July 25, 2011

Four and a Half Minutes of Fame... or maybe Flame

Here is the segment as it aired on November 17http://medfield.tv/video/old-house-mass-hort-segment

Sometime in late October or early November, you’re going to turn on This Old House and see homeowner Rebecca Titlow walking with TOH’s landscaping guru, Roger Cook. Rebecca is going to say that she’s been thinking about the need for a vegetable garden at the 1720 house in Bedford that is the subject of the fall season of the venerable PBS program.  Rebecca will say that she wants her daughter to know where food comes from. 

This Old House's Roger Cook takes
homeowner Rececca Titlow on a
walk through Mass Hort's new
vegetable garden...
And then Roger will say, “Well, Rebecca, that’s why I’ve brought you to see this great vegetable garden at the Massachusetts Horticultural Society.  And here’s Betty Sanders to talk to us about vegetable gardening and raised beds and a lot of other great stuff.”  And Betty, who just happened to be doing some weeding, stops what she’s doing and says, “Hi, Roger!  Let me show you around!”

Except that Roger didn’t say ‘Horticultural Society’.  He said ‘Historical Society’.  So the director tells Roger and Rebecca to go back to the top of the garden and have that conversation all over again.

... where they just happen to
encounter Betty doing some work
Welcome to Elm Bank on the second hottest day of the summer.  The temperature is 98 degrees, the humidity is oppressive, and there is not a cloud within 300 miles.  The cast and crew of This Old House have come to film a segment about vegetable gardening for their new season, which starts October 6. 

Mass Hort is thrilled to be asked to participate and Betty is pleased to show off the stunning garden she designed and maintains.

Betty talks knowledgably about
raised-bed gardeing and the
hundreds of kinds of vegetables
that can be grown...
The problem is the weather and how it affects the brains of everyone involved.  The segment director has in mind a four-and-a-half-minute-long tracking shot: one continuous shot that starts with that conversation about knowing where food comes from and then follows Rebecca, Roger and Betty through the garden.  It’s a great concept and one that can impart a lot of information with high-impact visuals.

Except for the heat and the relentless sun.  Instead, each take is a learning experience in how the human mind and body can be subtly altered by the elements.  Betty can’t come up with the word ‘nasturtium’.  Rebecca can’t remember the great question she was going to ask.  Roger flubs the name of some common vegetables.  And the director keeps calling everything ‘cabbage’.

Two and a half hours later, the
segment producer had enough
material for a four-and-a-half
minute segment.  Stay tuned!
Filming was supposed to commence at 11 a.m. and last about an hour, including set-up.  At 10 a.m., the director called to say they were running late and wouldn’t be at the garden until noon.  The first cars arrived at 12:45 and filming actually started at 1:30.  It went on, take after take, until nearly 4 p.m.

Finally, the director was satisfied.  It wasn’t that there had been a single take in which everyone got their lines right.  Rather, I suspect it was that there was a sense that with two and half hours of takes, all the correct information was in there, somewhere.  Some overhead shots were taken from a tall ladder, and then they were done.

My role in all of this was strictly moral support.  If my wife was going to spend an afternoon broiling in the sun, I could at least say I was there by her side, even if ‘there’ meant I was under a nearby tent, socking away bottles of well-chilled water.

I came away with a respect for This Old House and those who agree to be part of it.  It’s a reality show and it’s entertainment, but this isn’t Snooki dumping on her housemates.  Betty had four and half minutes to impart a wealth of information and show viewers that vegetable gardens don’t have to be dull rectangles.

I don’t know if This Old House draws the same-sized audience as it did back before the advent of 500 channels of television.  I hope a lot of people see this segment.  Despite the relentless sun and the heat, it was a class act.

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