The CSUF, RTVF, Charlie Foxtrot Explained (opinion)

The CSUF, RTVF, Charlie Foxtrot Explained (opinion)

It would appear that the alleged cancer of administrators self promotion and institutional promotion has erupted in a new place. It has metastasized itself into the KCET and CSUF joint venture project. In an effort to promote the university, allegedly at the expense of the academic mission, the university has joined in an agreement to allow the taxpayer’s facilities to be used by KCET TV station. Let me list the alleged cancerous invasions into the normal RTVF department educational process:

• KCET allegedly asked to have carpet put on to the studio floor for their show. You do not put carpet on a floor where a camera dollies. You can put it into a set but not out into the path of a camera. Cameras do not move very well on carpet. Putting a ‘permanent” carpet in place is so stupid it is beyond comprehension. The carpet can be rolled up and then out for the KCET production like every other student production.

• After KCET got their carpet installed it as pointed out that students setting up their shows would damage the carpet. Out of this concern, the dean’s office has ruled allegedly, that students will not be allowed to drag any set pieces across the carpet.

The RTVF Department has always had a small studio and thus their policy is to not allow permanent sets to exist. This is one of the main reasons why Broadcast Journalism students have their own studio, because of the time it took to set up their lighting and set. Broadcast Journalism is all about reading the news on camera and not doing studio set-ups and running camera. They needed their own studio. RTVF Department is all about the complete production process. Nothing is set up for the student. The students must come in and set up every part of their show: lighting, stage setup, character generator, audio, teleprompter, etc. The KCET request to have a lot of their show setup remain and not be touched is a normal request. The problem is that this interferes with the classroom use of this studio. The ideal solution is to require KCET to have no better ranking than any student production and clear their set after each show and reset for their next show. It is the standing policy of the RTVF studio to strike the set after each show.

A lot of student shows require a setting of the acting-taking place in some sort of room. A room requires walls. When building a set, one of the first pieces to be put in place are the “flats” which is a section of wall. The CSUF, RTVF Department studio standard for a flat is four feet wide by eight feet high. A flat is a four foot by eight foot section of wall, typically made of a frame on which is attached by glue or nails a four by eight thin wood panel. The frame is normally not seen, facing away from the cameras, and a hinged brace can be swung out from the back of the flat to prop this section of wall up. The brace keeps the flat from falling forward or backward. After the flat is in place the brace is swung out and a sand bag is put on the brace to ensure the wall will not fall. One husky man or women can lift this flat depending upon the type of wood used in the construction of this flat. The typical movement is to slide the flat across the floor in an upright position trying real hard from having it flop forward or backward. I have seen women of slight stature slide the flats across the floor with no problem.   This now requires a husky man or two more slender students to lift a flat. This new requirement now brings up another problem. At the beginning of each TV production class semester, the student projects are individual projects, not group projects. Any TV production is a group effort and the faculty emphasize to each student in the class that they are expected to help out in setting up for the production. The reality is the student, whose turn it is to do their production, comes in early to do the setup Problem is, typically, no other students have shown up to help out. I see two possible negative outcomes. The student will attempt to drag sets across the carpet anyway, violating the dean’s policy and possibly damaging the carpet as no one will be there to police their efforts or they will injure themselves trying to lift the flats single handed.

• The RTVF faculty told the deans office that the students would be using food or drink as part of their shows and the carpet might be soiled.  It is heresy not to allow students to drink (non-alcoholic), eat, and smoke. The rule is this. It shall be allowed! The university does not allow smoking, but if it is called for in a script and the crew does not have a problem with it, it can and will be done. If the script calls for food and drink in the set and consumption of same, it will be done! If the script calls for alcoholic beverages, the faculty member will see to it that the fluids be substituted to make it seem that the actors are partaking in the real beverage and they will drink when the script calls for it and directed to do so by the director. The script, the director, the student, the faculty rule not some administrator.

