Experience to dispel assumptions and find what is right for you

Author name
Tolu Lawal ’14, Director of Entertainment: Duke Student Broadcasting, Political Science / Psychology Major

Thumbnail “He insists on wearing that Paisley blazer,” the producer announced.

“Oh brother!” the director lamented, understanding that it was just another issue he would have to deal with on the day of the production. “Well he can’t wear it. Let his daughter find a nice replacement for him and we’ll deal with it later.”
The conversation between the two managers went something like that as they tried to figure out how to negotiate with the talent, Earthquake, as he remained steadfast in his attire selection for the night’s performance. The problem wasn’t the pattern itself, it was rather how it would read on camera. No, there was no attempt on the Director’s part to stifle the creative expression of the talent in anyway. On the contrary, he claimed that whatever Earthquake wanted he would get. But the Director had a job too—ensuring the multicam shoot in the Carolina Theatre on Foster Street produced a beautiful image on screen.

Shadowing Director Marcus Raboy in his production for Earthquake’s stand-up on June 28 was very much like the above, navigating through competing ideas to create a cohesive show. When I entered as an intern much of the grease had already been put into it. The pre-production stage took place a few months in advance, where the venue was chosen, the performance times set, the marketing commenced and the general ambience conjured.  Thus as the director’s intern, my task was to follow Marcus around and observe how he managed it all. 
I wasn’t particularly sure what to expect, but I certainly mused that it would be the likes of an over-the-top Hollywood set with cameras at every corner, props and stage gear stationed to transport you to a different dimension, and of course yelling from a neurotic director. None of that was the case however.

The greatest portion of my experience was sitting in on logistic strategizing. Where are we gonna put his teleprompter? Can we lay down the floor to make it look this way? Let’s move the platform ahead so we don’t get the overhang in the shot. The action definitely occurred during the show when the interns, director, producers, and lighting designer were all in the production van surrounded by around 15 different screens displaying the performance on stage. Marcus was live cutting all the cameras, and managing the angles to create specific shots. He had to think on his feet to decide which camera to switch to and how wide the angle should be or whether he wanted to capture the audience laughter in the balcony or in the mezzanine.

As a director, Marcus was extremely professional and experienced. Being his intern allowed me to also find out more about him. He was extremely down to earth and yet decidedly staunch in his decisions of how the layout of the space would be, sequencing of cameras, numbering the equipment, and dealing with the talent’s requests. Even though he had directed on the likes of Friday After Next and the “Waka Waka” music video, he never seemed to carry any sort of hubris with him. He simply wanted to complete his job to his vision. He was very patient with interns and took time to talk to us about his life and how he got to where he was. But he also managed to cut any tension created by our disparate status by giving me a nickname, conversing about his interest in food, and playing tricks on his staff.
All in all, the experience opened my eyes and gave me perspective on what a lower-budget production would entail, while also dispelling assumptions and conceptions I originally had about working on set. I’m not sure if it is indicative of the whole industry, but I would certainly advise landing an opportunity out in the field and see whether it is the right fit for you.