilities. My end point here being, there is no one way to do it right all the time.

  6. Once again – the same ol’ rantings by the same ol’ crew.

    If this sight so annoys you and you are so busy as you claim to be – then HOW do you find time to post multiple responses?

    I shake my head now at how hysteric and heated the b-roll crew postings have become… All I read are so called Pro’s bragging about their professional credentials and have yet to see anything that shows these actual skillz (slang spelling mine) that are touted.

    And so, when I (and I’m sure others) see any of the b-roll crew types posting their rants, I know that it will be the same discourse, but worded differently.

    If you have nothing constructive to say in a way that is respectful of those who aspire to become better at their craft, then don’t come here – we leave you to your back slapping GOB club of shooters, but you seem to feel it’s your “professional” duty to come here and post your “professional” opinions – to save us from the Rosenblum heresy. Your opinions are like arm pits – everyone has them and yours stink. We didn’t ask for your condescending, demeaning opinions, but you seem to feel you can just come and violate our personal and professional boundaries because you know what the real world is like and are here to instruct us in the ways of video – without our permission.

    You call yourselves “professionals” (at least the claim has been made on more than one occasion) – you do this for a living right? And we’re just wannabes. You were never in our shoes at one time – or have you forgotten, which is probably the case.

    The more you come here, the more you heap upon yourselves a lack of respect, as opposed to commanding respect – which are two very different things.

    So go back to your “professional” cushy, safe, non-creative jobs which pays so well and let those who are like minded on this site to continue to dialog in civility and respect for one another instead of being demeaned by egocentric religious zealots of the b-roll faith.

    We espouse a particular way to do things – you think differently. We have no problems with that. So leave it at that. Respect OUR space as we have respected yours – but I don’t think the so called “professional” ego’s involved will allow that to happen. YOU just have to be right – no matter what.

    We don’t care what your perspective is. Get over it and over yourselves.

    But I’m already expecting the typical response to my post to be more condescending remarks about my capabilities which has been the pattern of adolescent behavior out of the so called b-roll crew “professional” shooters.

    Change or do not change – the profession as you know it is transforming and I for one am riding that wave – no matter where it takes me.

    We who espouse the Solo VJ paradigm are grown adults – we have made our choice – leave it at that – if you can.

    Nothing to see here… move along…

  7. Nino
    I found your musician analogy insightful and interesting, and needless to say I don’t disagree that a great cinematographer can add to the vision of a director. I would take nothing from people like Sven Nyquist.

    On the other hand, when a musician, say Vladimir Horowitz (as I spent 12 years in piano lessons), sits down to play Mozart or Chopin, much as I respect and honor Horowitz for his interpretation, the creative work of Mozart of Chopin is locked into the manuscript. (This in many ways is the beauty of music, that it is transportable as writing as well as playing).

    And certainly when Nyquist works from a written script he is, to some degree, analagous to your musician.

    However, as we both know when we go out to shoot news or docs, we don’t work from scripts. (if only). We are, more often than not, simply accumulating lots of ‘stuff’, that will later be sorted through in the edit to craft a story or piece. The writing come after the pictures, not before.

    Hence, it is hard for me to say that there has been a beautifully crafted ‘vision’ for most television work. (This does not hold true for fiction by the way, which is a different discussion entirely).

    As you are doubtless talented, trained and experienced, it would be very interesting for me if you would, (some time when you have some free time) engage in a small experiment. Take a camera and go out and shoot a small story of our own picking, but something you know very well and have a deep personal connection to. (One person I asked to do this in Sweden came back with a small film about her dog’s death that made everyone in the room weep uncontrollably).

    Take the camera and use it as an extension of your emotions. ( I know this sounds very LA, and is probably somewhat antithetical to the way you usually work) but try it. Try and connect your feelings directly through the lens.

    Instead of making a picture, connect with the event through the picture. Do you follow? Sort of what the 19th century impressionists tried to do. It will not be easy at first, and as with the impressionists and those who tried to do this with music, they were much reviled. But I think it is possible, and in fact I think with someone of your skills, it would be very interesting.

    We have made great strides in art in the past 100 years, vastly expanding its perimeters from merely accurately reproducing a scene to communicating emotion and feeling. I think its possible to do this with television also.. but it requires a very different way of thinking.