• KCET requested, allegedly, that some of the lighting be pre propositioned for the KCET show thus removing the total lights for student use. Also, the lights for the show might get in the way of a student production. When setting up lights for a show it is normal practice to find the closest existing light fixture that can do the job to speed up the process. Also, if a light fixture is blocking the light path and is not being used in the show its C clamp is loosened and slid along the light grid to get it out of the way. A good lighting person thinks of what is expedient because a number of student productions take place during a single lab period. Not allowing students to be able to use ANY lighting fixture has never been the policy of the RTVF Department and goes against what is best for the student lab process.

One of the major complaints of tearing down the TV studio on the Humanities Building and moving into the basement of the library was the new studio space was simply awful for a whole long punch list of reasons. The principal deficiency was the rat’s nest of existing pipes in the ceiling, which forced the lighting pipe grid to be too low for proper light angles. Now the students had to avoid these dead hanging lights, which were used by KCET.

When done properly, lighting is probably the most time consuming activity done for setting up a show. Depending upon what is called for in the script, the lighting can range from just a couple of lights, typically used for a single action area, to lights for multiple action areas which can dramatically complicate the effort needed to finish the setup in time for the show to start on time. Typically each talent should receiving three points of light. This means that for each actor there must be a key, fill and back light. If you have three talent and they do not move around you would have to set up nine lights, minimum. If they move around the lighting person typically goes for pool light, meaning the actors walk into one pool of three points and then into another pool of three lights. If it is a happy show (sitcom, game show, news), maybe more fill light is added. Lights on the set to highlight a curtain or plant or the outside of a window would add to the set up total. It is one of the basic mistakes of a new student director to not allow enough time for light set up and also to take too much preproduction time setting up lights and not dealing with other equally important issues. The point I am making is this. You do not want to slow up the lighting set up process one bit, it naturally eats up too much time when you have a perfect studio to work with.

Let me state a rule in lighting. It takes a LONG time to set lights. I can see why KCET wants their lights set in place. As for propositioned lighting, that has been a reoccurring issue before KCET came on board. Here is how the department handled it. A student would be quite smart to come in the day before their production; this especially worked his or her production was the next morning and was the first class of the day. The student would typically ask if it was ok to set up lights for the next day production. The department never had a problem with that and it showed intelligence, and preplanning on the part of the student, which was encouraged. The department NEVER guaranteed that someone would not move the lights. It just worked out that the schedule seemed to favor setups the night before the production. Now let us get to KCET. To expect that lights be stationary for their production is laughable. The studio is a student lab and students are expected and ENCOURAGED to come in and set up lights any time they can with no restrictions. Now saying that, for labs with a number of productions taking place during the same lab, the faculty often times ask the students to coordinate their lighting schemes so each production can use lights that are ALREADY in place. The former studio never had enough electrical circuits and lights for all of the student productions that take place in each lab period.

Another practical concern is who would police the KCET lights not being moved?

When setting lights, a ladder is used and moving a heavy ladder all around the studio would in itself cut into a carpet. Should we expect next to hear from the dean’s office that the ladder must be lifted over the carpet?

• Faculty and students were allegedly told by the administration that they cannot put KCET set pieces into the hallway. The administration did not plan for storage. Who needs stinking storage? Ask the staff in the College of the Arts, they did not plan for storage very well in their new building and is a current complaint by those staff members. TV studios, audio studios and drama theaters NEED storage. The exiting RTVF studio is not large enough for most productions and proper operation of this studio cannot allow any standing set pieces to remain in place.

I see a number of solutions to this problem in order of what works best for the mission:  KCET gets the same studio status as any student production.

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Note: This blog ran a series of articles delving into an internal problem at a state university.  We were made aware of this problem late fall of 07 and began putting up articles a few months later in an attempt to pressure the university to take action.  It took a while but the university did come around (we are not sure why) and apparently resolved the issue.  This article now has been revised (9-4-08) to reflect this improvement.  We still think the issues stated in this post are relavent.

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