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The Producer and His Cameraman(men)

Beauty Rises: Four Lives in the Arts was shot over a period of five months by eight cameramen. That's a challenging situation for any producer or director. To paraphrase and recontextualize something the French director Robert Bresson once said about changing lenses, it's like changing glasses for every shoot. It's really changing eyes – and the vision behind them.

My approach with such a diverse group of collaborators was to use a few tactics to keep things somewhat consistent, but mostly to let go of any desire to have a strong visual concept for the show. Instead, I would work to engage the cameraman of the day with the subject, with the moment we were witnessing, and to trust that they would find in it what I hoped was there – the live moments where we could capture emotion as well as creativity. As they were all, to a man (and they were all men), sensitive and hard-working shooters, it worked.

In particular, I must acknowledge the contribution of Tom Siegel. Tom was one of two cameramen who shot three out of the four artists. He also shot the most days on the project. If you run a stopwatch on the show, Tom's footage count outdistances his peers by double (at least). Tom became, midway through the project, the show's cameraman. He knew this show was a unique opportunity for WTTW, and these people were unique and remarkable people. He dug the stories, nodded to me in ways that let me know this project was on the right track. He also captured the most remarkable sixty minutes of videotape I've ever had the pleasure of recording: two tapes on which Orbert Davis leads a workshop with grade school kids, talks with his mentor and plays the trumpet in his old backyard by the Kankakee River in Momence. In the final show, that string of action is the most emotionally amazing and satisfying (and unadorned, I may add) in the whole show. I believe if a viewer is hanging close to the edge of indifference prior to that moment, he or she certainly won't be after that.

My direction to Tom that day was "Here it is, shoot it." The rest was all him.

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