    And,this is not to denigrate craftsmanship. If you have ever seen the early work of Picasso, you will see that he was an extremely accomplished craftsman and draftsman first.

  8. Well stated, Michael.

  9. Michael, Chopin and VJs in the same sentence? Why don’t we keep these conversations down here on earth.

    I live this business 24/7, I have 7 Emmy awards to my name and you think that what I do almost everyday is not creative? I don’t have the luxury to pick and choose what I want to shoot. I have a ten minutes meeting in the morning with the producer and I’m off on my own. Creativity is my number one priority, that’s why they hire me, but that’s not the only thing. I also have to make sure that I have shots to lead the viewers into the story and shots to conclude the story. Throughout the shoot I have to think edit. The producer will need establishing shots, cuts for transitions, details, point of views, and the list goes on. All this has to blend together with continuity. When he gets the tapes from me he knows that he will have all the cuts he will need, that’s why a producer hires experienced veterans and not VJs.

    I told you this many and many times. VJ is nothing new. We’ve all have done solos, long before it was branded as VJs. I’ve done dozens of self-projects over the years and I have many on the back burner that one day I’ll get to it. But the main difference between what I do and what you preach is that everyone of those projects that I created was produces with a specific market in mind and each one was sold for some very hefty sums. I told you about some of those on B-roll.

    Now, are we talking hobby here or a profession? I can do a beautiful story about my cat anytime I want but I definitely feel that I can do something much more useful and constructive. I would prefer to use my skills for something that others can benefit from.

  10. I prefer “profession” only because I have bills to pay and a kid to put through college.

    But that’s just me.

    I’ve enjoyed the analogies but, even though I enjoy my job, my end goal is to make a buck. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that and I know Mr. Rosenblum feels the same way.

    How we make that buck uses many of the same tools but is applied differently. However, much like the child who needs to learn to spell words before they can write a novel, others also have to learn the basics of visual communication in to successfully pass along their intended message. Hopefully to an audience that may even generate some revenue for them to continue their efforts.

    I see so many VJs who don’t know the basics.

    They don’t know why and where to dissolve.

    They don’t know what jump cuts are. How to use them or avoid them.

    They don’t understand that just because you’ve got something within the frame of your eyepiece, they need to make their product just a little better than others so it will get noticed and not ignored among the chafe, no matter how good their idea might be.

    It’s a complete plan. One that involves not only shooting and editing but also delivery to an audience which will want more of what you make. Not less. It’s a problem all visual business’s have to address. Big or small.

    The lone VJ is not exempt from that issue. Just because you have a camera in your hands does not mean you know how to communicate with it.

    There is a language. Your product can either communicate through this universal language or be lost among the millions of others who produce but are never seen.

    It’s why we all learn more every day to keep on the edge of the wave, not paddling behind the wave cheer-leading and making false claims of ability and knowledge which are never proven by a successful monetary return on the investment of time and equipment.

    I’m sure many want to ignore the money issue. But they will soon remember it when their camera breaks, they need to fill their gas tank, or pay an electric bill to keep all that visual production going.

  11. speaking of musicians I wonder if you all can help me out with a song that I just can’t get out of my head.

    I think its by Rosey and the VJs :

    It’s the end of the world as we know it,
    It’s the end of the world as we know it,
    It’s the end of the world as we know it
    and I feel fine.


  12. …as we n!know it?

  13. “However, as we both know when we go out to shoot news or docs, we don’t work from scripts. (if only). We are, more often than not, simply accumulating lots of ’stuff’, that will later be sorted through in the edit to craft a story or piece. The writing come after the pictures, not before”.

    For news yes, for documentaries absolutely not.
    Michael, we went down this road a few years ago, I proved to you with numbers that your method of shoot everything you see and then review dozens of tapes looking for the right stuff is wasteful and inefficient. Nobody in the business of production works this way, you’ll be going broke before you even complete your first assignment. It’s okay if you are an amateur or you are doing self-assignment on speculation and you have plenty of time and money to waste but if you think about one day making money soon or later you will have to put a price on your time, in production time is our asset, to make it profitable you have to be good and efficient.

