Taste of the TV biz
At Hothouse Productions, cameras roll and clients rave
By Hope Green
Garland Waller recalls starting out in the television business 20 years ago: the panic of deadlines, the unfamiliar studio politics, and the adrenaline rush when the first show she produced hit the airwaves. Today, as an assistant professor of broadcasting in the College of Communication, Waller (COM'79) is cultivating a new generation of small-screen professionals in a course called Hothouse Productions.
Participants in Hothouse, a two-credit elective in COM's department of film and television, create short videos for clients who pay only for blank tapes and incidentals such as travel expenses. The undergraduate and graduate students write, direct, shoot, and edit under Waller's mentorship. "These are very talented people," Waller says. "I don't tell them what to do. I'm there as more or less an executive producer or consultant."
A specialist in children's television, Waller was an award-winning producer for many years at WBZ-TV, Boston's NBC affiliate. She has also produced shows for the Lifetime cable station, including a 26-part series, Your Child Age 6 to 12. She developed the idea for Hothouse with Bill Lawson, film and television department chairman. "We wanted to establish something for the students that was like real life, where they would get a taste of the business," Waller explains.
Students compete for positions in the Hothouse unit by submitting professional letters and résumés. "Hothouse is similar to the COM Film Unit," Waller says, "but video is cheaper so we're able to do a lot more, and faster."
"We had to use two casting firms," says Lakhina. "We couldn't afford the Screen Actors Guild, but in the end we got what we needed and the cast did a good job. The issues were mostly technical," he adds. "Many of the actors were speaking too low, the script kept changing, and a lot of the scenes were too long. We had to revise the piece three times." According to Waller, the health department is "thrilled" with the result.
Just look natural
This semester, a Harvard University physician recruited Hothouse for a piece warning the Passamaquoddy Indian children of Maine against "huffing," or inhaling common household chemicals such as glue and nail polish remover for their narcotic effects. Scenes will be shot on a reservation. Another video will profile the Strand Theater, a Dorchester community performance space.
Finding their way
Aside from the finer points of videography and wordsmithing, Hothousers are learning the art of diplomacy as they encounter customers whose ideas may clash with the students' creative vision. "Once they get the idea that we know what we are doing, they trust us," Shea says. "We're not control freaks, and we know that no one is a complete expert on everything. We need the client, and the client needs us."