02 May 2007

Lights, Camera, Talk!

Last month, my young partner Chris Boehning was given a well-deserved award by his alma mater, Washington University Law School.

As part of the award ceremony, the school proposed to show a video of several tributes to the honoree. I was asked to provide one minute's worth. I told Chris I was honored but: i) I would not be back to the states before the ceremony, ii) I had neither jacket nor tie here, and none of my shirts would be appropriate if I did, and iii) I am uncertain whether I could find someone on this island with the equipment to make a video. Chris was unperturbed. He was confident I would find a camera on the island, and while there is no precedent for a speaker to appear looking like a beach bum, this would be be an exciting ground-breaker and he was eager to go ahead with it.

To "help me out" Chris sent me DVD of prior award ceremonies. As expected, all the speakers were dressed in suits, women in blouses buttoned to the neck, men uniformly wearing white shirts and ties. All very formal, especially Mr. Justice Clarence Thomas, who was honoring a judge. Ugh, nobody was wearing shorts, nobody was squinting into the sun, and nobody did this feet wet. I told Chris that when the people at Washington University Law School saw my DVD they would have kittens. He laughed and urged me forge ahead with the project.

Okay, so all I needed to do was to get a videographer to tape a minute of talk and we would be home free. Sure, just look up "videographer" in the St. Barths yellow pages. Right.

After about a week of wandering around the island accomplishing nothing, we did locate, via a local artist of our acquaintance, a woman with the proper equipment, i.e., she had a VHS tape camera and a remote microphone set-up. Nicole agreed to help. I told her time was growing short. Being an island person, she smiled, told me not to worry, and immediately departed the island to spend a week in New York City. Chris's stateside award people were now getting antsy about the schedule, and could not understand why this took more that a day or two. Hah.

On a sunny morning in April, all the local players finally come together. The shoot was scheduled for 8 A.M. on my deck, with Corossol Harbor in the background. I was wearing my best pair of fishing shorts and my blue work shirt with the frayed collar. I was psyched--in "the zone."

But when Nicole arrives she notices that the guys building the house down in the valley are hammering and sawing, the trucks going up my hill are groaning and grinding, and my deck is declared acoustically unsuitable for this exercise.

Off we go to Corossol Beach. While the Bay is reasonably flat today, there is a wash at the shore that, while not particularly noticeable if you are lying in the sand getting a tan, will likely overwhelm Nicole's basic microphone. We do a take anyway, then another that is interrupted by an airplane, then another that is interrupted by a mom chasing her toddler. We move to location number three.

La Plage restaurant on St. Jean beach is owned by our friend's father. We arrive, shoo breakfasters out of the way, set the scene and shoot several times in the sun, several times in the shade, once standing in the water. I love this! Some of the takes are busted by airplane noise, others by people who actually believe they are permitted to talk while they eat the breakfast they paid for, and yet others by people who stand in the background and point. My hope that award viewers might get a bit of local color by seeing a topless beauty stroll by on the beach went unfulfilled. No topless beauties early in the morning, only some beach boys setting up umbrellas and a very oversized gentleman wearing a very undersized Speedo, who does not just stroll by, but strolls into the field of view and then stops and stares. All this is behind my back, of course, and I cannot understand why Nicole is struggling to stifle laughter. We have some coffee, do it again, and finally do a take with me standing ankle deep in the Caribbean, talking to my shoreside camera lady. Nicole announces that is the best take of the day and we quit. I fedex all all the raw footage to New York where the video experts will try to make something of it, and I wait to see if I have a career opportunity here.

All very educational. I now sympathize with my colleagues on the networks who also do standups. On the other hand, I guess it is actually easier in front of the White House (y'think that's really the White House in the background? Nobody moving there, no traffic noises, no birds singing. Ever see a mom --it's, D.C., okay a nanny-- chasing a child across the lawn behind the on-camera talent? Hah! I firmly believe they are in a studio with a White House photo in the background.)

In the end, Chris said Wash U went with the feet-in-the-Carib take, and they loved it. My new career is launched! That is, if I can fit it in: I can hardly keep up with the demands of my day job.

The calendar is unrelenting. Time to travel North. Today is our last full day here and I gotta go pack. For the humans, flying to New York is a mixed-emotion event. But M. Franck, who will be thirteen next month, has no conflicts. He saw me assemble his travel crate, turned his back on me, tail between legs, and hasn't spoken to me since.

A bientot.

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