    Even on a solo assignment there are stages that you go thru in preparation for a project.
    The first is research; you have to know what’s there to shoot. You might have to conduct this yourself or hire someone to do the research. Sometime the client already has all the information needed. Even if it’s your own project you’ll still want it to be efficient.
    Next you write a rough script and also create a shot script. That’s basically a road map of your assignment. You leave a lot of blanks in between shots to be filled with what you find on location in addition to your research. Depending on the budget sometime you do a location scouting without the camera or with a still camera. The scouting can be very important particularly if you are photographing landmarks or sceneries. You will want to know at what time of the day will the most suitable light will be for that particular location. Based on this information you then create a shooting schedule and go on the shoot. At this point I have the entire project already layout in my head.
    I learned my shooting skills on film and that’s expensive, you don’t roll on something that’s unnecessary. I can see the shot in front of me and I can make the decision on the spot if that will be worth shooting, I don’t have to look at the tape to know if the shot was good or bad. After I recorded the main scene in many variations along any transitional shot that I can think I will log the time code on my schedule and move on to the next shot. Once I start the post-production process I don’t have to reviews hours and hours of tapes. I will just place the time code group next to the corresponding place the main script, review the group and fill the blanks between shot, complete the script and finish the project. An experienced and trained DP doesn’t have to look at the tape to see if the shot is good and useful for that particular project, he doesn’t even have to look thru the viewfinder, all he has to do see what’s in front of him.

  14. Nino – your music analogy is full of holes. I am a musician. I studied several instruments as a child, played in the school band, orchestra, swing band and marching band, and had a rock and roll band. From my teenage years on, every time I sat down to play I “made something up” — that would be original music.

    The result of this is that I have written music for half a dozen TV shows, countless corporate programs and many commercials. I made a living creating “original music”for years. To this day, if I sit down at a piano or with a guitar I play what I feel, not someone else’s song.

    I am a television producer today (by choice). I hire shooters, editors, and yes, VJs to work on television programs. I consider myself creative, but understand that even within a larger creative team, there is a place for individual creativity.

    The day we stop encouraging young musicians tomake original music, or young VJs to conceptualize and create video, is the day that we give up art, beauty and truth.

    Not every young person that picks up a video camera is going to be a great creative genius, but please, give them a chance. If they are serious they will learn the basics, hone their skills and become professional and creative. 50 years ago they would have become you — today they will more likely become an accomplished VJ.

    Oh, and by the way, to this day Paul McCartney can’t read music — he just makes “original music” — what a bad way to make a living.

  15. Very well said, Steve. 🙂

  16. Steve, I can’t figure if you are agreeing or disagreeing with me. The point that I was making, or at least I thought that I was making, was that a self proclaimed musician that bypassed the conventional learning process in favor of shortcuts, will most likely go nowhere. He most likely will be confined to play with others with the same level of knowledge.

    This is not just a theory, I have 3 kids and one is still in High School and this is the way it is out there. Many of those who study music and are in the HS band also have their own little groups and if you attend the annual HS “battle of the bands” as I’ve been doing for the last 15 years, you can spot the educated ones after they play the first few notes.

    What I was saying is that those who have studied and are efficient with music will be able to integrate with any band and play just about everywhere and with everybody. The reference was of course about VJs. Those who became VJ solely with Michael’s training will only be able to do their own things and will never be able to become part of a creative team. For months I’ve been challenging Michael to prove me wrong and he hasn’t done yet. I also said that the truly gifted ones will succeed regardless, hence Sir Paul McCartney. Of course Michael with his traditional outrageous examples brought Chopin into this picture.

    I also said that an educated musician not only can play with other bands but he can also write his own music and he will be considerable better in doing that than the untrained musician. The reference of course was that a person that received good education and training in production can be a considerably better VJ that the one who was untrained. Are you with me so far?

    Again I’m talking about the average person not he very gifted ones.

    You are disagreeing with me and as an example you are telling me that you are indeed an educated musician, and that you were able to play with a variety of bands and obviously different styles of music. Then you go on telling me that you are also successful writing your own music.

    Am I missing something here?

  17. Nino,
    There is no question that a VJ that has been trained is better than one who has not. I think that is why Rosenblum offers training – to help make people better as VJs. So I guess we agree.

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